For­mer Scot­land man­ager re­mains in­flu­en­tial player in the beau­ti­ful game


ANDY Roxburgh is in Switzer­land and talk­ing about cake. In the land famed for its pas­tries, cho­co­late and other sweet things that seems ap­pro­pri­ate enough. In this case, how­ever, Roxburgh isn’t sim­ply look­ing ahead to his af­ter­noon cof­fee break. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it is sport that is fore­most in his mind.

“I de­scribe football as be­ing like a cake,” he be­gins in­trigu­ingly. “The thin ic­ing on the top is the pro­fes­sional game, the fruit level un­der­neath is the elite youth play­ers who might ma­ture or might not, and the bulk of the cake is the grass­roots. You have to take care of all as­pects of the football cake.”

Any list of the most in­flu­en­tial Scots in world football would surely have Roxburgh near the top, some­where near his old friend and one-time Falkirk team­mate, Sir Alex Fer­gu­son. He is show­ing no sign of let­ting up or slow­ing down as he ap­proaches his 72nd birth­day.

In­stead, he has be­gun the process of adding another chap­ter to an al­ready lengthy and var­ied tale.

Roxburgh has al­ways been a pi­o­neer­ing fig­ure. He dis­ap­proves of any talk of the “aca­demic” side of football but it is that thought­ful, me­thod­i­cal ap­proach that has earned him re­spect through­out the decades from many of the game’s lead­ing fig­ures. The Scot­tish Football As­so­ci­a­tion’s first di­rec­tor of coach­ing, he was a sur­prise but also a suc­cess­ful ap­point­ment as Scot­land man­ager, tak­ing the na­tion to back-to-back ma­jor tour­na­ments for the first time. From there he was ap­pointed Uefa’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor where he stayed in post for 18 years, ahead of a two-year stint with the New York Red Bulls as sport­ing di­rec­tor.

Now he is in the early stages of what must surely be his most daunt­ing chal­lenge yet af­ter agree­ing to be­come the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for the Asian Football Con­fed­er­a­tion af­ter years of work­ing on the con­ti­nent on an ad-hoc ba­sis.

His re­mit is ef­fec­tively to repli­cate, where pos­si­ble, his achieve­ments at Uefa but he must try to do so in a con­ti­nent so vast ge­o­graph­i­cally – it stretches, in football terms, from Aus­tralia, through the Far East and In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, all the way to the Mid­dle East – and dis­parate in terms of re­sources and wealth. What can be done in Ja­pan and Korea is likely to be much dif­fer­ent to what can be achieved in places like Cam­bo­dia, Bangladesh or Syria. Roxburgh has his work cut out but he is en­thu­si­as­tic about the job ahead.

“This is a more com­plex sit­u­a­tion than in Europe,” he adds. “We have greater ex­tremes in Asia that we didn’t face there. But it’s a mat­ter of tack­ling things step-by-step. There are dif­fer­ences away from football as well. Some of the na­tions are well-ad­vanced, like Ja­pan, Korea and Aus­tralia, and what they do is com­pa­ra­ble with the lead­ing na­tions in Europe. But then there are oth­ers who clearly need a lot of de­vel­op­ment and a lot of help.”

The AFC clearly has high hopes. Upon an­nounc­ing Roxburgh’s ap­point­ment, gen­eral sec­re­tary Alex Soosay said – only half-jok­ing – that re­cruit­ing the Scot would help win a World Cup for Asia. Roxburgh laughs that off but ac­knowl­edged there is an ex­pec­ta­tion that the gap be­tween the con­ti­nent and Europe and South Amer­ica could even­tu­ally be nar­rowed.

“If you look at the men’s side, apart from when Korea and Ja­pan hosted the World Cup, they haven’t done all that well. In the last World Cup they had four teams and none of them won a game. So, there­fore, there is clearly a chal­lenge to try to close that gap. It’s fine to have dreams and goals about win­ning World Cups but the main thing is to be prag­matic. The Scot­tish men­tal­ity is to be more prac­ti­cal and take things step-by-step. You have to be re­al­is­tic as well as hav­ing dreams.”

