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New Scotland Manager










Scots Wha' Mibbes

Apart from perhaps Prince Charles's toothpaste squeezer and the guy who had to tell John Kerry the exit polls were wrong* there can be few less attractive jobs at the moment than that of Scotland football manager. Yet if we are to believe the press there are plenty of applicants for the vacancy. If we believe the same press then only one of them need bother to apply. As far as the media is concerned it's a done deal with Walter Smith set to take over the national team.

We hope this isn't the case. When Berti Vogts was appointed it seemed that the SFA were moving forward from the parochialism which has dominated our game for far too long. Yes, the German's reign ended in ignominy but at the time it was a bold move. Consider this: Vogts came to Scotland with a track record as a coach which included eight years in charge of Germany and a European championship under his belt. He had played under Helmut Schoen and studied coaching at the feet of Franz Beckenbauer. He came to Scotland as the most successful manager (in terms of percentage of games won) of Europe's most successful country.

That Vogts didn't succeed is a cause for regret but it is no reason to pillory the SFA's David Taylor as frustrated fans did after the defeat by Sweden at Easter Road.

It would be understandable now if the SFA committed a sharp about-turn and retreated back into the laager mentality which has defined our game. Understandable, but wrong. The SFA should be keeping ALL their options open when appointing the next national coach, not appeasing a powerful beast of a media which demands that the national manager has to be a Scot.

Vogts failed for many reasons. Simply not being Scottish wasn't one of them

There are three questions which need to be addressed before making an appointment. Are there players out there, overlooked by Vogts, who would do a better job than the current squad? The general consensus, even amongst the Vogts-haters, is that the answer is no. That being the case the SFA have to ask: is there a coach who can coax better performances and results out of the current squad? To which the answer can only be let's bloody well hope so.

The third and most crucial question is: who is that man?

Let us examine the claims of the leading contenders and throw in a couple of others for consideration.

If the rumours are to be believed then there are five contenders under the spotlight - Smith, current assistant boss Tommy Burns, Gary McAllister, George Burley and Gordon Strachan.

Certainly, Walter Smith has by far the most impressive managerial medal haul under his belt. The years of effortless success at Ibrox are testament to that. But they also represent his Achilles heel. It's one thing to sweep all before you domestically, especially in an era when your main rivals are in decline and the rest of the opposition is weak. An entirely different matter to raise up a team from historic depths with no recourse to the transfer market available.

We're not saying Smith CAN'T revive Scotland's fortunes but neither the methods nor the circumstances which brought him so much success at Rangers apply to Scotland. The opposition isn't weak and you can't buy your way to success.

Here's a shocking statistic to ponder over for all those who think Smith should be a shoo-in. In his seven years in charge of Rangers, just ONE player rose through the ranks to play for Scotland. That was Barry Ferguson. Every other Rangers player capped in that period was a transfer signing.

Nor is Walter's record in continental competition anything to get excited over. True, his team of 1992-93 came tantalisingly close to the European Cup Final. But that side contained several Graeme Souness signings and as the years progressed Rangers didn't.

In his last season in charge, Rangers failed to win a single game in the Champions League.

Nor does his time south of the border inspire. At Everton, Smith was in charge of a fallen giant with little to spend. The best summary of his four years there is that they treaded water. Fighting relegation when he arrived they were in the same position when he left. No worse? Certainly. But no better either.

The problem for Walter is that his successor, David Moyes, has demonstrated that it IS possible to improve a team while wearing a financial straitjacket.

What then about the man he used to best regularly in the domestic game, Tommy Burns? There are two major problems here. Firstly, Burns was Berti Vogts' assistant. To promote him to the job would be to suggest that all that was needed was a modest improvement in English language skills. For better or worse Tommy is firmly associated with the Vogts years. Deputies tend to be elevated to the top after a period of success (Smith at Rangers, for example), not almost unrelieved failure.

Secondly, a question mark remains over Burns' appetite for management following his harrowing time at Celtic under Fergus McCann. Tommy's day job is with Celtic. His place in the hierarchy is number four at best, after Martin O'Neill, John Robertson and Steve Walford. As the former numero uno it must be difficult to go into work every day in such circumstances, knowing how far you have slipped down the ladder.

Yet on more than one occasion Burns has refused the opportunity to move back into management as his own boss. Both St Johnstone and Kilmarnock wanted him but Tommy said no. There have been other managerial opportunities too and it is now more than seven years since Burns departed the manager's seat at Celtic.

It is difficult to reconcile such reluctance to move back into the front line at mid-ranking clubs with an ability to withstand the flak which inevitably comes with the national position.

Gary McAllister was an excellent player and a fine captain of Scotland but in themselves these do not amount to overwhelming credentials to take charge as manager.

The unjustified vitriol served up in his direction by a large section of the supporters forced him into an unwelcome and premature retirement from playing. However, the manager is even more in the spotlight than the player and unless he has grown a hide the thickness of a woolly mammoth in the past few years it is only too easy to see how a McAllister management would end up should results fail to improve quickly.

In any case the jury is still out on McAllister as manager. His time at Coventry City scarcely improved his CV but that in itself needn't be held against him. Neither Terry Butcher nor Gordon Strachan were raging successes at Highfield Road yet both are now managers with a fine pedigree. What McAllister needs to do is something similar - make his mark elsewhere in club management first.

Gary McAllister may be Scotland manager one day but surely not now.

George Burley has been mentioned as a 'dark horse' and there are merits to his candidature. Burley has a good track record in management. He spent eight years at Ipswich during which time he won them promotion to the Premiership and took them into Europe. That's as long as Alf Ramsey was in charge of the Suffolk club and in the past 50 years only Bobby Robson spent longer as Ipswich boss.

