THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Following the departure of George Burley, the Scottish FA appointed Craig Levein as the latest in a long line of Scotland managers, just as Neil Forsyth predicted

Not that they really need one, but Scotland have got a new manager. Eight months from a competitive fixture the SFA acted with surprising swiftness in nicking Craig Levein away from Dundee Utd and appointing him as George Burley’s successor. In WSC 273 I said that the SFA would still be reluctant on a foreign manager after the horror of the Bertie Vogts experiment and that Levein was the standout Scottish candidate. That shows no prescience on my part, rather a depressing lack of qualified candidates who would actually want the job. David Moyes has a more attractive role at Everton, Gordon Strachan had just committed to Middlesbrough, Graeme Souness ruled himself out and Walter Smith made the worthy point that he’d walked out on Scotland for a Rangers return and it would be somewhat cheeky to go back.

There was the predictable assurance from SFA chief executive Gordon Smith that a host of “big names” had applied for the job without any clarification on just how big some of the names got. Perhaps Engelbert Humperdinck fancied it, we’ll never know. If it was to be a Scot then it really had to be Levein. A notable success at Hearts, an understandable failure at Leicester City (where he was welcomed with wholesale budget cuts) and an impressive overhaul of Dundee Utd is the CV which is coupled with a demeanour that hints at the aura possessed by great managers.

Most heartening in his unveiling was Levein’s approach to the lunatic fringe attached to any discussion about the national team. Vogts’s failure allowed this stuff to take hold – that we need someone who inherently understands the “unique” Scottish mentality, spirit, doggedness, etc – four managers later it still pops up. Most fans would rather someone who could uncover a natural left-back.

Furthermore, Burley’s failure provoked a determined campaign against the “blazers” that are ruining Scottish chances. Never has an item of clothing been so vilified in the sports pages. The SFA are their own worst enemies – every press interaction from Gordon Smith is an adventure – but an onlooker could have been forgiven for thinking that the job of picking up the runners in Oslo, or finishing the multitude of chances against Holland, was that of SFA office bearers.

While Levein was happy to voice patriotic pride in being given the job, he was practical in outlook. On the football front his team will have no set philosophy other than to win individual matches and he is to employ the national team’s first full-time scout. With regards to the dreaded blazers, no interference will be tolerated and if Levein suggests an improvement in youth coaching then he expects implementation.

Three players not currently in consideration have to be dealt with. Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor were banned under Burley for disciplinary reasons (they were given “career bans” by Smith, which apparently doesn’t mean what those two words together in that order would usually mean) and Kris Boyd went off in the huff when Burley wouldn’t play him. Ferguson is yet to comment but both McGregor and Boyd have announced their availability with contrasting results. McGregor was contrite whereas Boyd struck a mystifying air by saying his decision had nothing to do with Burley and then claiming other players wanted to quit under Burley but had “bottled it”. He’s a moron, essentially, and Levein has to weigh up his moronic tendency against the fact that he is also the most prolific SPL goal­scorer of all time.

For Dundee Utd, Levein’s departure is disappointing but expected. He spoke gratefully about the opportunity given to him by the club where he formed a strong relationship with the late chairman Eddie Thompson. United would have liked more compensation than £250,000, not even the annual salary of Levein who was also director of football at Tannadice, but they have been left in good shape with a squad that is a credit to Levein’s resourcefulness and eye for a player.

The Scotland job will be different. No hunting down of bargains or patiently spending a year introducing a young player to first team football. Instead our lowly rating means it’s going to be another treacherous route to Euro 2012. If Levein succeeds it will not only mean a first major finals with Scottish involvement for 14 years, it could also be the start of a celebrated managerial career.

From WSC 276 February 2010

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