Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Strachan: stay or punt?

So that's another qualifying campaign done and dusted.  And another Scottish failure.  That makes it twenty years since, at the age of 14, I watched us get gubbed by Morocco in our last major tournament appearance.

And so that means another post-mortem.  And that starts, inevitably, with the question of what do with our manager.

The only reason this needs to be done quickly is that the current incumbent's contract is up at the end of next month.  Euro 2020 qualifying doesn't actually begin until March 2019; before that we have the confusing and convoluted UEFA Nations League which will be critical to our Euro 2020 qualification/just a bunch of glorified friendlies (delete as applicable).  So if the SFA and Gordon Strachan do part ways, the decision to appoint a replacement could be put off for the best part of a year...especially as friendly matches tend to harm our FIFA Ranking and future seedings rather than benefit us.

Amongst the support, there seems to be an overwhelming feeling that it is time to move on.  After all, Strachan has managed for two full qualifying campaigns, the first Scotland manager since Craig Brown to do so.  In both we have come up short.  I would suggest that failing to make Euro 2016 was a bigger crime than missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but it is failure nonetheless.

My own feelings on the matter are far less strong than they were a year ago, or even two years ago.  I wanted Strachan's head on a plate after we finished fourth in our Euros group, and felt even stronger about it after our lousy World Cup start.  At the end of 2016, we had won only 3 out of our previous 10 qualifiers, and those victories were against Gibraltar (twice) and Malta.  That run included defeat in Georgia and a lucky home draw with Lithuania.

The turnaround in this calendar year has actually been remarkable.  After starting with four points from as many games, ultimately Scotland needed five wins and a draw from the remaining six matches to finish second...and they came up agonisingly short.  Those six games included excellent home performances against Slovenia and Slovakia - even though the decisive goals came late - and a very impressive win in Lithuania.  Under ordinary circumstances an away point in Ljubljana would be considered decent too.  And whilst we weren't great for 85 minutes against England at Hampden, we still could and should have won.

So whereas we finished the Euro qualifiers on a bad run, we conclude the World Cup qualifiers as an in-form team.  But how much credit Strachan should get for that is certainly open to debate.  There was a drastic change in philosophy from the Slovenia game onwards, moving from a slow, possession style to a strategy of, basically, "fill the team with Celtic players and hope their ability and mentality rub off on the others".  A tad harsh?  Maybe, but concentrating on getting the most out of Leigh Griffiths was crucial to Scotland's upturn; Strachan's decision to resist starting him for so long seemed foolish to the extreme at the time and is even more so with hindsight.  As Evan MacFarlane wrote for The Terrace, "we'd have failed earlier if Brendan Rodgers hadn't shown up at Celtic and properly coached half our national team".

Any lingering goodwill further evaporated with those ridiculous 'genetics' comments after the Slovenia game.  Even taking into account that Strachan was clearly tired and emotional - in the literal sense, not the Private Eye one - it deserved the mockery it got.  Scotland are not 'too wee' in that manner or any other.  It was a time for humility, for admitting that we'd been lousy in the second half and asking for another chance to take the team forward.  Instead his flippancy raises concerns that he genuinely thinks he can't make this team any better than they are.

If that is the case, then he has to go.  Sure, Scotland have terrible weaknesses at centre-back and out wide which are difficult to compensate for.  But if Iceland can qualify for a World Cup then we certainly can. 

If he is to be replaced, then I would urge the SFA to take their time.  Even if the Nations League is to be taken seriously, Scotland do not have another competitive game till September 2018.  Use the November international break either for a training camp or to give the players a wee break.  Instead of headhunting, draw out the application process for a month or two and see what interest there is from these isles and elsewhere.  The current available candidates of note - David Moyes, Paul Lambert etc - are not very likely to find employment in the near future anyway, so they'll still be available in the New Year.  Alternatively, go to the other extreme and offer Michael O'Neill that huge pot of money that was generated by fleecing the Tartan Army with £60 tickets.

And most of all, for the love of God don't appoint Malky Mackay.  It's embarrassing enough that the SFA felt he was worthy of such a prestigious role as Performance Director.  Making him the national team's figurehead would be a disgrace.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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