KEVIN Thomson had a seat in the Middlesbrough dressing room on the day when Gordon Strachan surprised everybody by ripping his contract up and resigning after less than a year in charge. Now he hopes the 60-year-old from Edinburgh surprises everyone again by signing up for a third campaign as Scotland manager. When they meet at Hampden this morning, the SFA board may take some persuasion to entrust their hopes of Euro 2020 qualification to a man who has failed twice before, but for Thomson the equation boils down to the following. If everyone else would largely select the same players, and the players clearly enjoy working for Strachan, then why on earth should we risk it all by starting again?
“I would like Gordon Strachan to stay, I have a lot of time for him,” Thomson told Herald Sport. “I think he will look back, analyse it, and think that the team got better, the squad got stronger, and we started competing a bit better, even though we still ultimately fell at the final hurdle. I think he will be confident in his ability to have another go at the Euros but it remains to be seen whether the board of the SFA feel we should go down a different avenue.
“I don’t think he will lose any sleep about people’s opinions and criticisms,” Thomson added. “He will care because we all care but if he played Slovenia again, would he play the same team? I think he would. When you get beaten, it is easy to analyse the performance and pick holes in it but after 25 minutes everybody thought we were the best team ever. That is why we all love football.”
Then there was the mood music yesterday morning which suggested that Thomson’s old Hibs pal Scott Brown was prepared to extend his international career – at least in part to continue his relationship with Strachan. “I have not read Broony’s bit in the paper but I saw a bit on social media and I know just how big a part Gordon played in why he came back,” Thomson said. “I can only speak from my own experience and quite simply Gordon is one of the best I have worked with. I am gutted I only got to work with him for a couple of months down at Middlesbrough. He genuinely is top of the tree.
“When it comes to Scotland, everybody has a different idea about what team the manager should pick, and who should be involved in the squad,” the former Hibs and Rangers midfielder added. “But would we really have picked a different squad from the one that Gordon has picked? I don’t think we would.
“Is he picking the best players available? I think so. Is he picking the best players that he thinks can win the game? I think so. If Scotland go out and get a new manager, is he going to be better than Gordon is? I would find it hard to think that he is going to be.”
The only problem with all this is – just as at the Riverside Stadium, when Middlesbrough sat 20th in the Championship, their lowest placing for 20 years, with Strachan having won only 13 games in total, when he resigned – it is results which always talk loudest. That is where the form guide for the SFA board to consider this morning is patchy, because quite simply they have previously offered him their ‘unanimous’ backing at times when Scotland’s form has been worse. Scotland won four and drew two of their last six games and showed clear signs of improvement from the ill-judged jumble which kicked off the campaign. Thomson is critical of the players who let a one-goal lead slip in Slovenia but does not subscribe to the theory that importing the likes of Callum McGregor or John McGinn would be a panacea for all our ills.
“When you are a manager you carry the can when the team doesn’t perform,” said Thomson, who won just three caps for his country. “We have performed well for five of the last six games but then there was that performance on Sunday night which was so disappointing.
“The atmosphere that Gordon creates means people want to turn up, there aren’t many pulling out with injury,” he added. “People will say what is the point of creating an environment if you aren’t going to be successful? But you can’t just click your fingers and expect everything to be perfect. The players have to take stick for a tired performance. It lacked drive, probably exactly what Scott Brown brings to that team.
“I think Callum McGregor is a real top player in the making. But Darren Fletcher has won the Champions League. So I think it becomes a wee bit disrespectful to current players when you go down that route. Barry Bannan was in the Championship team of the year last year. Steven Fletcher is a £50,000 a week football player and Scotland don’t have many of those. I see some of the names that are being suggested to make the team better and they haven’t played at anything near the level that the current team have. But on the other hand you don’t find out what these younger guys can do until you pitch them in.”
As for the genetics row, Thomson feels the comments were “blown out of proportion”. “At Man United you have Fellaini at 6 ft 4in and Pogba at 6ft 3in – that’s what he’ s driving at. Gordon just says it how it is, he is is his own man.”