Brian McClair

Brian McClair
Personal information
Full name Brian John McClair
Date of birth (1963-12-08) 8 December 1963
Place of birth Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Playing position Forward
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1980–1981 Aston Villa 0 (0)
1981–1983 Motherwell 40 (15)
1983–1987 Celtic 145 (99)
1987–1998 Manchester United 355 (88)
1998 Motherwell 11 (0)
Total 551 (202)
National team
1983–1985 Scotland U21 8 (2)
1986–1993 Scotland 30 (2)
1990 Scotland B 1 (0)
Teams managed
1998–1999 Blackburn Rovers (assistant)
2006–2015 Manchester United (Director of Youth Academy)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Brian John McClair (born 8 December 1963) is a Scottish former professional footballer and is the current Performance Director of the Scottish Football Association.

As a player he was a forward from 1980 to 1998, notable for his near 11-year spell at Manchester United, as well as important tenures at Scottish clubs Celtic and Motherwell. At Motherwell, he combined his football with studying mathematics at the University of Glasgow.[1][2] He was nicknamed "Choccy", as his last name rhymed with the delicacy "chocolate eclair".[3]

After retiring from playing, McClair took on a coaching role at Manchester United, and spent several years as Director of their Youth Academy.

Club career

Early career

McClair began his career with Aston Villa on leaving school in 1980, but left after one season (in which Villa were Football League champions) having never played a competitive game.

He then returned to Scotland in the summer of 1981 and signed for Motherwell. Initially a midfielder, manager Jock Wallace converted him to a striker.[4] McClair would go on to score 15 league goals in two seasons, including a hat-trick at Fir Park in a 3–0 win over Rangers on 3 January 1983,[5] and both goals in a 2–1 win over Celtic eleven days later.[6][7]


In May 1983, Billy McNeill signed McClair for Celtic, with the fee being £100,000. McClair was effectively signed as a replacement for the recently departed Charlie Nicholas.[8] However, McClair would never actually play for McNeill, as the Celtic manager resigned in June 1983 and was replaced by Davie Hay.[8]

McClair scored in a 2–0 win on his debut against Partick Thistle at Firhill in the Glasgow Cup on 9 August 1983.[9] By the end of an impressive first season at Celtic, McClair had scored 32 goals and established himself as a first team regular. A four-goal haul against Dundee in a 6–2 win during September,[10][11] an outstanding solo goal in a 5–0 win over Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup,[12][13] and a goal in the 2–3 defeat against Rangers in the League Cup Final in March 1984[14] highlighted McClair's goalscoring ability.

The following season saw the arrival of Mo Johnston from Watford and, despite their contrasting personalities, McClair and Johnston would quickly form a deadly goalscoring partnership for Celtic.[8][15] McClair continued to score regularly for Celtic, and at the end of the season won his first winner's medal, coming on as a substitute in Celtic's 2–1 win over Dundee United in the 1985 Scottish Cup Final.[16]

Despite competition from Alan McInally and Mark McGhee, McClair and Johnston remained the regular pairing playing up front for Celtic. Their goals helped Celtic to a dramatic league championship win in 1985–86; a memorable 5–0 win over St Mirren at Love Street on the last day of the season with McClair and Johnston both scoring twice as title-rivals Hearts capitulated to a 2–0 defeat at Dundee.[17]

Season 1986–87 would be McClair's last at Celtic. Despite a bright start to the season from Celtic, the team's form began to fade during the winter months and the club would go on to squander a nine-point lead in the league, which was eventually won by Rangers. Another league cup final defeat against Rangers (despite an outstanding goal by McClair)[18] and a fourth-round defeat at Hearts in the Scottish Cup saw Celtic finish the season without any silverware. Despite Celtic's lack of achievement, McClair was an outstanding success that year. He scored 41 goals in total, finishing top scorer in the league with 35 goals and won both the Scottish Football Writers' Association Player of the Year and the Scottish Players' Player of the Year awards.[19]

In four seasons with at Celtic, McClair made 204 appearances in all competitions and scored 126 goals.[20] He won the Scottish Cup 1985 and the Scottish Premier Division in 1986.[21]

Manchester United

McClair is best remembered, however, for his time at Manchester United. He joined them in July 1987. The transfer fee of £850,000 was eventually set by a transfer tribunal panel due to a dispute between Manchester United and Celtic over what the fee should be – Celtic initially wanted £2million for him, a fee which would have made him the most expensive player at the time to have signed for any British club, whilst Manchester United had offered only £400,000.[22]

In 11 years at Old Trafford, he made a total of 471 appearances and scored 127 goals in all competitions.[23] In later years, as his first team opportunities were reduced, McClair became somewhat of a cult hero at Manchester United due to his Choccy's Diary being published in the official Manchester United magazine.[24]

