CALEY Thistle are beginning the search for a temporary manager after Hearts legend John Robertson was placed on compassionate leave.
A family bereavement and other challenging personal circumstances were said to be behind the decision to give Robertson a break from football for an indeterminate period of time.
The announcement came as Caley Thistle confirmed publicly for the first time that assistant manager Scott Kellacher has been on sick leave since last month after suffering a “very serious illness” and subsequently contracting Covid-19.
Chief executive Scot Gardiner admitted the twin blow had heaped “a colossal amount of pressure” on Caley Thistle’s football operation at a crucial time in the promotion campaign, but stressed the well-being of the two club employees was paramount.
Club coaches Barry Wilson and Ryan Esson will be in charge for the Championship club’s home clash with Alloa on Tuesday and Friday’s visit of Hearts unless a rapid temporary appointment is concluded.
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Gardiner stressed there was no question of Robertson stepping down permanently.
He also conceded it would be a difficult task to enlist an experienced, high-quality manager for what would involve relocation for an indefinite stint in the Highlands.
The club will initially target available candidates based in Scotland, or with a strong knowledge of the Scottish game.
The CEO also hopes to recruit a temporary assistant manager for the duration of Robertson’s absence.
Gardiner said: “As of today, John is going to take some compassionate leave from the club. It’s only fair and reasonable – he has had some pretty awful stuff to deal with in recent days and weeks.
“He lost a member of his family in pretty awful circumstances last week and it’s hit him pretty hard. John wasn’t at the memorial service – he was at our match and not there.
“It’s hit him very hard as a culmination of a series of awful things.
“He’s not leaving the club. I’m sombre because I don’t like it when a friend and colleague has such dark things happen.
“I’ve explained it to the players. It puts a colossal amount of pressure on this football club because we lost Scott Kellacher in January for the foreseeable future. He will come back strong at some stage, but not any time soon.
“In all my years in football I thought I’d dealt with everything, but I’ve never had a situation [like this].
“In relation to training and operations at the football club, it’s far too much to put on Barry and Ryan.
“It’s especially impossible at a critical point of the season where we have a good chance of doing well and getting promoted.
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“We have Charlie Christie, who will help with various things, but he’s working on some big things for us in relation to our academy and we can’t drop the ball with that.
“With the backing and understanding of the board, I’m going to bring in someone as temporary manager for whatever period it is.”
Describing it as a “traumatic” period for Robertson and Kellacher, Gardiner stressed: “We’ve had pretty dark times knowing what was happening.
“Kell is getting better, but he’s got a long way to go.
“John has had a couple of hammer blows and we have to deal with that.
“It is the right thing to do as a football club and the right thing to do as human beings.
“But we’ve got fans, we’ve got hopes and expectations, players who want to win and get promoted, so we need to bring in some help.
“We will be doing that in the coming days, I hope.
“The great difficulty in that, of course, is where we are (geographically, during a pandemic).
“If we were in the central belt, nobody would have to decant to Inverness for the next week, two weeks, four weeks, 10 weeks, whatever it is.
“Let’s just be positive and say it is a challenge, but it is an enormous challenge.
“But we have a fantastic team on the park and games in hand that could project us all the way into the play-offs and beyond.
“I’m looking for the best person who knows Scottish football. We need them to understand the situation we’re in.
“It’s not an audition for the job long-term, we need help.
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“It is difficult to say to someone: drop everything and come and help Inverness. We can offer somewhere really nice to live, in a beautiful part of the world but I don’t know for how long.
“We haven’t begun speaking to anybody yet, but that begins now.”
Robertson, having first won promotion for the club in season 2003/04, rejoined Caley Thistle for a second stint in June 2017 after Richie Foran’s ill-starred spell in charge ended in relegation.
Since then, he has rebuilt the team on a shoestring budget and Inverness were challenging in second place in the league before the pandemic brought football to a halt last March.
Games in hand could yet propel them into this season’s play-offs for a Premiership return.
Gardiner added: “The players did what players do, they quietly listened and nodded.
“A couple of them came and spoke to me, including Sean Welsh as captain.
“I’m sure the players will do their best for John and the club, and themselves.
“I said that to them, it’s a difficult time but we should all stand up for our colleagues and do the best we can for them.
“There are a lot of wins and points to be had, and they’re professional footballers. They’re a good bunch, they will be fine.”