Wed 18 November 2009

The SFA and the search for the next manager of Scotland

Now that the bunting has been torn down from between the tenements and the houses, and the last of the party revellers bundled into a taxi for the long ride home, the mandarins at the SFA find themselves in a situation that gets less unique with every tournament that passes Scottish football by.

Like many other blogs and newspapers, we published our own list of candidates yesterday over at Inside Left. Our list is fairly standard in that it contains the same names that appear on most other lists, and when we published it yesterday, we felt confident that whoever takes over at the helm will probably feature on our hit parade.

But the SFA should take a long, hard look in the mirror before they take a look at the CV’s.

In an ideal world, and in a recession when finding a job is not the easiest of challenges, the Scotland job should be one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. It comes with a few perks. There’s a nice compensation package, travel to exotic locations and the opportunity to work with some of the brightest talents (sic) in the Scottish game.

In reality however, finding someone who is prepared to work with a limited talent pool and a governing body whose organisational skills couldn’t arrange a ride in a brothel is like the search for a piece of hay in a giant stack of needles.

Between Berti Vogts and now George Burley, the position of national manager has become, if you’ll excuse the oft-quoted cliche these last few days, a poisoned chalice. Constantly pilloried by the press and often left in the dark or the lurch by the SFA, who’d want to take this job on?

The job requires someone who can take on the suits at the SFA and who is willing to deal with the politics and Machiavellian machinations all the way up the greasy pole. Someone with a big gob and a tough skin. Unfortunately, the only candidate we can think of with the balls to pull that off, Graeme Souness, has put himself out of the running.

At a time when Scottish football is at a crossroads, the new manager needs to be an individual who has the vision and the clout to force the SFA to make changes needed to get the national team back on the road to respectability. And that is something that goes beyond picking the 22-man squad for every tournament – it’s about changing the youth setup, it’s about training and supporting a raft of new coaches to be deployed in schools and clubs around the country, it’s about getting the funds to improve the facilities at every club to foster a culture of ambition and success.

Does such a candidate exist? And would we be able to afford them?

The SFA is not a rich organisation, so the salary on offer to the lucky candidate is going to discount most of the names who currently ply their trade south of the border and who have appeared on some lists of successors: David Moyes, Roy Hodgson, Billie Davies, Alan Irvine and Steve Clarke, to name but a few.

Aside from the fact that none of these people would ever give up a relatively successful career in leagues that offer more challenge than the Scotland job would ever do, the amount of money we’d have to pay them to even join up would be prohibitive. The biscuit tin at the SFA is still very much in existence.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us with candidates who certainly carry a degree of gravitas, and who, more importantly wont ask for too much money. Jim Jefferies can’t be on a whole lot, John Collins, Darren Ferguson and Jimmy Calderwood are all on the dole, so could be brought in relatively cheaply. Walter Smith probably doesn’t need the money anyway.

You then have to ask the question “would I want these people managing my squad?“.

Jim Jefferies has operated for years at a club with little funds or talent yet he’s been able to keep Kilmarnock in the league (just, on some occasions). Like Walter Smith, he’s a safe pair of hands, someone to steady the ship without really setting the heather alight.

John Collins would certainly keep the team fit, but his management skills leave a lot to be desired. He survived a mutiny during his time at Easter Road (they where not too happy with his constant team and formation changes), suggesting perhaps that his tactical nous and man-management qualities are open to question.

Jimmy Calderwood is a man who is often derided for his appearance and questionable media skill, but underneath the orange exterior you’ll find a canny manager who, like Jefferies, has a long track record of getting the best out of a pool of players with limited ability.

Darren ’son of Alex’ Ferguson is, was, an up-and-coming manager who also has experience with crappy squads. He led Peterborough to the Championship before leaving earlier this month after a run of poor results. He clearly has talent, but given the amount of work needed to get the national squad into shape, is he really up to it, even if he has the auldyin on the end of the phone. And would he want to be tainted with the Scotland post at the risk of putting him out of contention for any future English club management jobs?

Mind you, that could also be said for a candidate we see that can fulfill our requirements – Craig Levein.

The Dundee United manager has expressed an interest in the job and is currently doing the sort of thing at Tannadice that, on a broader scale, the Scotland setup requires: investment in youth and an overhaul of the youth academy and total control over all football-related activities. He’s getting results on the pitch with a largely Scottish squad, but would he want to risk the massive kudos he’s built up at United? He’s the bookies favourite, but we see him staying at United for a few more years to finish what he started.

Having thought about the situation for a few days now, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the quality of manager is important, the other issue facing the country is the august body of people who ultimately make the final hire or fire decision.

The Scottish Football Association, an 11-man strong board of cronies and hangers-on are aware changes needs to be made, but are unwilling to give up the cosy lifestyle or to invest the time in changing the very structure that keeps them in power.

This means that whichever candidate we get will more than likely be another meek and mild character, like Burley, who won’t rock the establishment boat too much. This is why you’ll never see Craig Levein get the job, no matter how much he says he wants it, because he would simply demand too much, too soon.

The concept of ‘the buck stops here’ is not one that seems to apply to SFA. For them, the buck stops one level below them. The men responsible for Burley’s appointment, those responsible for keeping him in a job when clearly the man was failing and those responsible for so much of the challenges facing the Scottish game need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and question the value of their own contribution to the national game.

Neither Chairman of the SFA George Peat, whose outbursts about Chris Uwelumo’s miss against Norway where particularly sickening and uncalled for, nor Gordon Smith, our erstwhile Chief Executive whose only contribution has been to change the rules to give Islam Feruz a game for Scotland, have made any real difference to the game north of the border, and both have presided over a period when the national side has become an object of ridicule and embarrassment.

While Burley, his reputation forged at successful spells at Derby, Southampton and Hearts forever damaged by his sacking earlier this week, is busy signing on, the leading lights of the SFA return to work, looking for the next man to carry the can for the institutional failings of the people who run the game.

Good luck to him, whoever it is.

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