The Blackburn Rovers job has come on the market – do you think Craig Levein might have a chance?
Not a hope. It might have been very different not so long ago. The former Scotland manager once saw his international job as a means of paving a fresh path to opportunities in England, before the Hampden ceiling and plaster abruptly collapsed around him.
In these early days of 2013, Levein finds himself back at square one in his Fife redoubt: time to rebuild, for a second time, a managerial career in disrepair.
I'm hoping this will be Levein's comeback year. A messy litigation process with the Scottish Football Association over a pay-off will surely be settled out of court, leaving Levein to pick up once more his distinctly erratic career-path. He is a talented manager – there is plenty evidence for it – who suffered a chapter of failure with Scotland. So what? Are we not all allowed to fail at times?
I spoke to various Levein witnesses last week. One of them, who knows and admires him, told me: "I hope he gets back into football soon. He is a good guy and a good manager. Craig is pig-headed at times but I'd put money on him being successful again."
All of my own kindly invitations to speak to the man himself were met with a stony silence in recent days – probably quite rightly, too. While Levein is nursing his wounds, I don't think he has forgotten the role of those jackals of the press – me among them – who began to write withering pieces about him as his wooden Scotland team failed to make headway in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
It all proved quite an awkward experience for the Scottish press. Most of us quite liked Levein, admired him, and got along well with him. Some communal beers and a dinner were even in the offing. But three wins in 12 competitive games, and two points from 12 in the qualifiers, clearly became a sacking case. Dinner was off. Levein had to go.
The question now is, where and when will he make his comeback? In the Clydesdale Bank Premier League? Somewhere in England? I've never forgotten what Levein once told me when he was in the process of restoring Dundee United, having earlier come a cropper at the financial basket-case that was Leicester City in 2005-06.
"I'm ambitious, of course I am," Levein said. "In managerial terms I've tried to climb the north face [Leicester City] and taken a fall. Now, if you like, I'm attempting to climb the south face." Alas, in the early winter of 2012, he took another fall.
Interestingly, Gordon Smith, the man who employed Levein as Scotland manager when he was SFA chief executive, believes he will have no trouble in landing an opportunity to rebuild his career in 2013. "Craig's reputation has suffered a bit of late but before his Scotland experience his standing was pretty good, in terms of what he did at Hearts and Dundee United," he said. "I think in time he can get back to that again.
"Things might be a bit different for him in terms of working in England. I think two things – his experience at Leicester and then the whole Scotland thing – will count against him down there. In fact, right now Craig might be lucky to even get a job in the Championship. But I don't see his reputation being so damaged in terms of working in Scotland. He should be a pretty decent candidate when the next SPL job comes up."
Time heals, and football swiftly moves on. Billy McNeill, having been sacked by Aston Villa just prior to winning more trophies with Celtic, said upon his return to Glasgow in 1987: "Setbacks can be important in life. They teach you to think again about things."
Gordon Smith himself, having left the SFA and then got his fingers burned at Rangers alongside Craig Whyte, arguably knows as much as anyone about emerging from a bad experience.
"In Craig Levein's case it is like anyone losing a job: you take a bit of a hit but then you build yourself back up again," said Smith. "I think people also look at international football a bit differently from club football. People know it is different, that you don't have continuity, that you're not working on a daily basis with the same group of players. Some people like it, others don't. Craig I think made it plain that he preferred and missed the daily aspect of the job. Maybe club football is where he fits best."
The erratic fate of a manager can be scary. Three years ago this month, I hosted a Q&A with Levein in St Andrews, where he was enthusiastically greeted by a full house in the Byre Theatre. Fife-based members of the Tartan Army were out in force that night and there was no mistaking their feeling: Levein was the man for them. One member of that audience quoted Levein's late dad, whom he knew, and who had died when Levein was a young man. Levein was visibly moved.
Confession time: I've had my tiffs with him but I like and admire Levein. He was a fine defender with Hearts and a very good manager at three of the four clubs he managed, for any significant period of time, prior to Scotland: Cowdenbeath, Hearts and Dundee United. Eddie Thompson, the late, great United chairman, valued Levein hugely as his club manager, as did the supporters.
He is too good a coach to be bound up in legal wrangles with the SFA and kept out of football. At his own behest, that saga should be swiftly concluded, even if it costs Levein a certain percentage cut out of £700,000. He's not poor, he can get by. But I hope 2013 – somewhere – proves to be the Levein comeback year.