Scotland National Team News and Views

Levein at a Loss

As Scotland prepares to start the long road to Rio, guest columnist Robert Ryan takes a look at the reign to date of under pressure manager Craig Levein...

When Craig Levein was appointed Scotland Manager on the Wednesday, 23 December 2009, I was never keen. I thought that that were other better options then and indeed I still do.

Looking back to the media reports then, it sounds like the only options were a return of Walter Smith – a bit far-fetched – or Craig Levein. Was he the only option then? There was Gordon Strachan, Billy Davies and I’d even maybe suggest Alex Miller.

The 3 options are still available, albeit Alex Miller I’ll concede maybe not a popular option however Strachan and Davies both quite successful managers in their own right who have won promotions and trophies, neither something that a certain Mr Levein can lay claim to.

When it comes to trophies in fairness, Dundee Utd ought to have defeated Rangers in the League Cup final of the latter’s marathon season as they were the better team but it turned into the Kris Boyd show that day. Also, when he left Dundee United, Levein, he might have won the Scottish Cup that year also however his now assistant manager went to clinch. You may wonder why having a Scotland gaffer with a trophy haul is important but I want a winner in charge and we’ve had a Manager who’s won a trophy of some sort since Ally McLeod (that includes Tommy Burns) before taking up the honoured position of Scotland manager.

It wasn’t just the trophy topic though, I felt there may have been more better better alternatives and to Craig’s credit, he had had what you might call relative success at Hearts – back to back European qualifications – and 5th place finishes at Dundee United sandwiched in between not so great success at Leicester and a wee foray with Raith Rovers, in fairness his boyhood heroes.

So while I don’t or didn’t believe in the appointment, has he convinced me otherwise?

You’ll have guessed that’s a no, by now, his challenge was to get out the group, he failed. We started with a drab 0-0 with little width away to Lithuania and then we got out of jail vs Liechtenstein. We then had the 1-0 loss in Prague, the 4-6-0 of course but I had less a problem with that and more of with ‘At 0-0 I wasn’t going to go for it’ which I didn’t like as a mentality...aye lets go for a draw, Craig! There was a chink of light at home vs Spain and we had another victory over Liechtenstein. It meant we only had 3 victories out of the group albeit a smaller group after the loss vs the Czechs at home.

Well - if I may be black and white, as I am when it comes to reaching finals, its not a success unless you win the thing. In this case, of course our Scotland manager had (you would think) had a target of qualifying. Either by getting into the play-offs at least or winning the group and then qualifying.

He’s already failed in a much easier group, arguably, as regards getting us to play-offs/qualifying and I don’t have faith in him for Rio. He failed, he should have been replaced afterwards but he wasn’t.

His tactics also could be questioned; I understand the 4-5-1 can help us to keep the ball and protect a arguably poorer defence where it may be the poorer sector of the team.

However his resistance to play 2 up-front is, for me, at times quite stubborn and he did dismiss a front 2 as too open in the last week – I’m assuming he means the use of a 4-4-2.  A front 2 pairing doesn’t have to be a 4-4-2, it could be a 4-3-1-2 or a diamond 4-4-2. I’m not trying to be simple or backdated by saying ‘I want two up-front’ but we have so much attacking talent, the likes of McCormack, Rhodes, Miller, Naismith, Maloney and even Robert Snodgrass, there lacks a flexibility. A front 3 I'd love to see.

Levein is the man who said pre-Liechtenstein at Hampden ‘Flair is a risk’. Not exactly an example I want to have set on our youth though he’s admitted he’s had more faith in the players now to be more offensive. I’m still doubtful he’ll ‘gamble’ enough (tactically and with youth) and rely too much on experience, (say Rhodes over Miller) I’m concerned he’ll be regularly naturally conservative and lack tactical creativity, he’s in the past said that McCormack wouldn’t fit due our lone frontman style. He’s a talent!

Looking at the under 21s, Billy Stark is happy to go 4-4-2 with two direct wingers either side, we outplayed the Netherlands fairly recently but in fairness we do have a strong looking midfield too at times and so perhaps emphasising that area is not a bad thing either but whenever we have played two forwards in the last third, we’ve mostly looked much more dangerous albeit rare. I want a confident Scotland.

And then there’s the players who have hardly set foot in Scotland it seems before joining up with our national team. You know, James "I was born in England and I believe I could do a job for them, but it was a question of how long I wanted to wait’ Morrison, Bardsley who said early in the press ‘I’m English but we’ll see’ or words very close to that effect and the other forward in Craig Mackail-Smith sounded enthusiastic at the prospect but was going on an assumption his Gran would be proud, rather than talking of her drilling a ‘Scottishness’ into him.

I’m not against English born or Scots who moved away early playing for us at all and Dominic Matteo and Stuart McCall had a distinct affinity however as Scotland manager one is supposed to make dreams, and not brake dreams of others who’d always dreamed of playing at Hampden, Matt Phillips says he recalls Scotland at France 98 but has never went to Hampden?!  The Ireland under Charlton example is a red herring for me, yes they done well but I’d rather have a team who has pride to play for the jersey than a few extra players who want to enhance their CV’s. Its the persistent research for these players than focus rather than those who’s always wanted to play for us that really irks me from Levein, its what not international football should be. Others might do it but then others jump off the Erskine Bridge.

Before I conclude, the releasing of the team upto a day or at all is another infuriating aspect of his reign of Craig Levein instead of the norm of releasing the team publicly an hour before kick off, this isn’t rugby!

As Stephen Halliday finished his article with nearly a year ago for the Scotsman; ‘Levein’s definition of progress, which he described as “enormous improvement” last night, is not easy to share.’ And I agree, I don’t see this vast improvement he talks of but hopefully he’s learned enough from the failed campaign of the 2012 Euro qualifying but I don’t believe he’s good enough but I hope I’m wrong.

PS. A quick word, as for Fletcher and Levein, I just wish they’d do the old Scottish trait of going ‘keys’ and move on, arguably Levein should be the bigger man in my opinion but even so. 

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