Craig Levein took the National job in December 2009 and, in the time that has followed, he has had to quickly adjust to the pressures of dealing with an expectant nation of supporters and media. From the heroic performance against World Champions, Spain, to the experimental 4-6-0 formation that ultimately led to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a not exactly brilliant Czech Republic team, he has come in for, I would argue, an equal amount of good and bad press.
I like Craig Levein. He has always carried an air of authority about him wherever he has managed, coupled with an articulate nature and a no nonsense approach to dealing with unruly players and what can quite often be an unruly media. He is, however, not completely unflappable, as was highlighted when he stormed off midway through an interview with Sky Sports after the aforementioned game against Spain in October 2010. Scotland had come back from 2-0 down to narrowly lose the game 3-2, when he was then asked in the post match interview if reintroducing a striker had made a difference to the performance compared to the much criticised tactics against the Czechs only four days earlier. Levein’s glare alone should have signalled to the interviewer that it was time to change the subject, but the naïve reporter continued to challenge him about it to the point that Levein decided the interview was over and walked away.
Levein was slated by some but praised by others for his actions in the tunnel at Hampden. Many argued that he was quite right to focus on the excellent performance that we had all just witnessed and let the interviewer know that he was not prepared to talk about something that had happened in the past. Others, however, stated that he should have been able to handle such situations with more integrity by simply choosing not to comment, considering he was so adamant that the 4-6-0 formation in the previous game was the right thing to do. Many have commented since that his actions suggested a self-realisation that he’d got it wrong in Prague.
Despite the negativity surrounding a few of the games that Levein has so far managed, there have been signs that he may just be getting it right and that his Masterplan will come to fruition and see us take our place at the table of Europe’s best in just over a year. Our performance against Spain was very good, there is no denying that. Maybe they took the foot off the gas when they went 2-0 up and allowed us to creep back into the game but, being a long suffering Scotland fan, I’d prefer to think that we took the game by the scruff of the neck and had them on the back foot. It certainly looked that way and anybody watching throughout the World that night would have taken notice. There were signs that we had decided we were no longer going to be the laughing stock of Europe – it almost turned in to a Scotland performance from a by-gone era. Almost.
Craig Levein has always had a knack of getting the best from players, specifically youngsters. He did it at Cowdenbeath, Hearts and, prior to the Scotland job, with Dundee United. A team which now sees itself bearing the fruit of the seeds that Levein planted when he first took over at Tannadice. Players like Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben, Craig Conway (pictured), David Goodwillie and Danny Swanson are some of the most improved players in the SPL over the past few years. Levein has carried on this approach with Scotland, by giving youth a chance, and we are now starting to see the future of Scotland’s National team taking shape with the likes of Danny Wilson, Robert Snodgrass, Barry Bannan and David Goodwillie all having been handed debuts over the past year. Levein is a great man manager and, like many great Scottish managers, seems to be able to get the best from any character in the dressing room. If anyone will improve these young players and give them the belief that they can beat anyone on their day, Levein certainly will – there is no doubt about that.
Our performance against Northern Ireland in the Carling Nation’s Cup tie in Dublin recently was extremely good, albeit against a very poor Northern Irish side that was missing around nine first team regulars. The Scotland squad for that game consisted of a blend of old heads and young blood that seem to be beginning to gel together – there was also an air of confidence about the players on the park which grew with every goal scored in the 3-0 win. Despite many people thinking that Scotland’s participation in the Carling Nation’s Cup as being a pointless exercise, Craig Levein is adamant that any success the squad get from the games in this tournament will breed confidence and stand us in good stead for the qualifiers that recommence in September this year.
Looking at Levein’s competitive record as Scotland manager so far, many would agree that four points from four matches in the qualifiers for Euro 2012 is not brilliant, but at least we still have a chance of qualifying – and it’s still largely in our own hands. Scotland basically need to win their next three games in the opinion of many, starting with back to back home games against the Czechs and Lithuania, followed by a trip to Liechtenstein. Let’s hope that our big day in Madrid on the final day is one that we don’t have to win, but more one that we can enjoy. When was the last time we could say that?
I have no doubt that Craig Levein is still the man to lead Scotland forward, and I do believe that we will return to a major Championship under his tenure. On that note, let’s hope when I return to this subject in a year’s time that we are all busy looking for budget airline tickets to Poland.