And both Ramsey and Robson went on to become successful national team bosses.

George cut his managerial teeth at Ayr United, launch pad for yet another national manager in the late Ally McLeod. Currently, Burley is in charge of Derby County where he took over a team on the slide, managed to avoid relegation in his first season and at the time of writing has them in eighth place and within touching distance of a play-off spot and a return to the Premiership.

As a former international and having managed successfully in both Scotland and England, Burley has much to commend him. Particularly the fact that his managerial career has been with clubs where rearing homegrown talent is essential to success. There will be those who say he is not 'high profile' enough. By which they mean he hasn't managed a really big name in England nor does he have any association with the Old Firm.

To the former point we say that no one with a top club would entertain the Scotland job and to address the latter we content ourselves with one word. GOOD!

If he is seriously interested in the position then the SFA could do a lot worse than George Burley.

And so to the fans favourite - Gordon Strachan. We don't disagree. Strachan overcame his disappointing end with Coventry to re-emerge as a successful manager at Southampton. His enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and commitment to the cause are without question. He's sharp, witty and rarely at a loss for words. There's absolutely no doubt that Strachan is the man to fire up the troops, both on the park and in the stands.

All of which means he probably won't get the job

First, we must assume he actually wants it. The signs here are ambiguous. In 2002 Strachan took himself out of the running for the job by going to Southampton. He may well have decided it wasn't the right time or that the SFA would never appoint him. What no one really knows is whether he is ready yet to end his self-imposed exile from management.

If he is then there are clubs in England who will want to secure his services. This, in addition to his propensity to go his own way, may stay the hand of the SFA. There is a fear that Strachan may turn out to be the Tommy Docherty de nos jours.

Over thirty years ago, Docherty breezed into the Scotland job when the team was performing poorly. He transformed the situation on the field and brought the fans back onto the terraces before departing in acrimony for Man Utd.

The SFA fear a sequel. We say: so what? Surely it is better to have a manager in demand? If the top clubs in England are sniffing around the Scotland boss it will only be because he has made a big enough success of the job that they want him. Yes, the SFA can go for the 'safe hands' approach of Smith or Burns, secure in the knowledge that the only calls being made from Old Trafford will be to pull Darren Fletcher out of the squad.

But what kind of attitude is that? To employ a manager on the grounds that he won't seek or is unlikely to be offered promotion elsewhere. It's not the SAFEST man who should get the job, it's the BEST.

And of those available that man is Gordon Strachan. If he wants it then the job should be his. If, two years down the line, Man Utd or some other club prise him away it will only be because he has turned Scotland's fortunes around.

We should be so lucky.

Like we said though, whether or not Strachan wants the job is open to question. Of the other names mentioned this website's view is that George Burley is the next best candidate but we would like to throw in a couple of other names for consideration too.

Not a lot is heard of Bruce Rioch these days but the former Scotland skipper has all the credentials needed. Rioch's managerial record is excellent. And he has proven himself in times of the utmost adversity. At Middlesbrough he could have walked away when the club went bust. Instead he stuck it out, unsure even of whether he would be paid. He took his players for training in public parks - their kit packed into car boots - and, with no cash to spend, took Boro from the old Third Division (now League One) to the First (Premiership) in successive seasons.

Now, THAT'S what you call a tough time.

In over 700 games as a boss, Rioch has won far more than he has lost. Yes, he's been out of management for some time. But so have Smith and Burns. At the very least Rioch should be given the opportunity to make his case.

Finally, a name which at the time of Berti Vogts' appointment would have been laughed out of court, thus proving how quickly reputations and fortunes can be made and unmade in football - Terry Butcher.

Butcher took over at Motherwell in April 2002 in circumstances similar to Rioch at Ayresome Park. The club was in administration, players' contracts were cancelled, chairman, chief executive and team manager had all departed.

Butcher was left to pick up the pieces. Undaunted by previous failure at Coventry and Sunderland (surely a classic case of having gone into management too early and without testing the water in a less demanding environment), Butcher has not only survived but has flourished.

Admittedly he was helped by SPL rules through which the club avoided relegation in 2003 but Butcher's side finished that term only four points adrift when at the start of that season many would have lumped the mortgage on them finishing last by a distance.

Since then Butcher has built up a team of young, talented players which has held their own in the SPL even though they were forced to sell their top players like James McFadden and Stephen Pearson. There was a top six finish last year and at the time of writing they again occupy sixth place in the table and are just 90 minutes away from a national Cup Final.

Terry Butcher has done a remarkable job inside a short period of time and with no money to spend. All in all just the sort of experience needed for a Scotland manager. With the added bonus that he wouldn't have to sell any players as a national boss.

So why hasn't there been a clamour for Butcher to get a hearing? Surely not because the man is English?

Alas, we fear so. A dejected Tartan Army sought solace during the Easter Road debacle by the tried and tested traditional method of cheering up at the news of an England defeat. You can almost feel the 'logic.' Scotland were drawing in Spain when the match was abandoned. England lost there. Ergo, we may be shite but they're more shite than we are.

Hugs and whiskies all round.

Except that a good number of our players these days were born in England (Butcher actually first saw the light of day in Singapore). In fact our best player at Easter Road was Nigel Quashie who hails from the south-of-the-river-at-this-time-of-night-you-must-be-joking-guv territory of Nunhead.

Again, no one can say for certain if Butcher is interested or not. But the only way to find out is to ask the man. The SFA should take a 'butchers' at Terry. One thing we will say with absolute certainty is this. If a former Scotland captain had managed an SPL team as well and as in the same circumstances as Butcher has done for the past two years then he wouldn't be able to walk out his front door in the morning because of the number of SFA committee men and media hacks parked on his lawn!

*If they WERE wrong. After all the other guy does have previous.

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