After one-and-a-half qualifying campaigns under Craig Levein, which included some inglorious highlights such as a 96th minute winner at home to Liechtenstein, the 4-6-0 formation in Prague and draws against the international powerhouses of Macedonia and Lithuania, the SFA finally appointed a new manager so that we can put that bastard of a tenure to bed. The man they’ve chosen is Gordon Strachan.
I always find the appointment of a national football manager difficult to analyse, and find it even tougher to forecast their future successes or failures. The old saying goes ‘you can’t polish a turd’. With the Scottish national team, never has a truer word be said. It might be true that a sizable chunk the current batch of players are earning their wages in the English Premiership but, Darren Fletcher aside, they squirm in the league’s lower echelons; two of the current squad are at Wigan, two at West Brom and two at Sunderland. While this is a better standard than Scotland could ever provide, it still isn’t fantastic. Craig Levein’s last match as manager, a 2-0 defeat in Brussels, was against a Belgian side which featured players from such clubs as : Chelsea (current Champions League holders) Atletico Madrid (current Europa League champions), Manchester City (current Premiership champions) Bayern Munich (Champions League finalists). The side also featured Zenit St. Petersberg’s Axel Witsel, who cost the Russian club £32.5 million. Compared to Belgium, we are massively underperforming, and that can’t be entirely Levein’s fault.
However, while it is true that you can’t polish a turd, you can indeed cover it in glitter. Levein’s tactics, in the politest way of phrasing, were uninspiring. The utmost importance for him as manager was not to lose games, rather than wanting to win them. Preparing your team negatively is occasionally beneficial – indeed Scotland’s best performance under Levein was the 3-2 defeat at Hampden against World Champions Spain – but when that approach is being used against teams that Scotland should really be defeating without the results to back the strategies, time becomes precious.
Strachan’s appointment is positive as it tackles the flaws of the Levein era. As opposed to Levein, who’s biggest managerial jobs pre-Scotland were Hearts and Dundee United, Strachan has experienced high-pressure and expectancy at Celtic and been successful. While club successes can often be irrelevant at international level, Strachan’s record of playing decent football with limited resources (Strachan got Celtic into the Champions League last sixteen twice, something which Martin O’Neill failed to do, on a fraction of his predecessors budget) suggests he has more tactical nous than Levine.
With the current World Cup qualification campaign a write-off Strachan has a few competitive fixtures to experiment with his players to see what works and what does not. A few wins too would raise moral and give him and the squad momentum for the next qualifying campaign, for Euro 2016, which begins next September.
Finally, on a purely aesthetic level, Strachan won’t wear rubbish sunglasses, and his press conferences are notoriously boisterous. Asked for a quick word once, Strachan simply replied “velocity”, for example. All in all, Strachan’s appointment by the SFA is one which I wholeheartedly support.