Friday, 19 October 2012

Levein's Own Jump The Shark Moment

Last week might not actually be Levein’s jump the shark moment, a lot of the tartan army would pinpoint the 4-6 Czech Republic qualifier for that moment.  However it now seems as if there is a groundswell of opinion that sees someone else taking charge of the Scotland national team, possibly in time to face Luxembourg next month.

Well, at least it's not that annoying double finger gesture...
As I have said before, I think that the criticisms made of Levein by the Tartan Army don’t really stack up.  Levein was said to be too negative and tactically inept.  In truth, Levein was at times too clever, and other times unable to pick the correct players to fit the chosen formation.  That 4-6 formation for example was designed to flood the midfield and create opportunities by pulling the Czech’s forward, but fell down because of Scotland’s inability to hold on to the ball (Remember as well that Spain won the European Championships playing a variation of 4-6). 

During the first two games of this campaign, Levein went with a 4-1-4-1 formation.  This did not work because Scotland kept on giving the ball away.  Away to Wales, Levein went with a 4-3-2-1 formation (4-5-1 with the wide midfielders pushed up), which was by general consensus an attacking formation.  That fell apart in the second half because Scotland could not keep the ball after Brown was forced off.  This brings us to the Belgium game and giving the ball away about 20 times in the first half…  alone.  Anyone spot a pattern here?

The other hallmark of Levein’s time in charge is the amount of times that Scotland have somehow gained an advantage that is thrown away by the players retreating into a sort of defensive mode.  Again, against the Czech Republic (this time in the Hampden tie), Scotland found themselves 1-0 and 2-1 up  but surrendered control of the game as soon as a lead was established.  Scotland should have created something against the Serb’s, who lets not forget were poor in that Hampden international.  While last Friday Scotland were 1-0 up at half time in Cardiff before disappearing for all but five minutes of the second half.  Had we built on our advantage against the Czech’s, we would have been at Euro’s in the summer, while  the five points dropped against Serbia and Wales would have seen us only three points behind Croatia and Belgium rather than the current 8.

In short, while Levein has certainly made mistakes but Scotland are where they are partly because the players have not performed.  However I think that Levein should go for two reasons.  Firstly, his biggest mistake is persevering with 4-1-4-1 which as I pointed out in this post is a hindrance to Scotland performing. Scotland’s best performances over the past 20 years have been because we have had three central midfielders, while our best performance under Levein came in the Spain match at Hampden when we played 4-2-3-1.  Leven persisted with his formation until the margin of error was too big.

Secondly, I feel that this group of Scotland players needs fresh eyes.  A new manager might look at this crop of players and come up with different tactics and different formations than Levein… tactics that may well work better than Levein’s tactics.  Any new manager might even stop the practice of putting square pegs into round holes.  The last reason why Levein should go is a simple one, tactical genius Billy Dodds thinks that Levein should stay.

Unusually, there is near agreement among the Tartan Army about the preferred successor to Levein.  Step forward one Gordon Strachan.  Strachan has played for Scotland, making 50 appearances from 1980 to 1992.  The hallmark of his managerial career has been a pragmatic nature, which has seen him keep Coventry up, keep Southampton up while taking them to the 2003 English FA Cup final and win three Championships at Celtic, including the double in 2006/7.  Strachan also took Celtic to the last 16 of the European Cup two seasons in a row – falling to AC Milan and Barcelona.

It should be pointed out that there is no race at this moment, Levein has not yet been eased from his position.  Yet there is still a race for this position with candidates.  Strachan seems to be the clear favourite among the fans, but there are other candidates.  Walter Smith & Alex McLeish have been touted in some quarters.  Both have done the job in the past with a degree of success (McLeish was even 90 minutes away from taking us to Euro 2008), yet both left in difficult circumstances.

If the SFA were true to form, they would procrastinate until the new year until bagging Levein.  However Stewart Regan is under pressure, and I suspect that clubs annoyed at Regan’s handling of the collapse of Rangers will be using the current state of the Scottish National team to put pressure on Regan.  I don’t know when, but I do think that Levein is a goner as Scotland manager.  Whoever does take over needs to be either a miracle worker, or have a very very good plan.

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