Roxburgh’s job cov­ers so many dif­fer­ent strands but his forte re­mains in the fields of coach ed­u­ca­tion and player de­vel­op­ment. He will gather all of Asia’s na­tional team man­agers in Au­gust for a con­fer­ence where he hopes there will be a free ex­change of views, rather than him sim­ply telling them what they ought to be as­pir­ing to.

“Arséne Wenger used to say to me that the most im­por­tant thing I did at Uefa was bring­ing them all to­gether. That way they learn off each other. It’s not a mat­ter of telling ev­ery­one what to do and say­ing ‘here’s your so­lu­tion’. You do try to feed in the latest trends

It is the Mes­sis or Ini­es­tas of this world who are of­ten the an­ti­dote to struc­tures and or­gan­i­sa­tions . . . And that’s great

and ideas but it’s bet­ter to pro­vide the plat­form and then lis­ten to their thoughts.”

Roxburgh, who will split half his work­ing life be­tween Asia and Europe, worked ex­ten­sively with Fifa ear­lier in his ca­reer, serv­ing as a mem­ber of its tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee and study group at six World Cups. He is sad­dened by the re­cent scan­dals that have en­veloped the gov­ern­ing body but hoped the sport would even­tu­ally emerge cleansed and re­newed.

“It’s very sad for the im­age of football what has hap­pened. For peo­ple who are in­volved in the game in the prac­ti­cal or de­vel­op­ment side, we just get on with our work. There are so

many things in football that dis­turb us and you con­stantly bat­tle against them but the game sur­vives. It is so pop­u­lar world­wide that blips hap­pen and it still goes on. The will is still there to make football strong, to con­tinue its growth and de­vel­op­ment. That to me should al­ways be the fo­cus.”

The great­est para­dox in­volv­ing Roxburgh is that he is a man who must push for uni­for­mity while crav­ing the unique.

The sight of a Lionel Messi drib­ble or an An­dres Ini­esta de­fence-split­ting pass still gets his heart rac­ing, even if these are acts of ge­nius that he can’t pos­si­ble ever hope to pass on in any coach­ing man­ual or train­ing ses­sion. “You get fash­ions that come and go. The bot­tom line, though, is the fun­da­men­tals and those never change.

“Coaches who are al­ways think­ing ahead and try­ing to out­smart their op­po­nents, and tal­ented play­ers who are well-coached – these things will al­ways re­main.

“I was at the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal and the qual­ity of the game was fan­tas­tic. Clearly Barcelona were more cre­ative than Ju­ven­tus but a player like An­drea Pirlo is just phe­nom­e­nal. He’s just an artist.

The great play­ers make the dif­fer­ence. Cre­ative coaches, too, can do that, boys like Pep Guardi­ola.

“When it comes down to it, it is the Mes­sis or Ini­es­tas of this world who are of­ten the an­ti­dote to struc­tures and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“That will al­ways be the way. The great cre­ative play­ers will al­ways be able to dis­man­tle the best-or­gan­ised de­fences. And that’s great.”

Fer­gu­son is yet to con­vince Roxburgh of the mer­its of re­tire­ment. “He’s not slowed down ei­ther – he’s still hy­per­ac­tive. He’s away from the front­line in football but he’s still got plenty go­ing on. And in my case, as long as some­body thinks you can con­trib­ute then I’m happy to do that. If you’ve still got the health, energy and en­thu­si­asm, and some­body wants you, then keep go­ing.”

EVER­GREEN: Andy Roxburgh says Sir Alex Fer­gu­son ‘is still hy­per­ac­tive’ as the pair con­tinue to work into their 70s

WIDE RE­MIT: Roxburgh is now re­spon­si­ble for the likes of Thai­land and Le­banon

ROBINHO: Re­fused to use virus as an ex­cuse for los­ing to Paraguay in quar­ter­fi­nal penalty shoot-out

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