Thursday, October 18, 2012

Scotland: Strachan SOS?

An unusual consensus has settled over Scottish football.

The disastrous start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign has made minds up: Craig Levein can't continue as Scotland manager.

A few dissenting voices remain.

Billy Dodds was one of them on Tuesday night. Using his BBC co-commentary gig to broadcast to the nation, Billy repeatedly told us that Levein was the "right man for the job, he's just not had the results."

That's not the strongest defence: "Aye, the doctor's a good bloke but his patients keep dying."

In moments of introspection even Levein might reflect that the game really is a bogey when Silly Bodds is the main witness for the defence.

Some others argue that changing the manager will change nothing. A limp reason that, conceding our crapness, accepting that we really should be bottom of a qualifying group.

I also believe that this squad is stronger than results suggest. Not world beaters. But better than two points from four games or three wins in 12 competitive matches. When that happens the buck stops in the dugout.

The SFA board will meet in the next few days to discuss what happens next.

Can we expect decisive action? Or a classic Hampden fudge.

I'd still lean towards the latter but it's difficult to see who Levein can call on for support, especially if there is any truth in rumours that the clubs might choose to use Scotland's plight to put pressure on SFA chief executive Stewart Regan.

Our next game is a friendly against Luxembourg in November, with Ladbrokes offering 13/8 that Levein will not be manager for that match.

It's 11/8 for him to not be manager by the first game of 2013, a February friendly with Estonia.

I would still expect him to just about survive through this weekend, limp past Luxembourg before being deposed early in the New Year.

That would give the new manager the Estonian game to prepare for the next round of - now sadly redundant - qualifiers.

And who will the next manager be?

Two former managers are frequently mentioned. Both Walter Smith and Alex McLeish are available, know the job and enjoyed some success.

I'm not sure going back is a good idea in football although Smith has shown a willingness to do just that in the past.

McLeish (12/1) has already hinted at a willingness to consider a return. I'm always mindful of certain commitment issues he seems to have.

He will undoubtedly see a situation that he'd be confident of improving but would he be concerned more by rehabilitating Scotland or his own career?

Smith fits almost exactly the age and experience profile that Sir Alex Ferguson argues are the perfect fit for an international manager.

But the Tartan Army is unforgiving about the last time Smith jumped ship and I'm not sure he'd relish the challenge of being the figurehead of not just the national team but of the many changes that the SFA is currently attempting to put in place.

Owen Coyle (10/1) is available after a bruising time at Bolton. But Coyle must surely retain ambitions at club level and I can't see much that would push him to the Scotland job at this stage.

At 14/1 Joe Jordan would be an emotionally powerful choice but I don't think his record as a manager stands up to much scrutiny even if his involvement as a coach would surely make sense.

Ally McCoist is also priced at 14/1 for anyone who likes to chuck money down the toilet. Motherwell's Stuart McCall might be a bit miffed to be outside McCoist at 16/1.

Dougie Freedman would be an interesting choice at 12/1 but at the moment I'd think there is about as much chance of Scotland winning Euro 2016.

Which brings us to the current favourite.

At 3/1 Gordon Strachan leads the field.

There's no such thing as a unanimous choice in football but there seems to be a surge of popular opinion in favour of Strachan.

He's spoken before about how he sees the role as all encompassing, going beyond simply managing the international team. A decision would need to be made within the SFA about how to accommodate those demands, how Strachan's vision fits with the attempts at modernisation that are already in place.

Strachan will also have a personal decision to make. Is the life of the travelling pundit worth foregoing for the pressures of being Scotland manager?

There will be an emotional pull, the draw of a fresh challenge. But there are negatives to this job, stresses involved in carrying the weight of often unrealistic expectation.

It looks to me like he is the man for the job.

But will he decide that this is the job for Gordon Strachan?

All odds from Ladbrokes #gameon