Win or lose tonight, Craig Levein’s time as Scotland manager looks to be at an end. With only 2 points from a possible 9 and Gareth Bale’s 25 yard strike in the 2-1 defeat to Wales this past Friday haunting his dreams, Levein appears to be a dead man walking. Defeat against a strong Belgium side tonight, who sit top of the group, will definitely end his 3 year stint as Scotland boss but even a win might not be enough to save him.
Critics and fans alike have been quick to proclaim Levein’s failures in great depth, like his decision to field no striker and 6 midfielders against a poor Czech side which led to a 1-0 defeat. But the statistic that may be the most crucial of all is Scotland’s win percentage of competitive matches during Leveins’ time in charge – 26%. Yes that right, 26%. After you strip out pointless friendly wins against Denmark and Australia and look at only matches played in qualifying tournaments, Levein’s record has been appalling. With 3 wins (two against Lithuania and one against Liechtenstein) out of a possible 11, this actually makes him the worse Scotland coach in 54 years, which will surprise a lot of Scottish fans who believed that Berti Vogts owned that title.
So if indeed the end of the road comes for Craig Levein in the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels tonight, who will the SFA turn to as his replacement?
With little money and having been burnt before with Berti Vogts, the SFA is unlikely to go foreign in their next choice. And after watching Trapattoni’s expensive Republic of Ireland fairytale turn into a nightmare in recent months, the SFA will start its search on home turf. But the fear is that the Scotland job has become a poisoned chalice after the past few managers have struggle to get work following managing Scotland. With the exception of Walter Smith and Alex McLeish who quit the job to go back to club management, the former dismissed coaches like Berti Vogts, George Burley and Craig Brown have all taken a while to get back into football. Brown, who was manager for 9 years and last took Scotland to a major tournament (World Cup 1998) was sacked in 2001, only returning to full-time management some 10 months later with Preston North End. His successor, Vogts was out of work for 3 years before popping up as head coach of the Nigerian national team. Burley, who lasted less than 2 years in the role, was sacked in November 2009 and return temporarily as Crystal Palace boss in late 2010 before quickly being sack there as well. If the SFA is to hire a top manager, they will need to make the package and the job seem appealing. The list, likely to be drawn up soon, or perhaps already has been, is likely to include the following names:
Front Runner: Gordon Strachan
The former Celtic and Middlesbrough manager is desperate to return to management and looks like odds on favourite to succeed Levein if and when he gets the chop. Strachan’s managerial record is mixed at best with success at Celtic marred by difficult times at Coventry and Middlesbrough. Is he ready for the job and can he take Scotland to their first major tournament since 1998?
Constant Runners: Graeme Souness/Mark McGhee
Souness has been touted to become Scotland boss three times now. His known temper and aggressive nature may put off the SFA but it may be what is needed. Is this the right time for the former Newcastle, Rangers, Benfica and Galatasary manager to step into the cauldron?
Mark McGhee’s stock rose during his successful time in charge of Motherwell, so much so that he tipped himself for the Celtic job, just weeks before joining Aberdeen. His time in Pittodrie ended badly and was replaced by former Scotland boss, Craig Brown. He missed out on the Scotland job to George Burley but has aspirations to get the job some day.
Fans Choice: David Moyes
If the fans could choose, the realistic majority would pick David Moyes. A complete manager with good tactical knowledge and strong people skills, he is the ideal candidate. He has spoken of his desire to manage Scotland at one stage in his career but would he leave his current role at high-flying Everton to take it on? It’s unlikely given his stock is rising in the EPL and uncertainty reigns over the futures of Di Matteo, Ferguson and Wenger with the latter two rumoured to be retiring at the end of this season.
Old Guard: Walter Smith/Alex McLeish
Walter Smith was the man the SFA once turned to rescue Scotland after a disastrous time under Bert Vogts. He managed to shore up a leaky team and put some pride back into the national squad, lifting the nation up 70 places in the world rankings by the end of his time in charge. He famously quit to go back to his beloved Rangers which may have soured his relationship with the SFA and some sections of the Scotland fans but he may be the right man for the job.
Former Rangers and Aston Villa manager McLeish loved his time in charge of the national team and was sad to leave it. Now unemployed, he may want to finish what he started and would offer the SFA a welcome and known face as they look to hire the next boss. Having led the team to the famous 1-0 victory over France in Paris, when James McFadden beat the goalkeeper from 40 yards out, he is well-remembered by the fans and playing staff so would be a safe pair of hands.
Young Pretenders: Stuart McCall/Ally McCoist
The tireless former Scotland midfielder has only been in charge of Motherwell for a short while but is already impressing. His passion for the game and his country could make him a strong candidate but it’s perhaps too soon for this job.
The Rangers boss was assistant manager to Walter Smith during his days as Scotland boss and will look to follow in his mentor’s footsteps one day. But McCoist’s strong sense of pride in what he is trying to achieve at Rangers after all that the club has been through will likely rule him out of the running this time. A potential boss for the future, McCoist knows that his time will come if he succeeds in his current mission to get Rangers back to the SPL.
Outside Bet: Peter Houston/Kenny Dalglish
As current assistant manager to Craig Levein, Peter Houston may not be considered a contender if Levein goes, purely because of association. The SFA is unlikely to want to hold on to anything that resembles the Levein years as they start afresh which may be harsh on Houston. Having had some success at Dundee United, he should be considered but against more experienced candidates he may struggle to justify his appointment.
King Kenny is a Scotland legend. Often mentioned as a potential candidate, he has never been seriously considered until now due to his lack of involvement in football over the past years. That all changed when Dalglish came out of self-made retirement to take over from now England manager Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. Following his sacking, Dalglish is looking for his next challenge and it may be the right time for him to return to his country of birth and take charge.
Regardless of who takes over from Levein, the mantra will be fairly simple – restore some national pride in the team, get the results needed and steer Scotland to it’s first major tournament in nearly 20 years. Failure is simply not an option.