TARTAN ARMY SEEM TO HAVE LOST PATIENCE WITH STRACHAN
After the inquest following Scotland’s previous failed campaign, Gordon Strachan was persuaded to stay by the goodwill of supporters who loudly cheered him after the win over Gibraltar.
The manager cuts a lonelier figure now, supported, perhaps, by an old-guard Scottish Football Association hierarchy, but not rank-and- file Tartan Army members, who appear to have lost patience following another fruitless attempt to reach a major finals.
There was applause to acknowledge the efforts of the players after Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Slovenia but little outward sign of support for the man in charge of another botched mission to qualify. Strachan’s insistence that he has no regrets might irk them further but he was steadfast in this stance yesterday. “We could have scored a winner with a couple of minutes to go,” he said. “We have finished the campaign losing out on goal difference to a very good side, scoring two goals here against a team nobody had scored against [at home]. We could have scored more. So, it isn’t that black moment that I’ve had a few times in my career.”
Strachan will turn 62 a few weeks before the qualifiers for Euro 2020 are due to kick off, in March 2019. Whether he needs the hassle and has the stomach for another fight will become apparent in the coming days.He looks fit and isn’t old compared to some, with Bayern Munich having recently returned to their 72-year-old former manager, Jupp Heynckes. Alex Smith, too, has struck a blow for dugout veterans having led Falkirk to two wins during his short spell as caretaker manager at the age of 77. “I speak to Alex Smith a lot actually,” said Strachan. “I feel fine, I feel fit.” But, when someone mentioned Smith’s age, he added: “You think I’m going to do this for another 17 years?” It wasn’t clear whether he meant trying to win football matches or the pesky obligation of speaking to reporters after them. Now he has learned of the media storm provoked by his post-match comments about Scotland’s poor genetics in comparison to other countries, he will be even less well disposed to performing this chore. There was something in his claims of course – Slovenia were more strapping than Scotland. Or at least the Scotland team put out. Strachan was the one who selected Barry Bannan, pictured right, and then sent on the equally diminutive Ikechi Anya for Chris Martin, among Scotland’s more physical presences.
However, minutes after such a gut-wrenching conclusion to Scotland’s latest campaign was neither the time nor place to press this point. Strachan was already agitated by the length of time Srecko Katanec took when speaking to reporters – it was the Slovenian coach’s last game in charge, and he was taking full advantage of being able to vent his frustration on Slovenian journalists – so Strachan had, perhaps, lost some focus by the time he gave his debriefing. His views on why Scotland are, literally, falling short have since been ridiculed, intensifying the desire for change in some.
David Moyes, Paul Lambert and Michael O’Neill are among those being linked with the post. It doesn’t require the greatest leap in imagination to picture a scenario where Northern Ireland lose their World Cup play-off next month and O’Neill is named Scotland manager in January, around the time the last two Scotland managers have been appointed. But for that to happen requires decisive action from the SFA and also hinges on Northern Ireland’s elimination. In the meantime we are left to rake over the coals. The Martin substitution remains as baffling now as it was when it happened, in the aftermath of Slovenia’s equaliser. The thought process behind it will be no nearer being fathomed when the action kicks off in Russia, without Scotland. “I think football will be off my list for a couple of weeks then, that’s for sure,” said Strachan with reference to next summer. But Scots might not be making plans to ignore the competition had their side’s odds of scoring not lengthened by a significant amount due to Martin’s withdrawal after 52 minutes in Ljubljana. “We were 1-0 up when Chris Martin was on the field,” noted Strachan, which was exactly the point. The man who, perhaps, did most in the campaign to sustain hopes of qualifying, and in whom Strachan sometimes seemed alone in investing trust, was taken off by the manager when nearly everyone else was of a mind to keep him on.“When the goal went in, it changed things,” added Strachan. But then Anya was stripped and ready to come on before Roman Bezjak’s first goal, with, presumably, Martin pinpointed as the player to come off. It was as if Strachan lacked the wit to alter his plans. Off came Martin despite the now more urgent need for a goal, and with Leigh Griffiths struggling to shake off a knock sustained in the opening half.But Strachan could not, would not, entertain regrets. “There is too much for that, you can’t do that. You can’t do that,” he said. “What you have got to do is analyse and put all that information back. But say I did something different, does that guarantee a win? “Whatever everyone else says doesn’t really matter,” he added. “I respect it but you can’t say if you had done something else, that would have been a winning team. It might have been worse, it might have been a lot worse.“You can look back at a couple of things,” he conceded. “A 94th-minute equaliser for England. There could be a lot of things [to factor in]. But the players, when they think about it and look back, should regard it as a great experience because they know where they can go now. They know where they can push themselves to.”As he was suggesting, yes, there are still plenty of positives.
If their current form is replicated in the Nations League [when they will play up to six games], Scotland’s total of 14 points from 18 could see them secure a Euro 2020 play-off whatever happens in qualifying. Meanwhile, anyone who doubts the manager’s popularity among the players hasn’t been paying attention. Sadly, however, the mark of failure now more indelibly stamped on this Strachan-led enterprise is impossible to ignore.