IT’S D-DAY FOR SCOTLAND BOSS
SFA chiefs to decide on future of McLeish: Full story inside your 12-page sports pullout
ALEX McLeish is set to learn his fate today as Scottish Football Association chiefs meet to decide whether to stick with the Scotland manager. The manager’s position will be top of the agenda as governing body chiefs gather for a scheduled board meeting at Hampden. McLeish’s performance has come in for severe criticism following the disastrous UEFA 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier – a defeat branded by many the worst in the nation’s footballing history. An unconvincing 2-0 victory over San Marino days later did little to stem the tide of opinion within the Tartan Army that another man is required at the helm.
THE Scottish Football Association was last night accused of undermining Alex McLeish’s authority as Scotland manager before he was even appointed as a result of their “amateurish”, “botched” and “messy” pursuits of both Michael O’Neill and Walter Smith. The governing body’s board will meet at Hampden today – and the main item on the agenda will be deciding on McLeish’s future with the national team after a bitterly disappointing start to the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. His men crashed to a calamitous 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan in the opening Group I match in Nursultan last month and followed that up with an unconvincing performance in a nerve-wracking and ultimately meaningless 2-0 triumph over minnows San Marino in Serravalle a few days later. The SFA is set to debate whether to continue with the 60-year-old – who secured a Euro 2020 play-off place when Scotland topped their Nations League section back in November – or bring in a replacement in time for the crucial Cyprus and Belgium matches in June. McLeish’s 14-month reign has been tumultuous to say the least, despite the impressive wins over Albania and Israel which ensured the country has a safety net if the Scots fail to finish in the top two in their group and qualify for the finals automatically. The 60-year-old was a controversial choice to succeed Gordon Strachan in February last year; many members of the Tartan Army were still unhappy at the way he left for a job at Birmingham City during his first spell in charge in 2007 and were vehemently opposed to him returning. Others felt that putting their faith in a man who had, aside from a two month-long stint at Egyptian club Zamalek in 2016, not worked in management full-time in almost three years was a retrograde step. It is understood that SFA president Alan McRae and vice-president Rod Petrie, who are personal friends with the Aberdeen great and former Hibernian manager, were very persuasive in ensuring McLeish was given the job. The former Motherwell, Hibernian, Rangers, Birmingham, Aston Villa and Genk manager has successfully blooded a raft of young players, including Scott Bain, David Bates, Scott McKenna, Scott McTominay, Stephen O’Donnell and John Souttar. But a large number of call-offs before the Albania game last year, which his team ended up winning 4-0, led to claims, which McLeish refuted, that key personnel either didn’t want to represent their country or play under him. The likes of Scott Brown, Leigh Griffiths, James McArthur, Allan McGregor, Matt Ritchie and Robert Snodgrass have all either retired from international football or made themselves unavailable for selection during his second tenure. One report after the opening Euro 2020 double header last month implied there had been disquiet behind the scenes in the Scotland camp and stated the SFA were within 24 hours of parting company with their manager. No official backing of the man at the helm has since been forthcoming from the sixth floor at Hampden. Yet, George Peat, the former SFA president, feels the fact the governing body allowed it to become public knowledge that McLeish was not their preferred candidate to take over from Strachan, and in fact was the third person they approached, has made his job even more problematic. Peat, who was involved in the appointment of both George Burley and Craig Levein during his presidency, is highly critical of the SFA over their attempts to land both Northern Ireland manager O’Neill as well as former incumbent Smith. “They made a mess of the appointment with Alex McLeish,” said Peat. “Telling the whole world that they wanted Michael O’Neill was an amateurish way of doing things to put it mildly. “They should have found out before they made an announcement if O’Neill was interested in the job. People have contacts all over the place. It wouldn’t have been difficult to find out if he was interested in coming to Scotland or not. That could have sorted out the messy problem of it dragging on for weeks and then him turning them down.” Smith, the vastly experienced and hugely respected former Rangers, Everton and Scotland manager, was sounded out about coming in after the O’Neill saga and was intrigued by the prospect. But he withdrew from the running within a matter of days after the SFA failed to contact him again. “They botched that,” commented Peat (inset). Asked if he thought the O’Neill and Smith debacles had made it harder for McLeish to command respect in the role, Peat said: “That is right. Reading between the lines, Alex was just desperate to get back involved.” He added: “During my presidency, what I did was say to every member of the board ‘write down the names of three people you would consider to become manager’. We looked at the list, picked out two or three with the most mentions and then interviewed them. Then we reported back to the board and said: ‘Here’s our recommendation. What do you think?’ “But any managerial appointment is a gamble. You can never be sure when you appoint somebody if they are going to be a success. You can get guys who have been a success with one club and when they move to another job things just don’t work the same. You can never guarantee an appointment, that’s the problem. “What Alex did the first time was fine. Walter came in after Berti Vogts and turned the whole thing round. Alex came in, carried it on. Unfortunately, after that, things went downhill.When I was president we were 13th in the FIFA world rankings. Thirteenth! Where are we now?” If McLeish is kept on for the Cyprus match at Hampden on Saturday, June 8, he will need to win to keep alive slim hopes of qualifying automatically for the Euro 2020 finals and survive as Scotland manager.
Alan McRae (left) championed Alex McLeish’s candidacy for the manager’s job following the failure to appoint Michael O’Neill