In his first season for Manchester United he scored 24 league goals, becoming the first Manchester United player to surpass 20 league goals in one season since George Best in the 1967–68 season.[25][26] His first goal for Manchester United came in the third game of the season, a 2–0 home win over Watford.[27][28] He scored in the next game, a 3–1 away win over Charlton Athletic.[29] He scored a brace in the 4–2 away over Sheffield Wednesday on 10 October 1987,[30] and another double in the late December win over defending champions Everton.[30] He put a further double over Sheffield Wednesday in the March return game at Old Trafford,[23] and scored a hat-trick against Derby County in early April.[31] In the final two games of the season (against Portsmouth and Wimbledon) he managed two further braces.[32][33] Only Liverpool's John Aldridge managed more First Division goals that season.[34] McClair managed a total of 31 goals in all competitions, but a late penalty miss in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Arsenal[35] meant that Manchester United lost the tie 2–1 and he was denied the chance of silverware as well as building on his already highly impressive goals tally.

1988–89 was a trying season for United after the excellent progress of 1987–88. After a season playing alongside Peter Davenport, McClair now found himself paired with returning hero Mark Hughes (back at Manchester United after two years abroad) and much was expected of the newly formed partnership. By the end of November, McClair had scored just twice in the league and Hughes had found the net eight times, and Manchester United were mid-table after a run of eight draws and one defeat. Results improved over the next couple of months as United crept to the fringes of the title challenge, but fell away in the final quarter of the season as Manchester United finished 11th. McClair and Hughes both managed 16 goals in all competitions, with Hughes being leading scorer in the league with 14 goals opposed to McClair's 10.

Having scored in both the quarter final and the replay of the semi final, he was on the winning side as Manchester United won 1–0 over Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final replay at Wembley Stadium on 17 May 1990, five days after drawing 3–3 in the first match.[36] In the league, however, it had been a disappointing time for McClair as he scored just five goals and Manchester United finished 13th – their lowest finish since they were relegated from the top flight 16 years earlier. He was now facing competition from highly promising young striker Mark Robins,[37] who had scored 10 goals in 23 first team games that season.[38]

He did however score the winning goal for Manchester United in the 1991 UEFA Super Cup against Red Star Belgrade,[39][40] which followed his part in their European Cup Winners' Cup triumph over Barcelona.[41] McClair had now won the fight to keep his place in the first team as he rediscovered his goalscoring touch and Mark Robins was now struggling to get into the team.

In October 1990, McClair was involved in controversy when in reaction to a late challenge he repeatedly kicked Arsenal's Nigel Winterburn in the back as he lay prone on the ground, sparking a 21-man brawl. The two had a history, as Winterburn had been seen mocking McClair after his penalty miss in the FA Cup fifth round three seasons before, which earned the Arsenal player a lot of criticism. Manchester United had a point deducted for this episode, and Arsenal (who went on to be league champions that season) had two points docked.[42]

In 1991–92, McClair scored the only goal in the 1992 League Cup Final against Nottingham Forest at Wembley,[43] though he missed out on a league title winner's medal as United's shortage of goals in the second half of the season cost them the championship, which was clinched by Leeds United.[44][45] Alex Ferguson then made unsuccessful bids for strikers David Hirst[46] and Alan Shearer,[47] sparking speculation that either McClair or Mark Hughes would be forced out of the first team by the new signings, but in the end the new striker signed was Dion Dublin, who was bought as backup for McClair and Hughes.[48]

Having been the main striker for Manchester United during his first season, and then partnering Mark Hughes when the Welshman returned from Barcelona, McClair was switched to a central midfield role when Eric Cantona joined United in November 1992, the casualty of this position being the veteran Bryan Robson, who from this point onwards was mostly used as a substitute.

When Roy Keane was signed the following summer, McClair's first team opportunities became increasingly limited. He did, however, manage another Cup Final appearance and another goal at Wembley, coming off the bench to score Manchester United's fourth goal as they beat Chelsea 4–0 in the 1994 FA Cup Final.[49][50] He was rarely left out of the squad, often coming on as a substitute to play in midfield or attack. In 1993–94, the first season where he was no longer considered a first team regular, he appeared in 26 league games (though starting just 12 of them) and scored one goal, although he managed a total of six goals in all competitions from 38 appearances (19 starts, 19 as a substitute). He had a much more active campaign in 1994–95, playing in all but two of the 42 league games, and scored five goals. In total, he played 53 games in all competitions and scored eight goals.[23]

When squad numbers were introduced in the Premier League for its second season in 1993–94, McClair was issued with the number 9 shirt that had traditionally been his during the days of 1–11 shirt numbering.[51] However, this number went to Andy Cole at the start of the 1996–97 season, after which McClair wore the number 13 shirt.[51]

