SIR Alex Ferguson’s old contention about Scots being the managerial master race can be officially consigned to the dustbin of history.
Considering that seven of the 20 office holders in the English top flight were of Caledonian stock as recently as 2011, it still seems rather stomach-churning to report that there will not be a single one when the 2017-18 Barclays Premier League season gets under way when Arsenal host Leicester City tonight.
For the record, this snaps a stat of at least one Scot a season which stretches back to the division’s glitzy rebranding in 1992, and thus technically a good six years longer than that.
No wonder Craig Brown looks at it all and mourns the fact that such a prestigious piece of parochial bragging rights have passed their sell-by date.
Okay, so things might have been different had Aberdeen not done such a sterling job of persuading Derek McInnes to pass on the dubious opportunity on offer at the Stadium of Light in favour of remaining at Pittodrie, but perhaps more galling of all is the fact there is just a solitary Scot in place at any of England’s top 44 clubs, in the form of Alex Neil at Brown’s old stomping ground of Preston North End.
“English football has been like a graveyard for Scottish managers over the last decade or so,” Brown told Herald Sport. “Even great Scottish managers like Jock Stein, Billy McNeill, Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan, the one common factors is that they are all Scottish managers who have got the sack. Some of them have been sacked twice. There’s a guy like Alan Stubbs who wins the Scottish Cup with Hibs which is a good achievement and doesn’t last five minutes with Rotherham.
“Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, is the one big big exception, the godfather of Scottish football, who was so brilliantly successful.”
So why have things gone so dramatically awry for Scotland’s football management fraternity, apart from the fact that Ferguson is not perhaps quite able to smooth their paths in quite the same way? Well, put in its simplest form, for the mega-rich owners of modern-day Premier League football clubs, only those managers in the global marketplace with the biggest and best reputations will do.
This season’s big six – again fighting it out for only four Champions League spots – have renowned coaches in world football: Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, with this season’s new boy David Wagner at Huddersfield the recruiting sergeant for a new raft of exotic foreign arrivals such as Leonid Slutskiy and Nuno Espirito Santo even at down-at-heel Championship sides.
Harry Redknapp is at Birmingham City, for goodness sake.
“To be fair, there was always great credit for us having seven in the Premier League, but we should never have had that, when you look at per head of population, said Brown.
“But one of main problems is that all these wealthy owners just want coaches with big reputations and unfortunately for us we don’t have many of those.”
Considering such unnatural wastage to Scottish managers over the years, Brown considers it a badge of honour that he wasn’t sacked at Preston North End, but chose to leave after falling out with the owner.
With more than £1bn in combined transfer fees being lavished on players already this summer – with fully 20 days to go – he thinks back to his days as football consultant to Billy Davies at Derby County when they won promotion via the play-offs back in 2006 and shudders at how the rules of the game have changed even since then.
“When we won promotion with Derby the chairman was in tears, because that was £52m guaranteed,” said Brown. “I asked him ‘how is that?’ and he said if we finish bottom that is £30 plus four parachute payments of £5.5m. Now, I am sure it is £150m – with £90m for finishing bottom, plus four parachute payments of £15m.
“The way the game is going, you could waste that £90m for one player. For Celtic to do anything in the Champions League against the financial might of the Premiership is a miracle. The game really has changed massively, particularly in the last 10 years.”
It isn’t just Scottish managers who are in short supply down south. The same goes for our players, although Andy Robertson’s recruitment from Hull City to Liverpool was one welcome buck to that trend.
For the first time, perhaps since Darren Fletcher at Manchester United or Charlie Adam at Liverpool, a
Scottish player has arrived at a club where he is in a position to compete for silverware.
“We haven’t got enough players playing at teams who are capable of winning things, although Robertson has had a chance,” said Brown.
“I used to go to Manchester United in my time at Scotland, and they had three Scottish players – Jim Leighton, Gordon Strachan and Brian McClair. Or Blackburn Rovers in their title-winning team – they had Colin Hendry, Billy McKinlay and Kevin Gallacher. Then I would go and see Gary McAllister at Liverpool. Wee Gordon does not have the quality of player, although people always think the level of player before was at a different level.”
As ludicrous as some of these developments have been, Brown counts himself amongst the millions worldwide, and UK-wide, who are mesmerised by Premier League football.
The abilities of Brendan Rodgers, his invincible side and the chasing pack may have spirited back some of those disenchanted Scottish football fans last year, but Brown’s last trip to take in a match in person was in the company of Jim Leighton to watch Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United put on a tactical masterclass in stopping Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford last season.
Short of genuine Scottish managerial input, the closest we may come is a man schooled in Largs, with his old managerial mentor still peering over his shoulder.
“Manchester United were better than Chelsea that day,” said Brown, “Tactically they were outstanding, the way Ander Herrera marked Eden Hazard out of the game was like what Paul Lambert did for us with Scotland. It was a performance which makes you think they could win the league this year but I think Chelsea will be hard to dislodge.
“I am a Mourinho fan, because he is one of our boys from Scotland and I get on well with him. He will be under
pressure if he doesn’t win something again and I would like him to win something – he’s very pro Scottish.
“I am friendly with Brian Kidd at Manchester CIty too, but I think it is just a money football club, I would rather a football football club wins it,” he added.
“I don’t think we are going to find another Leicester City … but you never know.”
Listen to the Herald Sport podcast: We discuss Kieran Tierney’s Celtic future, Rangers battering Dunfermline and ponder a Motherwell cup victory.