ALEX McLeish was a hero of mine when I started following football.
He’d captained Aberdeen to Scottish Cup glory in 1990 and was one of the few Scotland players who came away from Italia ’90 with plaudits having performed well during that summers World Cup.
For a while, he was doing pretty well as a Manager with Rangers and Scotland, with most of us being gutted when he left the National job after narrowly failing to qualify for Euro 2008 behind World Cup Finalists Italy and France.
As a person, he always conducted himself very well in interviews and was always willing to give autographs and pose for pictures with fans. One of my favourite pictures was standing beside the big man after my first game at Pittodrie when I was nine.
Unfortunately, as McLeish will know, there is no sentiment in football and I fear that, with him in charge this time around, Scotland are going to extend their long barren run without qualifying for a major international tournament.
The appalling performance and result in Kazakhstan has made our task to qualify automatically for Euro 2020, one we technically co-host with eleven other nations, almost impossible after just one game. Given that Russia, the second seed and favourites to take that second qualification spot behind Belgium, went there and won 4-0 emphasises further the humiliation we suffered by a Nation who’s most famous son is a fictional character created by Sacha Baron Cohen!
Tonight’s performance in San Marino wasn’t much better as we laboured to a 2-0 win against the worst ranked side in WORLD FOOTBALL. There were times where we feared they could drop points before Johnny Russell secured all three points and the side were jeered by the majority of the Tartan Army, who’s most vocal chant was “sack the board” and “f*** the SFA.”
Big call for the SFA
It is now down to Chief Executive Ian Maxwell, President Alan McRae, Vice-President Rod Petrie and the other committee members to make a decision on whether to change things before it’s too late – and the case for sticking by Alex McLeish is weakening by the game.
Five wins from 12 matches is very poor when you compare his 2007 record, which returned seven wins out of ten. He will argue that he secured the safety net of a playoff via the inaugural Nations League campaign, but that was minimum achievement given how easy a draw we were given in Albania and Israel – and we still almost cocked that up before a James Forrest hat trick against the Israeli’s at Hampden spared our blushes.
The performances have, largely, been poor with players on the park hiding, some making themselves unavailable for selection and others are picking and choosing when to pull on the dark blue. Whilst the attitude of the players do not solely lie at the Managers door, the number of players shying away from International duty is a concern and does reflect well on Alex McLeish.
He had the right idea at the start by bringing in younger players into his squad to freshen things up, and moved on players who were either poor in a Scotland jersey or weren’t getting into matchday squads at their clubs. However, he tried for too long to integrate a 3-5-1-1 system designed to shoehorn left backs Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson into the starting lineup. Ironically, those two were, effectively, played out of position at centre back and left wing back respectively and the players never looked comfortable in that system, which was particularly evident in the 2-1 away defeat in Israel.
The November wins in Albania and at home to Israel, which sealed top spot in their Nations League Section and a playoff in March next year, did show signs of improvement and gave some of us optimism that we would start this European Championship Qualifying campaign with six points.
However, Kazakhstan, who went into the game having won one out of six Nations League matches from a group containing Georgia, Latvia and Andorra, took advantage of pitiful defending to claim a comfortable 3-0 win. What was most alarming about the Scotland performance was the lack of leadership, responsibility and passion. Not one player was screaming at his teammate, not one was taking responsibility during the game and not one player showed any determination to help drag his nation out of the mire.
These were traits that McLeish had in abundance during his 77 cap reign as a player, yet he is now unable to get that message across to his current group. In his last tenure, he could rely on guys like David Weir, Stephen McManus, Paul Hartley, Barry Ferguson and a young Scott Brown, guys who were either captains at their club or who were able to take responsibility on and off the park at International level. None of the eleven who took to the plastic turf in Astana looked as though they had given up after that disastrous ten minutes when we went two down, even though there was still plenty of time to turn around that deficit.
It also begs the question of what has McLeish done in the past 12 years since he left his previous role with Scotland to go to Birmingham City. His record at St Andrew’s is mixed, relegated in his first half season before winning promotion, winning the League Cup in 2011 only to be relegated that same season with a run of just two wins from the last eleven games.
He then made the ill advisable decision to join arch rivals Aston Villa, and didn’t endear himself to the Villa faithful by just surviving a relegation battle in his sole season at the helm. Underwhelming stints at Genk, Nottingham Forest (where he lasted just 37 days) and Zamalek in Egypt, when he was sacked in May 2016.
With just two months shy of two years out of the game, plus the manner in which he left in 2007, McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager was not met with countrywide approval and begs the question if he is suited to modern day management. In the aftermath of the SFA’s half hearted attempt to land Michael O’Neill, McLeish had to hit the ground running to win over the Scotland fans but results and performances over the past year have led to any support very much being now a tiny minority.
Tonight’s performance in San Marino was incredibly turgid. It was slow, it was pedestrian, a lot of sideway passes and poor crosses. After Kenny McLean’s goal just four minutes in, the hope was that the pressure would be relived and Scotland could ramp up a big victory to lift some of the gloom on the National Team rather than limp to victory only secured 15 minutes from time. Yes San Marino, as expected, packed their penalty box to make things difficult but that’s the trait of a team who have won one out of 155 matches since they became an International team in 1990. Whilst it was a night where even a 5-0 victory might’ve got no more than a “it’s only San Marino”, the nature of the performance was concerning and that led to boos at half time and full time from the travelling g Scotland supporters.
The case for Alex McLeish staying as Scotland Manager cannot solely rest on the gurantee of the Nations League Playoff In twelve months time. In fact that match with Finland, followed by a match against either Norway or Serbia (as things stand), is another factor why we should look to change Manager NOW so that the successor can build momentum again and try to salvage our hopes of automatic qualification, then we can have more belief in the playoff should we need it.
If Scotland are serious about ending the 22 year wait to play in the Finals of a major international tournament, and one where Hampden hosts two games, then they need to discuss McLeish’s position as soon as possible and not do the typical SFA things by delaying until it’s too late.
As an Aberdeen fan, I’d have loved it if Alex McLeish, one of my heroes growing up, could lead Scotland out of the International wilderness. Unfortunately, as a Scotland fan, I’m afraid he’s no longer up to the job he was doing well in 12 years ago and his time has passed.