Wednesday, 7 November 2012

On Gardening Leave…

While the debate over who should become the manager of the Scotland national team has been rumbling on for the best part of 3 weeks, the SFA finally got around to a decision which, in it’s delivery, asks serious questions of those in charge of our game.

Regan & Ogilvie announce the removal of Levein as Scotland Manager
The first thing to say is that the SFA have at least made the right decision.  Levein’s predication for using tactical solutions ill fitting of the players available has been a big factor in every reverse.  Levein’s inability to pick a side capable of holding on to the ball was the biggest contributory factor in his downfall though.  We might have players available better than those available under messers Burley, McLeish, Smith & Voghts but they still give the ball away far too often – the nadir being that first half against Belgium.  He was the best available option at the time for the SFA, but if things are not working out decisions have to be made.

That the SFA made the right decision is only part of the story though.  The main story though has been the shocking shoddy processes behind the decision.  Indeed it should be pointed out that technically, Levein has not been sacked.  He has been relieved of his position as Scotland Manager and put on “gardening leave”. It should also be pointed out that no meetings on the subject were scheduled until last Friday, when discussions rumbled on throughout the weekend until concluding yesterday when Levein finally learned of his fate.  Sure Levein was on holiday, but even so soundings and initial discussions could have taken place.  Certainly the way the news leaked out, rummors on the twittersphere around Lunchtime yesterday followed by the BBC breaking the news around about half past 4.  Even the admission that Levein had planned to see out this campaign before quitting seemed to have backfired on the SFA, with Regan admitting that one of the reasons for his decision was Levein's plans after this qualifying cycle.

While one would hope that the SFA find some employment for Levein while he is still under their employ, attention should now turn to who Craig Levein’s sucessor should be.  On that score, there is near consensus with the name of Gordon Strachan cropping up time and time again.

Strachan is possibly at the optimum age for an International coach.  His time at Celtic was by common consensus a success, building expertly on (while creating his own template) the Martin O’Neill years.  Three successive Scottish Championships, one Scottish Cup and two League Cups were won by Strachan at Celtic – though arguably his biggest achievement was taking Celtic into the knock out stages of the European Cup two seasons in a row.  True he didn’t exactly set the heather alight at Coventry, Southampton or at Middlesborough.  He did keep Coventry and Southampton in the English Premier League though – an achievement beyond his immediate successors at both clubs.  He also took Southampton to their first English FA Cup final since 1976 – losing 1-0 to Arsenal in 2003.

Of the other main contenders, Walter Smith has done the job before (with some degree of success) but may well have to overcome resistance from the Tartan Army.  Joe Jordan has a patchy managerial career but has had a renaissance recently as ‘Arry Redknapp’s assistant at Tottenham, while Owen Coyle was sucessful at Burnley but took Bolton down from the English Premier League.  However there are two interesting, if slightly leftfield, names being mentioned.

Rob who write’s the “Left Back in the Changing Room” blog mentioned Rafa Benitez – “he's available, he's used to dealing with incompetent superiors, he's used to dealing with high pressure, he's a fine cup manager (which is what Scotland needs if you think about it) and he seems to understand youth development (as the current crop of LFC youngsters attests).”  Craig Brown, no stranger to the Scotland job himself mentioned the current under 21 coach, Billy Stark “It wouldn't surprise me, although I think it would surprise most of the media, if Billy managed to impress enough to be offered the job…  I was the Under-21 coach and they gave me the job, just as Billy Stark's the Under-21 coach, and I had four qualifying campaigns and managed to get out of the group on three of them”.

Stark’s name is interesting, he is the kind of candidate that the SFA might have considered several years ago.  With tickets to sell though, there is only one name that captivates the Tartan Army.  The question though is if firstly the SFA share the Tartan Army’s ideas on the next Scotland Manager and secondly if the SFA and Strachan can strike a deal.  Unless there are reasons, Strachan is the only name in town.

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