Over the last five days, the Scottish Football Association might have started rethinking the World Cup campaign’s official slogan. “This Time” is already outdated. It could be changed to “This Time, same as usual”, since Scotland look as if they will yet again fail to make another major tournament.
After Saturday’s shambolic draw with the Baltic minnows Lithuania and the equally disappointing defeat on Tuesday by an ordinary Slovakia, the fans seem to have had enough. Who can blame them? It has been nearly twenty years since they even tasted tournament football. Why are Wales, Northern Ireland, and Iceland capable of putting up a challenge against the very best and Scotland are not?
Most fans will blame manager Gordon Strachan and he does take a share of responsibility. Strachan’s team selections, at times, have been both perplexing and inadequate. The best example of this is leaving out a 40-goal-a-season striker, in the form of Leigh Griffiths, in order to accommodate one who has not scored in 20 games. He also chose to start a centre back who has barely kicked a ball all season.
However, it’s unfair to blame Strachan alone. It’s questionable if there is even a suitable candidate for manager were Strachan to leave his post. Some names have been suggested over the last five days but none seem to be either suitable or experienced enough. If there was a renaissance moment within the SFA and they decided that a managerial change was essential, they would almost certainly have to accept that a foreign coach might be the best option.
The SFA’s plan to push forward Scottish football was to hire the highly experienced Brian McClair, once director of the Manchester United youth academy, as Performance Director. McClair barely lasted a year in the job. He and Strachan were tasked with the difficult task of changing the outlook of Scottish Football and to overhaul the inefficient youth system.
The plans put forward by McClair and Scotland’s national manager were deemed to be too radical. Several people disagreed, arguing that they made sense. The plans outlined the fact that the “pro- youth” system, which currently has 2,500 children participating in it, was operating below its potential. McClair and Strachan felt that, if places were cut and more money was given to regional academies, it would give an increased chance to focus on the best players, resulting eventually in better players.
Brian McClair walked away from his job as Performance Director in July 2016; some have argued that Strachan was incensed by this, and his recent body language, when taking part in events related to Scottish Football, seems to confirm this.
If fan pressure increases on the SFA then not only will a managerial change be inevitable. The Georgian airport mix-up last year is an example frequently brought up by those unhappy with the governing body. An inadequate charter plane meant that the players were stranded for eight hours in Georgia after a humiliating defeat. Only three days later, they were due to face the world champions Germany. That the players had to use Burger King as a post-match meal did not go down well either.
If ticket prices for games against the likes of Lithuania and Malta remain over £40, there may be no fans left to make their voices heard.