The Sunday Post (Dundee)
Stunned to be back in Scotland set-up
THERE has been a revolving door in the Scotland camp since the defeats against Italy and France in June.
Out have gone one of Gordon Strachan’s assistant coaches, Stuart McCall, and his captain, Scott Brown. In has come Andy Watson. The Celtic skipper’s retirement from the international arena came as a bolt from the blue for the Tartan Army.
Watson’s appointment to the Dark Blues’ backroom staff was also an absolute stunner – for the man himself!
He told the Sunday Post: “Gordon phoned me a few weeks ago, but I missed the call as I was relaxing in my back garden.
“I phoned back later, we had a chat and he asked what I was up to.
“I told him I was between jobs, and thought he was just going to ask me to cover one or two games for him on a scouting capacity.
“But he offered me the chance to work with him and Mark McGhee as part of his backroom staff, and I was flabbergasted.
“You could have knocked me down with a feather.
“Since our playing days at Aberdeen, we’ve never worked together in a formal basis.
“But I know I will enhance my knowledge of the game from being with them.
“I will also add to the discussions and offer my input. I’m confident we will all bounce off of one another in a positive and meaningful way.
“It’s quite frightening to think that almost 35 years ago we were team-mates at Pittodrie.
“We shared some special moments together and the success we had during that period was incredible.
“I can still visualise some of the old photos as we celebrated winning trophies, photos of us all in the big bath with bottles of champagne and cans of lager.
“I don’t really know what Sir Alex Ferguson would say, now that the three of us are working together.
“But I know he would be absolutely delighted if we can help guide the country to major tournament in 2018.
“Back in our Aberdeen days we were a very close bunch, all young men with a hunger and a desire to succeed.
“We were a close bunch and that unity, as well as the talent, helped us achieve great things.
“Now, it will also be important to have togetherness and belief as we go into this new campaign.”
As players, Watson, Strachan and McGhee won every domestic honour, and topped it off by defeating Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final, when Andy was an used sub.
Now their target is to take Scotland to the finals of a major tournament for the first time in 20 years.
The start of the journey to make it to Russia for the 2018 World Cup starts away to Malta in a fortnight. Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and England make up the rest of the group.
56-year-old Watson has been with the Scotland set-up before. Nine years ago, he was assistant to Alex McLeish, a partnership that had enjoyed great success with Rangers, and the pair also worked together at Birmingham City.
But they tasted glorious failure on the international stage when they had to beat Italy to qualify for Euro 2008, but lost the must-win game at Hampden.
Watson hopes to avoid a repeat scenario.
He said: “The hard work has started, and it will intensify during the next couple of weeks as we build up towards the Malta game.
“We are in a tough group, and there isn’t a game you could take three points for granted, particularly away from home.
“We came close in the last campaign and we need to go one better.
“The campaign is ‘This Time’, and we want that to be true. Trust me, we want this so badly.
“We came close to qualifying for the Euro 2008. I’ll never forget that Saturday night at Hampden Park when we lost 2-1 to Italy.
“That result still haunts me. Of course, it’s ironic that back then we also suffered for losing away from home to Georgia, the same as the last campaign.
“The Tartan Army were unbelievable during that 2008 campaign, and we will need their backing and encouragement in every game in the next 15 months as we try to get to Russia.
“I know a number of the players
I know I will enhance my knowledge of the game from being with them
from my previous time with the national team. The goalkeepers are pretty much the same. Darren Fletcher, Stevie Naismith, James Morrison, Alan Hutton and Shaun Maloney are all still a vital part of the current set-up.
“This could well be the last opportunity to play at a major Finals for a few of the players, and that will make them even more determined.
“I believe in their ability and I hope that we can all help each other to bring the success that the whole country craves.”
Watson will need to pinch himself when he meets up with the squad at the end of the month for the awkward tip to play Malta.
He worked with Strachan’s son, Gavin, as his assistant at non-League Ilkeston, and then took over as manager when Strachan left for Doncaster Rovers.
He tasted the cruel side of the brutal business when he was axed after less than six months in charge.
Personable, loyal and knowledgeable, Watson hopes being part of the national set-up will eventually lead to him getting back into full-time football.
He has plenty to offer and stressed: “I was down at the Crystal Palace-West Brom last weekend with Gordon, and we bumped into Alex McLeish and his wife, Jill.
“There I was in standing in between the current manager and a former Scotland manager.
“I was privileged to work with Alex for many years and we enjoyed many successful times together, including a Treble with Rangers and the League Cup with Birmingham.
“I’m now with Gordon and I’m positive that more good times are ahead in my new job.”
Every member of the Tartan Army will hope that is the case.