THE search for the new Scotland manager officially began this week in Luxembourg.
In the eyes of the media, the bookmakers and the supporters, however, it has been a hot topic of conversation from the moment it became clear that Craig Levein's tenure was coming to an end. Among the Scottish Football Association hierarchy, the prospect of having to look for Levein's successor will almost certainly have been discussed, quietly and behind closed doors, even earlier.
The job of the latter group is to find the next Scotland manager. The job of the former is to tell them who it should be. As they mull over the likely available and willing candidates, the SFA will not be short of names thrust their way for consideration. It has always been so. The media helpfully offer suggestions, bookmakers draw up lists, and fans bombard radio phone-ins and internet sites to forward a case for their favourites. The seven-man SFA board will be aware of public opinion but will then do their best to ignore it. If that seems an out of touch or insular approach, then they need only point to the clamour for Levein to be given the job three years ago to demonstrate that the most popular and well-intentioned appointment doesn't always work out for the best.
There will be demand that the new man is unveiled sooner rather than later. The SFA have argued that he need not be in place before the World Cup qualifier against Wales in March. They would be right, but such a delay would only bring about claims of unnecessary procrastination. It will surely happen, therefore, before the end of the year.
"We are committed to appointing the best coach possible and will take the necessary time to achieve that objective," said chief executive Stewart Regan. "The current welter of media speculation and the number of interested parties highlight the attraction of the role of rejuvenating the fortunes of the national team."
The list of potential candidates, as alluded to by Regan, is already fairly lengthy. All are high-profile figures and most are out of work. The SFA will likely not rule out anyone currently in another job, although they would surely prefer to not pay compensation when there are so many other suitable candidates readily available. He need not necessarily be Scottish – and Co Adriaanse and Sven-Goran Eriksson have already been mentioned as interested parties – and the appointment of Mark Wotte as performance director indicates a willingness to think outside of the box when it comes to nationality.
For now, though, the frontrunners – or those thought to be frontrunners anyway – are all Scots (or Scots-born). They are led by Gordon Strachan, Joe Jordan and Owen Coyle, all managers with vast experience and international pedigree, and suitably charismatic to make them appealing to media and supporters alike. All have indicated, either publicly or through nods and winks in the media, that they would be interested in the position.
As with any job, the financial package will be a factor. Levein negotiated a contract of £400,000 a year for the post, a not inconsiderable sum although one dwarfed by those received in the higher reaches of club football. The salary on offer to the next man will be commensurate with his experience but there is some flexibility to allow the SFA to hire the most suitable candidate. That Levein is still drawing his monthly salary as part of the settlement process will not impact upon what can be offered to his successor.
Eriksson's demands would surely greatly exceed £400,000 a year. He was reportedly paid £2m annually by the Ivory Coast and then £1m by Leicester City, and walked away from the England job with £3m in his back pocket. Such sums would surely outstrip what the SFA could afford to pay, even for a marquee name, unless they were to enter into partnership with a private financier.
That has proved a worthwhile exercise for the Republic of Ireland, for whom businessman Denis O'Brien – a Celtic shareholder – reportedly pays around half of manager Giovanni Trapattoni's £1.2m-a-year salary. The SFA would surely not be averse to a similar arrangement, although two pertinent questions arise. Firstly, where would they find someone wealthy and generous enough to contribute around £500,000 a year to pay their manager's salary? And, secondly, what happens if the appointment doesn't work out and they need to pay off the unsuccessful manager? Does the benefactor share the cost of that as well?
Then there is the case for Billy Stark. The under-21 coach oversaw a narrow victory in Luxembourg and will remain in the post of interim manager until a permanent successor is found. He is a popular figure at the SFA and, as someone already on the payroll, would be a relatively inexpensive option. Fans would likely argue that he is not a big enough name for the post, although that needn't necessarily be a deciding factor.
"On behalf of the board I would like to express my gratitude for the professional manner in which Billy has undertaken the role of interim national coach," added Regan. "As well as providing a much-needed victory, Billy has impressed us greatly by the way he has conducted himself in the role."
These and various other factors will all be considered by the SFA board in the coming weeks and months. It will not be an easy choice. Luckily, though, they will not be short of offers of advice.