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

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