THERE is plenty of fun still to be had in the manhunt for the next Scotland manager – thanks for your interest, Lothar Matthaus, we'll get back to you – but, for now, the Scottish Football Association can ignore all the false trails and focus its attention on two pertinent facts.
Firstly, Gordon Strachan is the outstanding candidate for the job by a considerable distance. Secondly, he has done nothing to distance himself from it or suggest that he would not accept if the terms were right.
Actually, Strachan has said very little, although even that is not without significance. If he didn't fancy it he would have said so. While Alex McLeish has talked himself out of the running and Walter Smith has returned to club employment, Strachan's candidacy is – like Joe Jordan's – as sound as it was on the day Craig Levein was sent packing. It was wrongly reported last week that Strachan had said he wasn't interested and would prefer to hold out for a club job. That baffled the SFA and irritated the man himself. He remains the best candidate, and a very interested one.
As always, the SFA's recruitment process can begin with excessive use of the red pen. Lines can be drawn through the names of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Paul Lambert: no-one leaves the Barclays Premier League for the Scotland job.
Kenny Dalglish has a few things going for him, but no discernable interest in the hassle of managing his country. Graeme Souness isn't up for it now either. Owen Coyle is a talented young coach but needs more club success before he can be considered. And rule out Harry Redknapp and Terry Venables: too expensive, too liable to leave us in the lurch. Matthaus, Nevio Scala, Stuart Baxter or any of the other usual suspects may take up some newspaper column inches, but needn't trouble the SFA's office bearers. Matthaus's humdrum managerial CV must have lined a bin at every football association headquarters in the northern hemisphere.
Other interesting candidates may become available, but right now the field is limited to only two: Strachan and Jordan.
Among older fans, the idea of Jordan in charge of Scotland is deeply seductive. Yet the wonderful image of the rampaging 1970s striker – arms aloft, mouth open, fangs bared – gives an impression of the man which no longer reflects his personality. He is a thoughtful, deep individual, not always obviously comfortable in the media glare. The last time he had a permanent job as a manager was 1997 and his teams were pretty dour and functional. Jordan has carved out a reputation as an excellent first-team coach, most recently at Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur, but at those clubs he worked under the charismatic Redknapp and happily surrendered the media spotlight to him.
Strachan has had a strained relationship with the cameras and press pack over the years, but there are plenty of us who do not recognise the perception of a waspish, unhelpful individual committed to making reporters' lives difficult. He can be enormously good value and anyone with his vast back catalogue of one-liners is always liable to be rewarding company. As an analyst on television, he is perceptive and entertaining. All of that is secondary to the experience he amassed over a managerial career in which his most successful spell was in Scottish football, at Celtic.
Whatever subsequently went wrong at Middlesbrough, Strachan proved his credentials by becoming the only Celtic manager other than Jock Stein to win three consecutive titles, twice taking them into the last 16 of the Champions League, and generally handling the enormous pressure, scrutiny and intrusion which comes with being the manager at Parkhead. There is no comparison between his managerial record and Jordan's.
There may be three issues to resolve with Strachan. Can the SFA match his salary demands? If he wishes to continue living in England and commute to Scotland, would that be an issue? And what if he and the SFA have different ideas about the remit of the Scotland job?
Levein was paid more than George Burley and the SFA board will almost certainly have to sanction another salary rise. The quest to return Scotland to a major championship must be allied to financial realism. In other words, you get what you pay for. Strachan voluntarily gave up compensation to which he was entitled when he left Middlesbrough but he's no mug. Managing Scotland is stressful and he would expect to be appropriately paid for taking that on.
Souness was not given the job in 2008 because he wanted to take it while continuing to live in England. Some may feel it demeans the job to commute from another country, but pride can be swallowed if it is a potential deal breaker for an otherwise outstanding and willing candidate.
As for the remit of the job, it will be for the SFA to be firm. Mark Wotte is in place as a national performance director with long-term objectives. A commitment has been made with him and his is a role which must remain unchanged, even if umpteen managers come and go. Even a strong character such as Strachan would have to accept that his job would be to fashion an improving, entertaining, successful Scotland team: no more, no less. But Strachan is a good enough manager to achieve that.
It is up to the SFA to make sure he gets the chance.