Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scottish Football Decade: The National Debacle

Earlier this year I wrote a slightly critical blog about the Tartan Army. I stand by that but it doesn't alter my desire to see Scotland do well. And that means any review of the international decade must be tinged with sadness.

For the first time since the seventies we've failed to take our place at an international tournament. Along the way we've suffered some humilating results, we've been battered in the world rankings and we've gone through a handful of managers.

We began the decade as spectators at Euro 2000 and we ended it with the thoroughly miserable qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup.

Our first qualifying campaign of the noughties was led by Craig Brown. Finishing third in the group behind Croatia and Belgium. At the time many of us felt Brown might have gone on too long. If we'd known what was to follow we'd have been begging him to stay.

That most provincial and inward looking of organisations, the SFA, seemed to be trying to usher in a new era when they appointed Berti Vogts to the job in 2002. It was a marriage made in the inferno's of hell.

In fact Vogts took us to a play off which started brightly before the Dutch hammered us in the away leg. That 6-0 humiliation was one of a series of big losses to France, Wales, Hungary and South Korea. When it came to losing, Scotland under Vogts were happy to get spanked by any country with 11 fit players.

Vogts had to go and duly did in 2004. He blamed the media. Most of us blamed his scattergun approach to selection, apparent lack of tactical nous and complex personality.

Walter Smith inherited the Vogts mess and steadied the ship. He couldn't get us to the 2006 World Cup but he was able to steer us back up the world rankings and take us to the top of our Euro 2008 group with a famous victory over France.

And then Smith went back to Rangers and a nation groaned. Traitor or pragmatist? He returned to his spiritual home and some still find that hard to forgive. Whatever your opinion it was a lesson in the ongoing devaluation of international football and the increasing primacy of the club game.

Alex McLeish, battered by his own experience at Ibrox, took over and continued where Smith had left off completing the double over France along the way. In a group that included France and Italy there could be no room for error. Sadly an away defeat to Georgia was the one failure we couldn't afford. McLeish, reputation restored, left for Birmingham and the revolving door at Hampden spun once more.

George Burley was next up. His appointment was initially welcomed and his brief spell at Hearts had given his profile in Scotland a positive boost.

From the start it seemed like our hope were misplaced. Burley was let down by his players and scheduling. But his inability to bring cohesive tactics to the squad, odd selections, brittle media persona and apperent problems with man management counted against him. In truth sections of the media had it in for him from the start. That's unpleasant but not insurmountable if results are good. They were not.

The 2010 World Cup failure ended Burley's career although he was crazily allowed to stay on for an ill fated trip to Japan and a total catastrophe against Wales.

So now we turn to Craig Levein. A new manager for a new decade. Hopes for optimism? Perhaps, but it won't be easy.

Let's just hope in 2019 we've got some happy memories of the decade that went before.