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Why Gordon Strachan is the right man to lead Scotland to Euro 2016

6th November 2012

Former Celtic manager is used to scrutiny, often negative, and could strike up a fine partnership with Gary McAllister

The Scotland manager’s job hasn’t yet become so hazardous that it must carry a health warning but nonetheless Craig Levein’s successor will naturally take cognisance of recent history.

Since Craig Brown left the job in 2002, Berti Vogts, George Burley and now Levein have had their managerial reputations damaged. Alex McLeish and Walter Smith enjoyed better times – even if neither took the Scots to a major tournament – before being coaxed back to club football.

This time it seems impossible to ignore the sense that Gordon Strachan’s time has come. Sometimes, in football as in life, the obvious choice is indeed the most sensible.

Strachan retains the kind of man-management attributes which are so valuable in international football. He is generally respected by players but when any trouble does occur – as the former Celtic forward Aiden McGeady could testify – Strachan isn’t one to stand on ceremony.

He routinely and firstly makes his teams difficult to beat; a necessary move with the Scotland team in their current troubled state. Strachan has also been a positive influence in the coaching development of Celtic’s current manager, Neil Lennon.

Those who have worked with Strachan regard him as brilliantly organised, thorough and someone who gets the very best out of those around him. In basic terms he is a fine coach and one who could, theoretically, strike up a managerial partnership with the former Scotland captain Gary McAllister.

The biggest criticism of Strachan is that his managerial record, under close scrutiny, is patchy. Yet in his biggest job, at Celtic, he won three league titles and progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League against the backdrop of financial cuts.

Managing either half of the Old Firm also exposes people to the kind of scrutiny, often negative, which Scotland coaches also receive. To Strachan, it would be neither a surprise nor a problem.

Strachan’s supposed unpopularity among the Celtic support was perhaps overplayed as was his relationship with the media which, contrary to widespread belief, was generally unproblematic. But what can be safely said is that, on reflection, he proved to be a very good manager of that club. His one mistake in Glasgow was staying for one more season than was necessary.

Strachan is now 55 and perhaps wondering where his next opportunity will arise. If it comes with Scotland, he is at that stage in his career where any opportunity to step back into club management would not be grasped as readily as by others. A damaging spell at Middlesbrough ended more than two years ago now, with Strachan decent enough to leave Teesside without any compensation, almost as an apology for his performance.

He has been privately adamant that he will only return to the game when the hunger which he lost during that Middlesbrough spell returns. What better challenge than being the man charged with lifting his country from the international wilderness, with a squad which is considerably better than recent performances have suggested? The increase in European Championship-qualifying teams, from 16 to 24, for 2016 is also pertinent with the prospects of getting to France in mind.

It is normally dangerous to allow supporters to pick a manager but in Scotland’s case the Football Association badly needs to win back public hearts and minds. Not least, that is, because it needs to sell tickets to offset the continued absence from finals and the paying-off of failed managers. Already, it is apparent Strachan would be a popular appointment.

It would, of course, be remiss of the SFA board not to consider others. It has already botched Levein’s departure to the extent that criticism of the board became stronger than that towards a struggling manager.

Still, the relative weakness of the field, for varying reasons, actually endorses Strachan’s case. Joe Jordan, McLeish, Owen Coyle, Billy Davies and Walter Smith have been quoted to different extents since Levein’s sacking.

Jordan was an iconic Scotland international and has enjoyed success as a coach alongside Harry Redknapp. His last managerial post was as a caretaker at Portsmouth, four years ago; Jordan’s last permanent role ended at Bristol City in 1997. His appointment would hardly be cutting-edge stuff.

McLeish has already stipulated he would prefer to remain in club management, with Coyle and Davies likely to retain similar ambitions at this juncture. Smith and McLeish caused resentment when leaving the Scotland job with the former, particularly, having little to gain by going back.

The caveat to such discussion is the SFA’s ongoing performance strategy, headed up by the Dutchman Mark Wotte. Some believe this plan will be intrinsically linked to the choice of Levein’s replacement. If so that would be yet another mistake; the constant linking of national team under-performance to youth-development work is an utterly flawed premise.

Right now, Scotland need someone to restore faith at first-team level. Nothing would boost the national sport more than that. If the SFA chooses to apply logic, it needs look no further than Strachan. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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