Jefferies takes the longer view

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By Phil Gordon

Jim Jefferies is genuinely surprised when you inform him that he is now the longest-serving manager in the Scottish Premier League. He is aware of his length of service at Kilmarnock but did not think his tenure merited a second glance.

He has been in the job for four and a half years. In SPL terms, that qualifies him for a gold watch - after the events of the past seven days, survival in the dugout is not to be underplayed.

Last Saturday, Jefferies shook hands with Valas Ivanauskas after Kilmarnock had won 2-0 at Tynecastle. Just a day later, the Hearts head coach was being given two weeks' sick leave and checking himself into a Lithuanian spa to combat stress. Then, on Thursday, Jim Leishman, one of Jefferies' contemporaries, quit at struggling Dunfermline.

"It is a harder job now than it ever was," admitted the 56-year-old, who faces up to Celtic today at home and Gordon Strachan, who, of course, took a sabbatical after leaving Southampton in 2003. Jefferies has been out of work only once in his 18 years since entering management, and that was the month that separated his departure from Bradford City and his arrival at Kilmarnock in February 2002.

"When you come into management you know it is tough, but I don't think anyone realises how tough until it's too late," said Jefferies, who was pipped to Scotland's Manager of the Year award by Strachan last season. "I have always said that every manager should get an award at the end of the season.

"However, it is the job we have taken and we all have to under-stand that when things go wrong, as they do for all of us at one time or another. You learn as you get older. Criticism comes with the job and you have to handle it.

"It is harder. The pressure on clubs, with finances, means that is transferred on to your shoulders. People get trigger-happy after a few bad results."

Jefferies has built a young side who have risen to third despite annual budget cuts to curb a £7 million debt and the loss of his top scorer, Kris Boyd, to Rangers last term. The prudence is in stark contrast to Bradford, who had squandered £90m to stay in the Premiership when Jefferies arrived there from Hearts in 2000.

Jefferies is on record as saying he knew after two weeks that he could not work with Geoffrey Richmond, the club's then chairman. "I stuck it out because I couldn't turn down the chance of working in the Premiership." Yorkshire's loss was Ayrshire's gain. Jefferies' net profit was to hang on to his sanity.