Gary MacKenzie believes his time in a Milton Keynes Dons shirt has helped improve him as an all-round footballer.
The defender, who completed a move to Blackpool for an undisclosed fee earlier today, spent three seasons with the Dons and was involved in two of the Club’s play-off campaigns.
During his time with the Club MacKenzie played his part in helping the Dons establish a reputation for playing slick, passing football which is rarely associated with English
The Dons are encouraged to play their football with freedom and expression and MacKenzie feels that has helped him mature into a stronger player.
Speaking in his farewell interview to mkdons.com the Scotsman said: “I think I have improved during my time with the Club. Part of being a centre-back is being able to understand the game and that comes with games and maturing.
“When I came down here at 24 I was still learning the game in my position and I think I have improved - Karl is a good manager and the way we play football would improve anybody especially the boys at the back as it really tests you. The way that this Club plays has really improved me as a footballer.”
When the fresh-faced MacKenzie first arrived in Milton Keynes many felt it was a gamble. The centre-back arrived on the back of a long-term knee injury and although he had graduated from the Glasgow Rangers academy, he was untested in English football.
It didn’t take long though for MacKenzie to adapt to his new surroundings and he quickly settled into the side and life in Milton Keynes.
“Alex Rae has known me from my time at Dundee and Rangers but I was over the moon when I got the news that I would be playing in England because it’s hard to get those moves from Scottish football. My family and I moved down and we really enjoyed our time in Milton Keynes, we took to the city and enjoyed our time down here.
“The highlight for me was definitely my first two seasons and getting to the play-offs and getting that experience, although it wasn’t a winning one I enjoyed the games. I really enjoyed the first season when a lot of people were writing us off, they had us tipped to be at the bottom and for me personally, coming down from Scotland and having a good season stands out as a highlight.”
Over the years MacKenzie has tested the water with the MK-faithful, not least when he was sent-off at Charlton Athletic for the second time in the season for the same offense. Yet, MacKenzie never shied away from admitting his faults and took his punishment on the chin before ultimately winning the fans back with his performances on the pitch.
“I got sent-off a couple of times and the fans were right to criticise me at that time, but I think the majority of performances were pretty good and I think the fans saw that and appreciated it. When I left (for Blackpool) I was told that the fans were chanting my name and that was a nice touch. Obviously, for them as well as myself, I would have like to have got to the Championship with Milton Keynes Dons but it didn’t quite happen. I would like to thank them, they have been good to me and I would like to think I had a good relationship with them.”
Now though, it is time for a new chapter in MacKenzie’s life. After impressing Paul Ince during his short loan spell at the end of the season, it came as no surprise that Blackpool wanted MacKenzie on their books permanently.
It wasn’t the easiest decision for MacKenzie, but ultimately his Scotland ambitions stand a great chance if he is testing himself in the Championship week in, week out.
“I’ve enjoyed everything about my time down here - from the set-up, to my team-mates and the manager’s been good to me as well. I’m sad to be going but I’m 27, I’ve been involved in Scotland squads without actually playing and to stand a chance of doing that I probably need to be playing at a higher level.
“I always hope it would be with Milton Keynes Dons and I gave everything to try and make that happen but unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way. I had a successful time at Blackpool at the end of last year and they wanted to make it permanent. I’m at a stage in my career where I needed to play at the highest level possible and from a family perspective I’m closer to Scotland too.
“After weighing it up I think I am making the right decision.
“When I was at Blackpool last season I played a dozen games and, other than the Brighton game, played really well so I kind of established myself as one of the names on the team sheet which is very important because if I hadn’t played, or played badly it could have turned into a completely different loan experience.
“Fortunately, I played well and I nailed down that spot, I know it’s not a given to do the same this season so I need to knuckle down and make sure I hit the ground running.
“I’ll be keeping an eye on how MK Dons get on throughout the season – I have some really good friends here. You’ll all see me, I will be back down visiting when I get the chance and I bought a place down here as well so I’m not finished with the city. I’ll be keeping tabs on them and hoping the Club can get into the Championship.”