GORDON Strachan didn't look prickly yesterday.
He didn't look spiky, ill-nettered or any of the other adjectives usually applied to him. In his own description he felt "proud" but what he actually carried was a look of deep satisfaction. He had not shaped his career with a view to eventually working his way into the Scotland job, but that's where it took him yesterday. He is from a generation which grew up regarding the Scotland team as a genuinely big deal and, for the 55-year-old, that will be a lifelong belief. He is in charge of his country and he looked mightily pleased about that.
The SFA did too, inviting all of its Hampden staff to the suite where Strachan was presented to media. The room was full, folk craning their necks to see the wee fella between Stewart Regan and Campbell Ogilvie. After a blinding wave of camera flashes he began talking, that waspish wit put into cold storage for the time being. "This is a great day, a smashing day and one I'm enjoying. I know fine well this is a good job because my entire family are really excited by it.
"It's something you've wanted to do all your life. When I went out to play for Scotland I was doing it for the people watching me, your family and that kind of thing. I remember scoring against West Germany and when I was walking back to the half-way line I was thinking 'my dad will be jumping about the golf club now with his mates, he'll be steaming before the night's out'.
"Sometimes, if you're not successful you feel as though you've let other people down. I hope I never have to deal with that. I hope the supporters and my family and friends are proud of what I do. You can't say: 'I don't want to take this job because there might be a few negative headlines.' It's too good not to take it, especially at my age and with what I want to do with my life. This fits in with everything I want to do. I can still spend time with my grandchildren and do other things. It's part-time physically but full-time mentally: it's a full-time stretch."
Craig Levein can vouch for that, to his cost. The Scotland job weighed heavily on him, as it had with Berti Vogts and George Burley. Managing Celtic for four years has equipped Strachan for the psychological demands of being in charge of Scotland but much will be new. Far less training ground time, for one thing, and for the first time in his career he will not be able to address a weakness by signing someone else. He must make do with what he's got. Scotland qualified for every World Cup finals in the span of Strachan's international playing career but the deterioration since France 98, the last tournament for which the team qualified, has been severe. Instead of mourning a paucity of resources, it is his job to do something about it.
His optimism, at least, is boundless. Having spent most of his adult life in England – he will continue to live there and commute – any disparaging comments about Scottish football from the neighbours are easily dismissed. "We got that even when we were playing well, that's just the way they are. It doesn't bother me one little bit. We've got Andy Murray. We can talk about their tennis and the millions and millions they waste on producing nobody!"
When it comes to Scotland's decline, the man now expected to reverse it preferred a more generous interpretation. "The standard around Europe has got far, far better since I was playing. It's harder now. Back then all we had to do was beat Czechoslovakia twice and we were in the finals.
"I came here for the first two home games in this campaign [draws with Serbia and Macedonia] and they could have gone either way. We had two good chances in the first game but we didn't take them. In international football if you take that chance . . . what a difference it makes. Then you go to Wales for the third game and think 'we're doing all right here' and Gareth Bale does what he does as a world-class player. Sometimes that happens. I look at Sweden and I think, 'they're ordinary' but then you put in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they become a right, good side. We're unfortunate because we do not have anyone of the standard of a Bale or Ibrahimovic so we're going to have to work at the team ethic. We just want to get better. The fans are more famous than the team at the moment and we have to try and get up there and together be as famous as them."
"The first objective is to win. You have to win. We'd all like to play a certain style of football. Mine is the German style. I think German football is terrific. They play three up front but they use three strikers. When we try it, it's a winger who never scores or a midfielder on the other side who doesn't have a clue about coming in the park or whatever. The Germans do it brilliantly, I've studied them. But we haven't developed players to do that. That's how I'd like to play football eventually, somewhere along the line. But we need to win. You have to get the best system that suits our best players in this country, and pick that system. It might not be beautiful football and passing the ball but we all want to win."
His two biggest stars are the Fletchers, Darren and Steven. He tip-toed his way around a question about whether he would have handled the latter differently from Levein, who lost the services of the country's best striker for two years. "We all know that Steven is a good player but that must have been a hard situation for everybody involved. It didn't look good from the outside but it was a heck of a dilemma for the manager to have. I couldn't be sure how I would have handled that myself. You'd have to be in there, dealing with it. But Craig did what he thought was right for the squad."
Strachan and Aiden McGeady did not get on at Celtic, yet the winger still contributed for him. "I've very rarely fallen out with a player to be honest. I do fall out with them but it only lasts about a day and we can always make up again. But the demands you put on players at international level is completely different from club football. You can be more intense with them at a club because you pay their wages. Here the players are turning up because they want to turn up. It's not for the wages, that's for sure."
On the subject of wages, the last two successful Scotland managers left for more lucrative jobs with Rangers and Birmingham City. Might the SFA ever have reason to fear it would lose him too, or was his club career finished? "No, you never say 'never'. But at this moment in time there have been things happening [offers] which just didn't feel right. It's right for me now to take this job. Whatever happens in a couple of years or three or four years I don't know. I have no plans in life, absolutely none. I just go along."
Yesterday, his meandering path took him to the Scotland job. The next couple of years will show where he takes his country.