Alan Compton brings you his views on the current state of Scottish football.
International week is a time that everyone looks forward to. A country unites behind players from leagues around Europe and cross-city divides are forgotten for ninety minutes as a nation’s prayers are – or in Scotland’s case, usually are not – answered. Fortunately for the “Tartan Army” there is a public hate figure whose baffling decisions and lack of nous with regards to selection, tactics or anything at all to do with football makes the blame game a whole lot easier to win – Craig Levein. What better way to epitomise the sheer fallacy that has been his tyranny so far than with his recent call up of Steven Fletcher – or more importantly, the period of time where without him, Scotland have already lost what little hope they had of qualifying from a group that the national media still haven’t cottoned on to quite how tough it actually is.
For those that missed it, Fletcher is the closest thing we’ve had to a striker for a while now. He managed to score twelve goals a season for three years running in the Premiership with a quite frankly terrible Wolves team, and an equally abhorrent Burnley side. Furthering the résumé, he has lit up the Stadium of Light since moving to Sunderland – scoring five goals this season in as many games since his £14 million move. Now, with such consistency performing in the English Premier League, widely regarded as one of the world’s best, one would be forgiven for making the presumption that he would also be the main striker for the national side ranked 56th in the World by FIFA (behind such footballing heavyweights as Panama, Libya and the Central African Republic). Instead, Levein decided to select Kenny Miller. This is the same Kenny Miller that, six months of good form at Rangers aside, has never been a competent finisher, and that has failed to maintain any sort of goalscoring form in Turkey, in England’s second tier, and in the American MLS over the past two years. Fletcher was of course, for the last few squads at least, in what Craig Levein liked to refer to as a self-imposed exile, which is manager talk for “I’m too proud to phone him and say I was wrong for not picking him”. Fletcher has said on several occasions that if Levein picked up the phone and simply asked him to play for Scotland, he’d jump at the chance.
Levein has since made that call, and admitted that it took him swallowing his pride to pick Scotland’s best forward for the Scotland side. But far from the praise he’s now receiving for doing his job, I’ll castigate him as this decision has come far too late. Scotland’s hopes of qualifying are already quickly fading. A humiliating performance in the 0-0 draw with Serbia and the wrenching 1-1 draw with Macedonia have left Scotland needing at the very least four points from the upcoming matches against Wales and Belgium to get our qualification hopes back on track. Now, let me make it perfectly clear here, I’m not just one of those people that hate Craig Levein for the sake of hating him. Once you look past the creepy beard, the inexcusable choice of sunglasses in October, dislikeable face and his horrendous work at Raith Rovers and Leicester City you find a man who genuinely done a fantastic job as Hearts manager, and a very decent job at Dundee United. He has – however – done absolutely nothing in his time in charge of the national team to suggest he will do anything other than waste the most potential filled generation of youngsters we’ve produced in a long, long time.
Long gone are the days where we sacked Craig Brown for the unforgivable sin of failing to qualify for one World Cup. The fact of the matter is that I don’t think the Scotland manager’s job is particularly difficult. I mean, Alex McLeish done a very decent job at it, even walking out of the job half way through to join a then-Premiership Birmingham City, and he is essentially a 53 year old child playing Championship Manager 03-04 because “it’s the best one”. So enjoy this International week as I will try to, and while you’re praying for the safe and healthy return of your domestic superstar, say a little prayer for the Scottish National Team, because even with Fletcher, we’ll need all the help we can get.