The former Aberdeen and St Johnstone star gives his view on running East Kilbride and discusses the only advantage he has over former Kilby gaffers
For nearly 10 years, the promised land of the SPFL has eluded East Kilbride.
Among two title wins there was a heartache in a play-off final, a humble semi-final loss in the play-off, three runners-up in the title race (maybe soon four) and some disasters. thrown in for good measure.
The quest to escape the Lowland League they entered in 2013/14, with big plans on scaling the newly implemented pyramid scheme, did not go to plan.
Martin Lauchlin came a hair’s breadth away at Cowdenbeath in 2016/17 but the likes of Billy Stark, Stuart Malcolm, Billy Ogilvie, Stevie Aitken (granted, hit by the pandemic in his first season) and Chris Aitken didn’t come close so close.
East Kilbride had to watch as rivals Edinburgh City, Cove Rangers and Kelty Hearts all passed them on their way to the SPFL, with Cove and Kelty continuing to win further promotion.
But, ironically, it is these same teams that give new East Kilbride boss Kevin Rutkiewicz the belief that he can be the man to finally break Kilby’s curse.
The 41-year-old former Aberdeen and St Johnstone defender managed Stirling Albion for three years in SPFL League Two, before resigning in December over ‘differences of opinion’ with the then board that the Binos then occupied the fourth place in the table.
During this period, he met all sides to get promoted through the pyramid scheme.
And when asked what he can bring to succeed where others have failed, Rutkiewicz said: “One of the advantages I have is that I’ve seen good role models. what it takes to rise again, playing against teams that came to the SPFL from the Highland and Lowland League, like Cove and Kelty.
“I’ve seen it up close and personal, how it’s structured, the type of player they’ve chosen.
“Sometimes it’s not all about ability. Sometimes you have to look beyond that, like the physique of the players and things like that.
“So I feel like some managers earlier here didn’t have that model to look at, so I think I can use that.
“But, at the end of the day, I just have to trust in my abilities.
“I can’t reinvent the wheel and I have my own ideas of how I’m going to approach it.
“At the end of the day, when you cross that white line, the responsibility is on the players and they have to show their hunger, their desire and their enthusiasm.
“It’s sad to say, but a lot of players – like me – only get it as they get older.
“When you’re younger and in a privileged position, sometimes you take it for granted.
“All my efforts are going to go into this club and hopefully that translates to the players in the park.
“I want them to be able to express themselves and show the fans what they are.
“It won’t be easy. There will be many other managers who want the same success as me.
“I know how difficult it is going to be to navigate not just to win the league but also to negotiate those games in the play-offs to get back on your feet.
“But I’m delighted to be here and it’s a good challenge.
“I know the mandate here. Everyone knows what East Kilbride wants to achieve and what they have wanted to achieve for a long time.”
Rutkiewicz was appointed last week after Chris Aitken was relieved of his duties, having succeeded his brother Stephen in August on what turned out to be a long interim period.
The former Binos boss becomes the ninth man (including interim appointments) to take charge of the club and he explained his arrival at K-Park, which followed Aitken’s 6-0 win over Gretna in the Lowland League Cup. and with EK second in the Lowland League it was a bit of a ‘whirlwind’.
“I got a call on Saturday night asking if I would be interested, and then on Sunday we had long and drawn out discussions because I wanted to make sure this was the right opportunity for me as well,” Rutkiewicz revealed.
“I didn’t want to just go back, but all the things we were saying were aligning with each other and it ended up happening pretty quickly.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I know I’m not coming to a broken team, that’s for sure. There are good things put in place here and I just have to try to keep going.
“But, of course, I will also bring my own flavor to it.”
Rutkiewicz and his assistant Bill Orr, who left Stirling’s performance analysis manager last week to take on the role, met the East Kilbride players for the first time on Monday evening and are preparing for their first game in charge on Saturday.
They host Sauchie in the quarter-finals of the South Challenge Cup as they attempt to continue Kilby’s pursuit of silverware.
So what can we expect from the former skipper of St Johnstone?
“What you can expect from me is passion, enthusiasm and hard work,” he said.
“I want to play fast and dynamic football like any manager.
“I can’t reinvent the wheel, but I want to present my vision of things.
“Over the last few months I’ve been watching a few Lowland League games to keep an eye on it.
“I have my own ideas of what I think it will take to be successful here, but we’re a long way from that at the moment.
“I just want to see these boys well and tie up a number of them because it’s not broken here.
“I know there will be players here who will be disappointed that Chris is no longer here, given the good job he has been doing lately.
“But I hope they give me a chance and that I can express my ambitions for them and for the club.
“Hopefully in the off season we can start building and recruiting, attaching people who are already here as well.
“What Bill and I have to do is just assess the team based on what we expect from a player and a team.
“You would think that some are capable of it and some are not.
“It’s a clean slate as such, but I’m not attracting anyone from Siberia.
“We have a team there that is hot, playing well and it’s about continuing as best I can.
“And it starts on Saturday.”
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