There can be no argument now about the removal of Craig Levein as Scotland manager. It is a required fate, as ugly as it is to say it.
Scotland’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium in the World Cup qualifier in Brussels caused no startling jolt to the Scottish psyche. Instead, it only confirmed that Levein, either through bad luck or poor judgement, has been an unsuccessful international coach.
Levein in all likelihood will be relieved of his post, perhaps after a period of dithering, and the SFA will attempt to line up yet another luckless patsy to try their hand at the task.
The Scotland job represents an unwanted poisoned chalice involving mediocre players, plunging international esteem, and a bewildered football nation unsure of where its next step should take it.
Getting to Brazil in 2014 is now a complete write-off. Thus, the next anguished hope is to get to the 2016 European Championships – a full 18 years since Scotland last graced a major finals.
In Europe, only Hungary have suffered the ignominy of a once-fine football nation disintegrating like this.
Some still argue that all this is a lunatic hysteria. The counter argument to the removal of Levein is all about “continuity” – that is, you stay with the man you chose, you stick by your convictions, and go with the manager for the full four-year term. In theory, this is not an altogether daft suggestion.
Scotland have suffered setback upon setback in international football: eight failed qualifying campaigns since Craig Brown took the country to France ’98.
Just suppose for a moment the frenzied, media-driven sacking of managers is not the answer. Imagine if continuity did actually work, and a manager who once had the backing of many people – as Levein once did – was given the full duration of his contract to prove himself.
One or two voices have put up this argument in recent days, and it does require pause for thought. Levein had been an impressive manager in his club career, and in time he might come good for Scotland. Certainly, what is obvious is that the humdrum coming and going of Scotland managers – there have been six in the past 10 years – appears to do no-one any good.
I’d have more sympathy for this view if Levein, over his three years in charge, had shown more discernible progress on the pitch. Friendly matches cannot be counted in evidence. What matters – the red meat – are the competitive games and in this regard Levein has been found wanting.
Three wins in 12 qualifying ties is a dismal return. Two of these games comprised wins over Liechtenstein, and one of those, requiring a 97th minute winner, was of the heart-attack variety.
The fact is, those who wish to put calm before hysteria, and who would have Levein staying in his post, are undermined by the pitiful results-record of the this Scotland manager.
Levein’s slate – Played 12, Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 5 – is the stuff of blatant failure. How can you escape it?
Scotland traipsed away from Brussels in bottom place in Group A of the World Cup qualifiers. There are caveats and qualifications to every narrative, but this one tells a basic truth.
Levein’s mental resolve, even amid all this negativity, is remarkable. While many of the Tartan Army bay for his blood, his first and genuine instinct is to stay in the job.
“I want to stay on as Scotland manager – but the rest is not up to me,” Levein said after losing in Brussels.
To a degree, he may get his way, at least for a while longer. Scotland’s next competitive game is five months away and the SFA may wish to spare any new coach the torpor of seeing out the remainder of the current, ill-starred campaign.
“I don’t know where we go from here,” said Willie Miller, an Aberdeen and Scotland legend, and a respected commentator on the Scottish game. This blurry, pessimistic outlook speaks of the current pain of Scotland in international football.
In sporting terms – and only in sporting terms – it is a minor tragedy.