What’s the phrase, about it being the hope that kills you? As a supporter of the Scotland national team, that’s just something you get used to; the big build up, the inevitable crash landing.
It is the same every qualifying campaign, be it before a ball is kicked, or as we saw on Sunday, during the last 90 minutes of a qualifying campaign.
Then you find out that it’s not just when trying to qualify for the European Championship or the World Cup that wears you down. No, we now have the speculation, and the anticipation, of who the next national team manager will be after the departure yesterday of Gordon Strachan.
Just the same as wanting to be in Russia, or France or Brazil before that, most fans know who they’d want as the next national coach, but we know who we will probably get; a Scot, most likely unemployed, and therefore someone who won’t cost too much. I won’t be sticking a fiver on Carlo Ancelotti then, but I might consider Lars Lagerback or Mark Wotte, just two of the names on a shortlist of 30-odd offered up by one bookmaker.
Malky Mackay, Billy Stark, Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Derek McInnes, Paul Lambert, Steven Pressley, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Billy Davies, Steve Clarke, Joe Jordan, Alan Irvine, Walter Smith, John Collins, Ally McCoist, Malky Mackay (oh, I’ve said him already but he gets in again because some within Hampden think he can do two jobs), Alex Neil, Craig Levein and Gary McAllister are all (especially if you have been steamin’ since Sunday) viable candidates.
No mention of Billy Reid – assistant at Ostersunds, who won the Swedish Cup and are unbeaten in the Europa League – who, while at Hamilton Accies, blooded the Two James’s, McArthur and McCarthy.
Nah, overly qualified. Rather than going on how much money is wagered on each of those nominations, again we will have to trust the slightly less-exact science employed by the blazers and badges within Hampden. This will mirror the same process that turned up Strachan in the first place, who left yesterday, by “mutual consent’, the stock phraseology used when saving face and saving pennies.
Strachan was followed out the door by his assistant, Mark McGhee, a man who most people reckoned was only in that job because he was long-time pals with wee Chesney.
I have some very good mates (no, I really do), but I wouldn’t have any of them as my No.2, regardless of how amusing a plumber, a surveyor or a dentist might be on the editorial floor at the Herald. You’d pick the best guy for the job. Was McGhee really the best second-in-command in the world? Someone at the SFA obviously believed it.
And what of Strachan himself. For some, he was a wee cheeky-chappie, with quick-fire one-liners to put those asking prickly questions in their place. For a great many, he was demeaning and sarcastic, and never able to give a straight answer to some very straight questions asked over the last two years.
“Are you considering your future, Gordon?”
“You don’t know me if you are asking me that,” became his default reply, focusing on the hurt of his poor wee soldiers who had again come up short in qualifying. Or, what about that first home game of the qualifying campaign against Lithuania.
“Is this a must-win game, Gordon?”
“No,” he replied. We didn’t win, and we didn’t qualify either. No-one can be quite sure if he gave the players the same message ahead of that Lithuania tie. If he did, he was culpable.
If he didn’t, and told them something else, why dupe the fans who desperately want to cheer on the team, and pay through the nose for the privilege?
That Lithuania result, just like Georgia in the previous campaign, are the scores that did for Gordon Strachan because, despite the hype and the spin from the SFA PR bods on social media, the facts are that in
two-and-a-half campaigns, we never beat any nation that really counted.
Croatia twice I hear you cry. Good try. But they went to Brazil, funnily enough. Not even the inconvenience of dropping six points to Scotland could halt them. We never beat anyone decent, when it matters.
We drew twice with Poland and lost twice to world champions Germany. But Poland had beaten the Germans in the second round of matches, while the Republic of Ireland played their way to the Euros last summer by defeating Joachim Low’s side in Dublin, having drawn earlier in Gelsenkichen. Some Scots – even among the coaching and playing staff – put that down to our misfortune, and the luck of the Irish. Utter rubbish. We are just not up to pulling off those results.
Arguably the best example of that was in June, at Hampden, against England. Two brilliant free-kicks from Leigh Griffiths, but crucially two points dropped. And what was Strachan’s take on events?
“When you leave the game, if you can leave memorable moments then you have given something to the game.” And he had given something to the fans; hope.
Something, ultimately, Strachan wasn’t able to deliver upon. Here’s hoping the next guy gives us the ‘fresh impetus’ the SFA are seeking, rather than just stale one-liners and excuses.