Michael Fraser has credited Ross County and Caley Thistle’s management teams with restoring the feel-good factor in north football ahead of this weekend’s Highland derby at Victoria Park.
Former goalkeeper Fraser is familiar with both camps, having played under John Robertson during his first stint at Inverness before playing alongside Stuart Kettlewell when he moved to the Staggies where fellow co-manager Steven Ferguson was among the coaching staff.
Despite both clubs suffering relegation from the Premiership in the past two seasons, spirits are high ahead of the Dingwall showdown with Caley Jags top of the Championship and rivals County a point behind in second.
During Fraser’s seven-year stint with Inverness, Robertson led Caley Jags to their first promotion to the top flight in 2004 and the 34-year-old reckons they are well equipped for a title push following his return to Caledonian Stadium last summer.
Fraser said: “John is an experienced manager now – he’s the best manager I’ve worked with by a mile.
“He’s the one that got them out of that league in the first place when they were not really going anywhere.
“They were a mid-table sort of club but John completely changed the mentality of Caley Thistle.
“I was an apprentice at the time. I saw first hand what happened, the first team back then were a good team, they beat a few Premiership teams in the cup but they never really threatened to get promotion.
“John came in with Donald Park and they changed the mindset – they went for it and got them up.
“I’m quite jealous of the boys playing for Caley Thistle as the vibe he gets about the place will be buzzing – especially when they are top of the league and doing well.”
Kettlewell and Ferguson will be in charge of their first Highland derby since taking over from Owen Coyle in March and, despite their inexperience, Fraser feels they have quickly commanded the respect of the Staggies dressing room.
He added: “I can pretty much imagine what things are like over at County just now. I know what they are like and I know they are strong.
“Sometimes in football you can be a good guy in the dressing room then when you get the manager’s job it’s a bit much and you change a wee bit. I have seen it happen. It’s a very stressful job, some guys go from being a coach and become the manager and the personality can change.
“Knowing those two, they will be the same guys they have always been. They are strong enough to be good guys and treat people correctly and be good managers.
“I’m pretty sure the guys at County will be enjoying working under those guys. If you work under good people that is half the battle.”
Although both clubs enjoyed a five-year rivalry in the top flight, Fraser does not believe their relegation will have an adverse effect on crowds.
Fraser, who now plays shinty for hometown club Glen Urquhart, added: “I remember going to games as a young boy at Victoria Park and if it was a Caley Thistle game it would be absolutely rammed.
“It would be the same at Caledonian Stadium – there was a great atmosphere back when the clubs were in the Third Division.
“People maybe got a bit used to it over the years. Maybe the fact both teams have been up and come down and they are in the same league again with the hope of both challenging for the league can maybe spark a good old fashioned rivalry and a bit of buzz about them again.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were both up there at the end of the season.”