Forward Thinking Required For Scotland To Achieve Goals
We've been here before as Scotland fans; The beginning of a new qualifying campaign for an upcoming World Cup or European Championships and the initial optimism that this could be the tournament we qualify for is quickly eroded after a dose of reality hits during the opening fixtures. In this case, Scotland's attempt to qualify for Euro 2020 appears to be completely derailed after a disastrous 3-0 defeat to lowly ranked Kazakhstan.
That first game, on March 21st, was one of the worst 90 minutes of football I have ever witnessed from Scotland. The team seemed poorly prepared and unmotivated, almost resigned to defeat before a ball was kicked. In a group containing Belgium, Russia and Cyprus, finishing second (Belgium are widely expected to top the group with ease) now looks highly unlikely. To underline how bad a result this was for Scotland, three days later Russia went to Kazakhstan and left with a 4-0 victory - exactly the type of scoreline a committed, professional performance should deliver against teams at the level of the Kazakhs.
Prior to the shambles which unfolded in Astana, several players made themselves unavailable, in some cases their clubs requested that they be excused from taking part due to the artificial surface in the Kazakhstan national stadium. These wishes were honoured by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and manager Alex McLeish. Since McLeish took over in February last year there have been a spate of call-offs and retirements. This suggests something is very wrong within the camp.
After the atrocious performance in Kazakhstan, Scotland moved on to San Marino to take on the lowest ranked team in world football. A nervous, stuttering performance yielded a 2-0 win for the Scots but during the game there was much audible booing of the team and chants of "fuck the SFA" from a fan base who normally don't protest with this kind of vitriol. It seems like a breaking point has been reached and June's home game with Cyprus is going to be interesting on two fronts.
It is expected that a record low crowd for a qualifier will be in attendance at Hampden Park that day - not good for the revenue stream, something which the SFA have been accused of prioritising over football for years. If any points are dropped then surely McLeish's position would become untenable. Or would it?
The one thing possibly keeping McLeish employed right now is the fact that he negotiated Scotland to a European Nations League playoff place. The Nations League playoff is a back-door way to qualify for the Euros if things go wrong in the qualification group. Topping a three team section with Albania and Israel - mainly achieved due to outstanding performances from James Forrest in the final two games of that campaign - seems to be all the SFA demand from their football manager at the present. Opponents for the Nations League playoff won't be known until the Euro 2020 qualifiers have been completed but teams such as Norway, Finland and Serbia are possible opponents. Would you expect Scotland to prevail in two one off games against teams like this? Under the current setup I wouldn't.
So it is not wise to place all the qualification eggs in the Nations League playoff basket. A proactive association would have dismissed the current manager, who seems to be overseeing a sinking ship, and appointed someone new to give them as much time as possible to get things right for the March 2020 playoffs.
But who would realistically want the job? International football is currently regarded as very much secondary to the all powerful club game. Most of the top managers are employed by clubs who reward them with handsome salaries. After the SFA decided not to renew McLeish's predecessor's contract they did pursue Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Despite having talks with the SFA, O'Neill decided to reject their offer and remain in charge of his home country. This is evidence that the SFA will struggle to attract any candidates with any kind of pedigree at the top end of the game.
There is one football manager though who is doing great work in their current position - conveniently and somewhat unbelievably they are also employed by the SFA. I'm looking at Scotland women's team manager Shelley Kerr.
In contrast to the men's team, (haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1998, European Championships since 1996) Scotland's women have been showing steady progress and improvement for quite some time. Kerr was appointed manager in April 2017 and has taken them to the next level. Against the odds Scotland's women qualified for the World Cup this year. It is the first time that Scotland have qualified for the event and this achievement underlines the strides being made by Kerr and her team. There was no scraping through via playoffs either - Scotland topped their group which contained fancied opponents Switzerland and Poland.
Kerr is an experienced coach having gained her UEFA Pro Licence in 2013. She has managed and achieved success with Hibernian and Arsenal as well as a spell in men's football, taking charge of Stirling University FC. Kerr also worked with the Scotland women's under-19 team and guided them to the European Championship finals in 2010.
From what I have seen, Kerr's best qualities seem to be her preparation and organisational skills - the exact assets that seem to be missing from the current men's manager. As for people who say a female could never command the respect of a dressing-room full of male international footballers - well do you think the current manager has their respect? Also women are in charge of instructing men in workplaces in all other walks of life, why should football be different?
Indeed, as a younger, more dynamic coach than McLeish she may well be better placed than him to come and go with the clubs a bit more, instead of just crumbling to their demands.
It seems like it is the SFA's good fortune to have a coach of this ability working for them - should her gender prevent her from getting a high profile job in the men's game?
I believe it shouldn't but there will be plenty of people out there who disagree. The SFA, not known for forward thinking, would be amongst those in disagreement with me I suspect. In fact the SFA will more than likely continue with Alex McLeish until the inevitable failure to qualify for Euro 2020, on both fronts, has been confirmed.
Kerr at the moment has her own job to do, readying the women's national team to put in as good a performance as possible in the upcoming World Cup. There is no suggestion that she would even be interested in managing the men's team but she certainly shouldn't be discounted from consideration in the future.
There will come a day when a female coach is appointed to a top job within men's football. Why shouldn't it be the Scotland job? The SFA, while they won't do anything soon, or even in time to rescue this campaign, could begin to change the perception of themselves by having a serious look at Shelley Kerr and getting her involved in some way with the men's setup. Otherwise the cycle of Scotland appointing another uninspiring manager from the limited list of candidates, then failing to qualify for major tournaments will continue.