Wednesday, September 23, 2009

For Peat's sake

So George Burley lives to fight another qualifying campaign.

Or so it seems. George Peat has suggested he could still be "released" if things don't go well in October's friendly with Japan.

So having survived a weak qualifying campaign, having come through a review of that campaign, the manager's fate may now be decided by a meaningless game some 6000 miles away. A game foisted upon him by the SFA in which he seems certain to be robbed of his best players.

It seems messy, unsatisfactory but so very, very SFA-ish. Having given Burley the backing of his organisation Peat should have said nothing more. It's damaging for the whole national team to have such a high profile figure within the SFA seemingly unable to make up his mind. Peat claims to have buried the hatchet one minute only to dig it up and plant it in his manager's back the next.

Anyone reading the papers would know Burley is not universally liked in the role. Having backed him Peat should have shut up. Instead he continues to add fuel to the vendetta that a number of journalists are continuing to run against Burley.

That's wrong and it's further evidence that George Peat should be removed from his position.

But leaving the haphazard politicking of that inconsequential little man aside, where are we now?

We have a manager who has been battered but seems unbowed. He still has his henchman Terry Butcher to hand and they seem set to be joined by Gary McAllister.

Elvis has, of course, left the building. Steven Pressley's role always seemed slightly confused. He was, perhaps, supposed to replicate the job that Ally McCoist played in the Walter Smith era. It didn't seem to happen. Maybe he was too close, playing against players on a Saturday and then acting as a bridge between them and the manager at training on a Monday.

But, whatever the reason for his failure in the role, Steven Pressley is not to blame for a Scotland shaped hole in South Africa next summer.

Gary McAllister coming on board seems a logical move but not one that will turn us into world beaters. (Note to Craig Brown: many of us in the crowd at Celtic Park "that night" were not booing Gary but booing your decision to play him when he was quite clearly unfit, you sanctimonious little twerp.)

For all that the vilification of George Burley has been unseemly there are grains of truth in much of the criticism and he has much to prove. Quite simply the next qualifying campaign can't include repeats of the Macedonia and Norway debacles.

The game in Oslo was a horror show and Burley can never again send out a team so ill equipped to compete against undistinguished opponents.

What alchemy did he discover in the second half against Macedonia and for long periods against the Dutch at Hampden? I hope he knows himself because that is the level of performance we need to sustain. If it was simply a question of the pride of the players kicking in then the SFA have made the wrong decision in backing him. Time will tell.

We need an alternative to Kenny Miller. Yes he runs his heart out and willingly does the unglamorous stuff but an international football team needs a striker who can score goals. Against Holland, in Amsterdam and at Hampden, Miller cost us crucial footholds in the game. That can't be allowed to happen again.

And no, Kris Boyd's not the answer. Burley was having to duck brickbats from the sage of Govan again last week. Boyd's moans are riddled with hypocrisy, of course, because he has much the same role at Ibrox as he did in Burley's Scotland squad but they still get maximum coverage and are often timed to do maximum damage.

Kris Boyd is not an international striker because his game is one dimensional. And yes that might sound like a contradiction when I've bemoaned Kenny Miller's strike rate but Boyd's big game record at club level speaks of a player in an SPL comfort zone without either the talent or desire to improve himself.

And every time he opens his mouth he shows a destructive trait that could wreak havoc in the national squad. If Kris Boyd expects his international career to be resurrected when George Burley leaves the job then I'd suspect he's going to be bitterly disappointed.

This Boyd's Own Story does illuminate Burley's approach to the job though. It's an approach cranked up in the aftermath of the Norway defeat and the one he'll be banking on getting us through the next campaign.

Boyd, Ferguson and McGreggor all gone. Steven Pressley and whatever ill feeling he brought into the camp gone. This is now Burley's Scotland camp and Burley's alone. The players he picks now are players who want to play for him, to play for each other. It's taken him a long time but he's now got the spirit of togetherness that he needs. That's a reason for some mild optimism if nothing else.

Those of us on the outside can say what we like. There's no detractors on the inside and that shields the manager from the worst his critics can throw at him.

It also says something of Burley's steel and survival instincts. We might not be going to South Africa but so far, somehow, George Burley has won every battle he's been forced to fight off the pitch.

That's something that George Peat might care to remember.