THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

18 November 2009 ~ "I cannot condone what I saw in Cardiff." Damning words indeed, but when they tumble from the lips of Craig Brown, widely respected as one of football's gentlemen and a staunch supporter of the Scotland set-up even in the most dire of circumstances, then surely you know that "your jaiket is on a shoogly peg". To compound this, we had the Tartan Army causing Sky's production engineers all manner of "sound issues" as the second half in Cardiff was played out to a background of "Burley, Burley... Get Tae Fuck".

Coming from a group of supporters criticised for being more interested in self-publicity for their antics and blindly celebrating one tragic defeat after another, this was a low point for the Scottish national team – although not quite as subterranean as almost all of Berti Vogts's carnage-filled reign. In fact the hapless Burley had not yet been officially "relieved of his duties" as Graeme Souness was being quizzed about the potential vacancy. Souness, who had lost out to Burley 22 months previously, had a landmark moment. For the first time in his football career, he was openly running away from the challenge. "Not even Arsène Wenger nor Alex Ferguson could do any better than George with this set of players... they are a limited bunch."

So with the hardest man to have ever represented his country fleeing in fright from the prospect of being Scotland manager, who are the likely candidates to take over? The squad is wafer-thin in terms of quality but has shown some promise despite the recent malaise. In fact, the biggest challenge is arguably the nation's unrealistic demands – Scotland finished third in a group containing Holland and Norway, which is about right given the quality of player available. Perhaps all hope is not lost but cometh the hour, cometh the man:

John Collins has announced his interest, especially as he is available to work since leaving Charleroi in Belgium after less than a season. Winning a trophy for Hibs was some feat, but it was the League Cup. A gifted player, with intelligence that is often seen as aloofness. A Tartan Glenn Hoddle?

Walter Smith. Seems set to leave the fiscal car crash that is Glasgow Rangers plc, either in January when his contract expires or in the summer if nobody can be persuaded to take over that particular time bomb. The Scotland job (Part 2) may be just the kind of quiet respite the nation's number one cardigan wearer was looking for.

Jim Jeffries is still surfing off the success of his Hearts teams almost a decade ago. Grim survival battles at Kilmarnock are not likely to set the pulses racing amongst the Scottish public. Jim has a PhD in being dour and with a broke SFA likely to try to generate a bit of box office enthusiasm this would be a strange appointment.

Craig Levein. Regarded by most observers as the outstanding young manager in Scotland. His teams try to play decent football and have had a moderate amount of success. Unfortunately, Craig has clashed with the SFA and SPL on several occasions as he dared to publicly question the bias of referees towards the Old Firm. This might just rule him out.

Craig Brown. "I would never let my country down," said the genial ex-supremo, clearly forgetting some hideous performances against the Faroes. You could see a case for him handling things on a temporary basis until the best candidate was found, before it was back to providing impartial Championship commentary on Five Live.

Billy Stark. The former St Mirren and Aberdeen star learnt his skills under the tutelage of a certain A Ferguson. He's a smart chap and his Scotland U-21 team have been performing well. Wouldn't rock the SFA boat, and is popular with the media. An outside bet?

Billy Davies. Angry fans like the idea of an aggressive wee Scot "firing the boys up" before laying waste to a visiting Moldova team. Outsider.

Jimmy Calderwood was recently sacked as Aberdeen boss after five years and the perma-tanned Bernie Winters lookalike has put himself forward with the usual shy, retiring approach. "Any Scotsman would be interested" – apart from Souness, Dalglish, Moyes and Ferguson. A good European knowledge from his time in Holland was demonstrated during some of Aberdeen's European results in recent years, although there was the odd calamitous howler. Actually, he sounds custom built for the job.

However, if the SFA are looking for an attention-grabbing appointment, someone who works the media well, who has a good knowledge of British and European football, and who knows a thing or six about rallying the masses of northern Britain, perhaps Kevin Keegan would be an inspired choice. KK has been living in Scotland for a while now and is probably very aware of just how bad Scotland are. Blind optimism is the only way forward, and this guy is the best proponent of this since a certain Ally McLeod. "We're on the march wi' Keegan's Army... " I need a lie down. Fraser Kirkwood

Comments (3)
Comment by kbmac 2009-11-19 09:58:05

We had a group of players through the 70's and 80's which were of true quality starting with the likes of Law, Bremner, Lorimer and Jordan through to Dalglish, Souness, WIllie Miller, Hansen, Strachan all competed regularly at the top of English and European as well as Scottish football. Any manager is going to do better with a squad that includes Dalglish, Souness and Hansen than with a squad that includes Calwell, Commons and Kenny Miller. Of the current crop really only Darren Fletcher and Craig Gordon are genuine top players. McFadden is very good but not quite top drawer. Maybe Stephen Fletcher will also cut the mustard at very top level but most of our players now ply their trade in the Championship which is a very competetive league and not mickey mouse at all but equally is not top drawer. This is what any incoming manager will have to work with. In the end George Burley failed by quite a narrow margin if you think back to the miss against Norway at Hampden which effectively became the difference between a play-off spot and failure. The Euro 2008 campaign on which some of the current disappointment was based revolved around two plucky performances frustrating and snatching wins against France but it also foundered on a very ordinary away performance in Georgia (I think) where we lost 2-0 leaving us needing to beat Italy to go through. Being a Scotland fan is a frustrating business at times and maybe the comments about Jimmy Calderwood above about sum it up. George Burley was not great but not a disaster either. We need a bit of perspective. It was always going to be us or Norway for 2nd spot and we only just missed out on that. Iwelumo scores and suddenly things would have been brighter and we could have been enjoying the disappointment of a play-off failure rather than a qualification failure. Narrow margins. Narrow margins.

Comment by imp 2009-11-19 11:34:20

The 4-0 defeat at Norway and 3-0 loss in Holland weren't exactly narrow margins. Although, granted, losing 1-0 in Macedonia was. You can cite the Iwelumo miss at Hampden as the margin between Scotland making a playoff spot or not if you like, but the fact remains that a player in a Scottish shirt did miss that chance. And Norway outplayed us that day as well.

Still, some small grounds for optimism - at least Souness is no longer interested in the job. And the U21s won in Azerbaijan. And, erm, that's about it.

Comment by kbmac 2009-11-19 11:59:38

No debate about the Norway game. If Iwelumo had scored it would have been robbery I agree. I also agree that while losing in Oslo is not a disgrace losing 4-0 is pretty close to being one. I'm not really suggesting that Burley should have been retained but we need to temper our expectations of his successor. I hope that whoever comes in can somehow get this group of players to gel and work but I suspect that other than the odd glimmer - even Berti Vogts managed one special result against Holland at Hampden - I can see a few years of similar tales ahead and maybe getting rid of the manager every couple of years will not be worth it. The players just aren't good enough.

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