Byline: by BRIAN MARJORIBANKS
EIGHT months were all that were required for Mixu Paatelainen to turn a lukewarm reception at Rugby Park into something approaching legendary status.
The big Finn was far from the popular choice to take over a struggling Kilmarnock side who, under Jimmy Calderwood, had escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth.
After all, he had been sacked by Hibs the year before when Easter Road fans -- who had once worshipped him as a robust centre-forward -- came to loathe the style of football played under his stewardship. Some perceived it to be no more than 'hoofball'.
Add to that the paucity of playing resources at Killie, the lack of finance available to the debt-ridden club and the general air of dismay which met Paatelainen's appointment -- and the harbingers of doom were identifying Killie as stick-ons to go down.
But he duly surprised everyone by shaping a genuinely thrilling and successful team out of loan gems like former Serie A playmaker Alexei Eremenko and Chelsea full-back Ben Gordon. Not only that, he personally transformed shotshy striker Conor Sammon into a [pounds sterling]1million goal machine and turned captain Craig Bryson from a gifted, if erratic, midfielder into a full Scotland international.
Paatelainen not only revived a football club but his own reputation.
Success breeds success, however, and the proud Finn could not resist the call of his country. Last night, as he departed Rugby Park for the final time, the miracle man was paid a glowing tribute by chairman Michael Johnston.
'Seldom can a manager have achieved legendary status in eight months, but the fans' slogan "In Mixu we trust" says it all,' said Johnston.
'Mixu's short reign at Kilmarnock has witnessed a dramatic improvement in the club's fortunes in the SPL.
'Several club records have been broken, including the longest scoring run in a league campaign. Our travelling support has been treated to a feast of attacking football which has yielded more goals than any other club away from home, bar one (Rangers).
'None of this has been achieved by luck. Mixu's tireless work ethic, tactical awareness and depth of knowledge, underscored by a professional approach to all aspects of his work, have delivered his recent success. At no time has the club's financial position been an issue with Mixu, either in the context of his personal terms or the budget available for players.
'Indeed, he has shown that, by the application of advanced sports science and astute tactics, it was possible to get improved performances from players who have been at the club for several seasons.
'Many of Mixu's successes this season have been achieved with nine of the starting XI coming from last season's squad. Carefully negotiated loan signings and the acquisition of an eclectic group of free transfers from around Europe have further strengthened the squad.
'Mixu leaves with the club's first-team squad in good health, in all respects. We wish him every success in his new role as national team manager of Finland. …