Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Gordon's Gone, But, Will His Successor Fare Any Better?

YESTERDAY'S sacking of Gordon Strachan, however it is dressed-up: “mutual consent”, “parting of the ways”, whatever, has to go down as yet another example of the suits who have mismanaged Scottish football for generations hiding behind a good man, who did his best, being sacrificed so they can avoid having that mismanagement discussed.

WGS - Has gone, but, will his successor do any better? Pic: courtesy of Jeff Holmes SNS

It has to be admitted, in things such as his ill-judged “genetics” comment, Wee Gordon Strachan did himself no favours. In other matters, such as his sometimes tetchy relationship with the stenographers of the Scottish Football Writers Association, again, the wee man didn't help himself. However, received wisdom tells us: “Football is a results-driven business”. The SFA Board members, who dispensed with his services yesterday, decided the results under WGS were unacceptable, so, he was let go.

Fair enough, except:

  • In pure results terms, Scotland IMPROVED under WGS.

You do not believe me, well here it is:

  • 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland finished fourth in Group 1 - 34th in the European qualifying zone.
  • 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland finished third in Group F, 20th in Europe. Therefore – we finished 14 places higher than we had four years previously.

I appreciate we have this romantic vision of Scotland being the keepers of the flame when it comes to football; we invented the passing game and took it around the world, so, we still have some right to be considered good at it. The reality is somewhat different.

We clambered, however reluctantly, onto the world stage in 1949, when we accepted the 1949-50 Home Internationals would be used as a qualifying group for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

England won that group, but, we were then offered, and refused, a “wild-card” entry. In all, only six European nations travelled to Brazil, so, we can say, Scotland was ranked seventh in Europe in 1950.

Uruguay 7 Scotland 0 - the low point of the 195 World Cup campaign

Four years later, we did qualify and travel, to Switzerland. The final tournament was a total disaster for us, and we finished 12th of the 12 European nations which had participated. Another four years passed, and again we managed to qualify for the finals, in Sweden. This tournament was not the disaster of four years previously, but, we still, by our reckoning, under-performed – finishing 11th of the 12 European contenders – an improvement of one place from our 1954 performance.

For the 1962 World Cup, in Chile, we failed to qualify, losing out, after extra time, in a play-off with Czechoslovakia, who would go on to finish as runners-up to Brazil. Ten European nations qualified, in effect, we were 11th in Europe, exactly the same spot we had filled four years previously.

The 1966 World Cup in England saw us drop down the rankings, finishing 17th in Europe after a roller-coaster of a qualifying campaign. But, as what we can now see as a golden age for Scottish international football post-World War II began to dawn, for the 1970 Finals, we clambered up to 12th in Europe as we lost out in qualifying to a late West German goal in Hamburg.

That rise continued in 1974, when, after a 16-year absence, during which we missed three final tournaments, we were back in the big show in West Germany, where, in typically-Scottish fashion, we were the only unbeaten team, but didn't qualify for the knock-out stages, finishing 9th of the 16 competing teams, our highest-ever placing in the World Cup, and 7th in Europe.

1974 - 7th in Europe, 9th in the world, but, this Bremner miss is the great: "What if?"

We qualified again for the 1978 finals in Argentina, one of ten European nations to travel. Argentina '78 will forever go down as an unmitigated disaster, which is perhaps unfair, but, we finished 11th, two places lower than four years previously, however, we maintained our status as the 7th best nation in Europe.

Four years passed and, when the World Cup went to Spain in 1982, we were again on the biggest stage, one of 14 European nations involved. As in every previous World Cup, we went out after the initial group stage, finishing 14th of the 24 competing nations, and 12th of the 14 European ones on parade.

When they unfurled the flags of the 24 competing nations for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, the saltire was again flying proudly; Scotland being one of the 13 European nations to have come through the qualifying grind. We maintained our consistent record of not getting out of the group stages, finishing bottom of our group, which included West Germany, Denmark and Uruguay. We finished 20th of the 24 competing nations, but, maintained our ranking of 12th among the European qualifiers.

The World Cup returned to Europe, to Italy, in 1990, and, for the fifth tournament in a row, we qualified, one of 14 European nations involved. True to form, we decided not to reach the knock-out stages, settling for joint 17th place with Austria, joint 11th of the European nations, again with the men from Vienna.

We didn't apparently fancy the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA, failing to qualify from our group. Thirteen European nations went State-side, we finished the qualifying campaign ranked 20th in Europe – not nearly good enough.

But, resilient as ever, we bounced back under Craig Brown to reach the 1998 finals in France. Expansion had taken the number of teams competing in the finals up to 32, split into eight groups of four, with Scotland one of the 13 European nations involved. Again, we failed to set the heather on fire, finishing bottom of our group, 27th of the 32 competing nations and 12th of the 13 European teams in the expanded field.

Craig Burley's red card v Morocco, a sad ending to our last World Cup Finals appearance

Brown tried to get us back to the finals in Korea and Japan in 2002, but, after a stuttering campaign, we finished third in our group, 21st of the 51 European nations which entered, and out in the cold.

Fifty-two European nations entered the 2006 World Cup, the finals of which were to be held in Germany. They were split into nine qualifying groups for the initial phase, and that's where Scotland's interest ended, finishing third in their group, 24th in Europe.

The World Cup broke new ground in 2010. going, for the first time, to Africa, to South Africa, but, as was becoming all-too-familiar, when it kicked-off, the Scots were on the outside looking in, having finished third in their qualifying group, 27th in Europe. The slump was continuing.

That is the sad saga of Scotland and the World Cup. It seems to me pointless to look at our world ranking, since we all-too-often fail to reach the final, global stages, it is our European ranking which matters, and, in the 68-years since we first stepped onto the qualifying stage, we have gone from the seventh-best team in Europe, up to the giddy heights of seventh best, before plunging to 34th best in 2014. Since when, under Gordon Strachan, we have rocketed-up to 20th, our highest standing since we last qualified for the big show, back in 1998.

Aye, sack the manager, he's clearly rubbish.

For the record: Scotland's World Cup progress since 1950:

1950 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals on a wild-card, did not travel
1954 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 15th in the world
1958 - 11th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 14th in the world
1962 - 11th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1966 - 17th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1970 - 12th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1974 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals, unbeaten, 9th in the world.
1978 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 11th in the world
1982 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 14th in the world
1986 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 20th in the world
1990 – joint 11th in Europe: Qualified for finals, joint 17th in the world
1994 - 20th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
1998 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 27th in the world
2002 - 21st in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2006 - 24th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2010 - 27th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2014 - 34th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2018 - 20th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals.

We first entered the World Cup as the seventh best team in Europe. The just-ended 2018 qualifying tournament was our 18th shot at the event. When Russia 2018 kicks-off, it will mark 20-years since we last qualified for the event proper, 40-years since we last matched out base-line ranking of seventh in Europe, since our only appearance in the World Cup top ten.

Perhaps only Hungary has had a more-soul-destroying fall from grace than Scotland. That, if it is the case, is their problem and, while I sympathise, I am more-concerned about Scotland. Time may demonstrate, the parting of the ways with Strachan, at this juncture, was the right decision. But, we do not yet know.

What we do know is, for all the mistakes he made, Gordon Strachan presided over the best imrovement in Scotland's World Cup fortunes, ever. The sack seems a wee bit cruel - since: we don't know if his eventual successor will fare any better with our faulty, failing system of running Scottish football at international level.  

No comments:

Post a Comment