Despite his infrequent first team appearances, McClair elected to stay on at Manchester United as a squad player, providing reliable cover in midfield and attack and making over 40 appearances (in the first eleven or as a substitute) in 1994–95. He was still trucking along in 1996–97, and on the first day of that season, McClair was credited with an assist for David Beckham's spectacular goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon.[52][53] McClair had a hand in another memorable goal that season, assisting Eric Cantona in his famous chipped goal on 21 December 1996 against Sunderland at Old Trafford.[54] On 15 April 1997 a crowd of over 44,000, including an estimated 10,000 Celtic supporters, attended McClair's testimonial game against his former club Celtic at Old Trafford.[55]

He scored a total of 127 goals for Manchester United, the last two coming against Coventry City in a 4–0 away league win on 22 November 1995, although he made some 60 first team appearances over the next two and a half years (mostly as a substitute).[56]


At the end of the 1997–98 season, McClair was given a free transfer to complete his playing days elsewhere. He accepted an offer to return to Motherwell,[57] where he spent six months before announcing his retirement.

International career

In international football, McClair won 30 caps for Scotland. He made his debut in November 1986 in a 3–0 win over Luxembourg at Hampden Park. The match was a qualifier for Euro 88, and McClair played in midfield behind his Celtic team-mate and striker partner, Mo Johnston.[58][59] Scotland failed to qualify for Euro 88, but McClair became a regular in the Scotland squad for the next six years. He made 5 appearances for Scotland in the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup.[60][61] McClair also played for Scotland in a 'B' international against East Germany in April 1990 shortly before the 1990 World Cup.[62] However, although Scotland qualified for the World Cup, he failed to make manager Andy Roxburgh's 22-man squad.

Despite his omission from the 1990 World Cup squad, McClair continued to feature regularly for Scotland and represented his country at the 1992 European Championships, where he scored his first international goal in a 3–0 win over the CIS (formerly USSR).[63] His final appearance for Scotland came in June 1993, where he scored the opening goal for Scotland in a 3–1 win over Estonia at Pittodrie.[64][65]

Management & coaching career

McClair returned south of the border in December 1998 to become Brian Kidd's assistant at Blackburn Rovers.[66] But the pair were unable to prevent Blackburn from slipping out of the Premier League and within a year both had been sacked.[67] He returned to Old Trafford as a youth team coach soon afterwards.

Ironically, when Kidd first joined Blackburn after being assistant manager at Manchester United, McClair was one of several high-profile names to be linked with the assistant manager's vacancy at Old Trafford, as was former team mate Steve Bruce – who was managing Sheffield United at this stage.

In 2001 he was appointed as Reserve Team manager,[2] and promptly won the Premier Reserve League in his first season as coach.[68] In his second season, he was in charge of the Under-19 team which clinched the 2003 FA Youth Cup.[69] Some players from that team, like David Jones, Chris Eagles and Kieran Richardson went on to make appearances in the first team.

At the end of the 2004–05 season the first team finished trophyless, but the Reserve Teams headed by Ricky Sbragia, with McClair as his assistant, won an unprecedented quadruple of the Pontins' Holidays League, the FA Premier Reserve League, The Pontins' Holidays League Cup and the Premier Reserve League Playoff.[68] Their quest for an unprecedented five trophies was thwarted when they lost to Manchester City in the Manchester Senior Cup.

After a year of shadowing Les Kershaw, McClair replaced him as the director of the Manchester United youth academy at the start of the 2006–07 season.[2][70] His son, Liam, was once a member of the United academy.[71]

McClair left Manchester United after being appointed by the Scottish Football Association in February 2015 as their national performance director, effective from 1 June 2015.[72][73] McClair succeeded Mark Wotte, who resigned from the position in October 2014.[72] McClair left the position in July 2016. [74]

Career statistics

Club Season League Cup League Cup Europe Other[nb 1] Total
Motherwell 1981–82 11400400000154
1982–83 2911216400003716
Total 40152110400005220
Celtic 1983–84 3523569161215732
1984–85 3219603352004624
1985–86 3422333120234429
1986–87 4435425440005741
Total 14599188201217344204126
Manchester United 1987–88 4024325500004831
1988–89 3810733300004816
1989–90 37583300000488
1990–91 3613329294105821
1991–92 4218318452005825
1992–93 42930302000509
1993–94 26151740000386
1994–95 40572312010538
1995–96 22300100000233
1996–97 19030203000270
1997–98 13030103000200
Total 355884514451924620471127
Motherwell 1998–99 11000200000130
Career total 5512026526773241964740273




Manchester United


Manchester United Reserves


  1. Includes other competitive competitions, including the FA Community Shield and the Glasgow Cup


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External links

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