Socrates MacSporran

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

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Wanted - Custodian Of One Of Football's Poisoned Chalices - Apply: SFA, Hampden Park Glasgow

I HAVE no interest in, or intention to join-in the speculation regarding Gordon Strachan's future, or lack of one, as Scotland manager.

Gordon Strachan - possibly a dead man walking

For a start, I don't think it matters a jot what I think, indeed, it doesn't matter what anyone other than Gordon Strachan himself, or the members of the SFA Board thinks. WGS could well decide enough is enough, and quit – or, the SFA Board can collectively have the same thought, and dispense with his services.

Mind you this will not prevent the members of the Scottish media from spending copious hours pontificating on his future. I would reckon, since the majority of the members of the Scottish Football Writers Association do not like WGS, if it's left to them – he is already a dead man walking.

Just one thing wrong with getting rid of WGS – who gets the poisoned chalice next? There are three jobs in football, maybe four, which nobody with any sense would touch with a lengthy barge pole: national team managers for England, Scotland, Brazil and possibly Argentina. In every case, expectation and a feeling of entitlement far exceeds the amount of talent available to the manager. Also, in at least the cases of England and Scotland, the system governing football in those particular nations is not fit for purpose. Plus, if a club owner is wealthy enough, a manager can, at least temporarily, buy his way out of trouble. An international boss can only work with the native talent he has, and if, there is not a lot of talent around, he's stuffed.

I actually feel, sometimes, we should maybe go back to the old system of having an international selection committee pick the team, then leave it to the captain to decide on tactics etc.

Here's why. I decided to go back to the day it all changed, the start of the 1955-56 season, that's the one when the European Cup began, and Scotland had to join the real footbal world. From back then, up until Bobby Brown took charge for the game against England, in April, 1967, the seletors still picked the squad, but, managers had to work with the players they were given.

Bobby Brown, Scotland's first selector-manager when appointed in 1967

In that period, we played 76 internationals, winning 33, drawing 18 and losing 25, which gave the selectors a 43% winning record.

Since Bobby Brown won, and he had to fight to get it, the right of the team manager to select the team, we have played 438 matches, winning 183, drawing 104 and losing 151, which gives the various full-time, absolute power managers a 42% winning record. Ergo, it appears to matter little whether we have a team manager in charge or selectors picking the team.

In fact, at its best, arguably when skipper George Young of Rangers, abley assisted by Alec Dowdalls the Celtic trainer, effectively ran the national side, between 1948 and 1957, Scotland won 60% of the internationals played. Might Scott Brown or Darren Fletcher fancy matching that record?

George Young - as de facto player-manager he had a 60% winning record

The selectors got us to three out of the six major championship finals during which they were in charge. OK, the main SFA council of the time put the kybosh on our trip to Brazil in 1950, but, they got us to the big show also in 1954 and again in 1958. If a combination of player unavailability, injuries and a falling-out between Paddy Crerand and Jim Baxter during the interval between full-time and extra-time in the Brussels play-off between us and Czechoslovakia in 1962 – or player unavailability, largely brought-on by selfish Anglo-Scottish managers, injuries and a last ten minute collapse against Poland four years later, they might have had a perfect record instead of a 50% one.

Since the hand-over to managerial control for the 1968 European Championships, Scotland team managers, Scotland has contested 26 qualifying campaigns for the European Championships and the World Cup, qualifying for just eight – a 31% success rate. So much for letting the professionals run things.

Strachan did himself no favours on Sunday night when he came up with that ludicrous “Jackie Baillie” about genetics, the old “too wee” argument. Big guys will generally beat wee ones in heavyweight boxing – and I would still back the
comparatively light Muhammad Ali against any of the behomoths of recent years -
in the forward exchanges in rugby and in martial arts. But, in sports where there is a definite skill element, size does not matter so-much: just think of the many big men reduced to impotence by the genius of Jinky, Maradonna or Messi.

Jinky - too wee? Aye Right

We didn't concede these two goals on Sunday night because we were too-wee, we lost them because we were not organised well-enough at the back Mr Strachan.

Stuart Armstrong has been pilloried in some quarters for giving the ball away for that late,late England equaliser at Hampden. OK, with that sterling Scottish virtue – 20/20 hindsight – we all know, Stuart should have:

  • Hoofed the ball as far up the park as he could, as hard as he could.
  • Passed to his left, rather than his right.
  • Weighted the pass he did attempt better.

But, he passed right; at the time, I thought a reasonable option. However, the move not executed properly; England intercepted, the ball was played forward and Harry Kane, a player carrying such luck or genius around the opposition goal in internationals these days, you wonder if he has made a pact with the Devil, equalised.

Again, there is a but or a however. When Armstrong surrendered possession there were still around eight Scots between the ball and our goal – and England still scored.
 Stuart Armstrong: ok, he gave the ball away; what did the eight guys behind him do then?

There Is an aside here too – amazing is it not, how often when Scotland fails, we are able to analyse that failure down to one slip by one particular player, at the wrong time. That's what football and football coaching is all about.

If everything in every game went perfectly, every game would finish 0-0. each precision pass would be intercepted by perceptive defending, every net-bound shot would be saved by the goalkeeper – it's the wee mistakes and miscalculations which cause goals. The team which makes the fewer mistakes and is better-organised wins every time and Scotland has, for some time, not been well-organised and error-proof. That's not genetics, that's bad coaching and bad management.

How we sort this out completely, I know not, but, we could start by demanding higher standards in our club game and players. Up the skills sets, get technically better, more-organised tactically, fitter and with a more-professional approach to training, match-organisation and life-style.

Even if, we miraculously manage this, I fear it will still take us a long time to get to where we should be – you do not eliminate the curse of Ayebeenism and the Scottish way of muddling through overnight, or perhaps even in one generation.

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