29 November 2009 ~ You don't need a particularly long memory to remember Scottish football's (last) Darkest Hour. In an attempt to appear contemporary and relevant and just like their more illustrious English counterparts, the SFA appointed Bertie Vogts to take charge of the nation's football hopes between 2002 and 2004, and then crush them. Does the end of George Burley's reign hold a candle to that shambles? It is certainly a dark time, with the general attitude of most being that things are only bound to get better under a new manager, be it Calderwood, Collins or Levein, because they really can't get any worse.
Time, you would think, for the SFA to put their heads below the ramparts, make no further comment on national matters for the winter and have a quiet, considered think about the best person to replace Burley. We don't have another friendly until March. Reflect on about the best way to take the national team forward, in terms of personnel and philosophy and how to manage the latest transitional period in our country's tortured quest to compete at another major tournament.
Apparently, the SFA doesn't share this view. Chief executive Gordon Smith recently popped up to say: "The new manager will definitely have a say in who he wants to play." Nothing too controversial there, is there? Not until it's noted that Smith was being quizzed on a potential return for Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor, banned from being selected for Scotland again on account of a late-night drinking session and then flicking V-signs at cameras from their demoted position on the Scotland bench. Smith went on to say: "If a new manager comes in, I'm quite sure that they will be given the licence to pick whoever they want, provided the people you've mentioned who are out of the scene just now do want to be involved."
It might be argued that banning Ferguson and McGregor being selected for Scotland again was a punishment too heavy for the crime. It wasn't all Smith's idea either, having initially backed Burley's dropping of the pair to the bench, only to be compelled to further action by SFA chairman George Peat and plenty of complaining Scotland fans in light of the gestures the players made while sitting there. A united uproar, a united front, an SFA ban. It's one of the few events that a lot of people could agree on in relation to Scotland throughout a dire qualifying campaign. Even then, it was a bit of a mess.
It seems even messier now, given that the SFA apparently didn't mean it. New managers are more than deserving of a clean slate, but backtracking on Ferguson and McGregor only adds to the disarray already around the international setup. "That? Oh, that was Burley's thing," Smith might as well have said. “We're going to overlook all those unsavoury parts of his time in charge, like when we had to discipline professional footballers for bringing the nation's football into disrepute."
Of course, there's no guarantee that either Ferguson or McGregor will get in another Scotland side, but for Smith to just dismiss their ban out of hand, associating it with a manager he installed and still supported until last week is astonishing. As is saying that it's actually up to those "who are out of the scene just now" to decide if they want to be involved. It is sycophantic to over-rated players and insulting to Scotland fans. The search for a new manager starts here. There should also be a hunt underway for the organisation, consistency and backbone that has deserted the SFA. Rob Macdonald