SO, Gordon Strachan, the demise of the great Scottish manager:
discuss. Of all the topics which might be lobbed to the national head coach as an ice-breaker, the notion that this country's conveyor belt of excellent coaches had ground to a halt is about as unpromising as they come. "I didn't know there was a demise going on," he said. Clearly he has not read a newspaper this week, given that David Moyes' departure from Manchester United has been extrapolated, by many, into evidence that the great cradle of football managers is no longer producing the goods.
At the start of the 2011-12 season there were seven Scottish managers in the English Premier League. At the start of the campaign, four. Today, one. Sir Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Alex McLeish, Owen Coyle, Steve Kean and Moyes have left their posts in the past two-and-a-half years and only Paul Lambert remains. Strachan was the centre of attention at a Hampden media conference yesterday to publicise the PFA Scotland shortlist for manager of the year. One-by-one he endorsed the candidatures of Neil Lennon, Derek McInnes, Stuart McCall and Tommy Wright.
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But discussing the most impressive coaches of the year was at odds with the post-Moyes vibe, which has it that Scotland has lost its mojo when it comes to managerial greatness. The lineage includes managerial royalty - Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Ferguson himself, among others - so it becomes a matter for discussion when the line seems to have come to a halt. "Over the ages we've had top managers, that's for sure. I don't think anything's going to change because we have that 'drive'. We have that anger about us sometimes that you need. The game's changing and we have to change to suit the game by the looks of it. There are different types of management and you have to change to suit whatever is needed at that time. I hear Stoke have progressed under Mark Hughes. Since [ex-Stoke manager] Tony Pulis has taken over at Crystal Palace he's got a lot more points than Mark Hughes has at Stoke. So what works?"
Later this year Strachan will reach the 19th anniversary of his first appointment as a manager, at Coventry City, and yesterday he discussed how the nature of club ownership had dramatically changed how long they could expect to stay in their job. "It's because of the owners. The owners from America, Russia, all over the world, are used to going 'right, bang, done'. That's it. It's all about money. Bang: see you. That wasn't the mentality before. Now these owners have the right to do that. If [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich says 'bang' then that's his right. People say you need patience, but you don't. Chelsea have proved you don't, by winning as many trophies as Manchester United [over the last 11 years].
"There are things in football management which management courses and coaching courses don't even know exist. They come up and you have to deal with them. It's only when you go up to the real top clubs you have to deal with share prices etc. But even if you're at a club which normally gets 20,000 fans and there are suddenly just 12,000 coming through the door, you know you're in trouble."
The manager of the year will be announced at the PFA Scotland awards dinner on Sunday, August 27. Naturally, Strachan declined to reveal who he thought should win - personal relationships and all that - but he gave the impression he could make a case for any of the quartet. On, Lennon, he said: "Celtic have made the league look easy when it's not. Their application and team spirit has been great." On McCall, the Motherwell manager, who is a member of his Scotland staff: "I was a wee bit worried about him because he lost a load of really good players last summer. He's lost these players and replaced them without spending any money. It's quite phenomenal he's third in the league with a chance of finishing second. On Tommy Wright: "Tommy got off to a great start, everyone sat up when St Johnstone beat Rosenborg. The team has developed as individuals and a group and they are in the Scottish Cup final." He sounded most animated about Derek McInnes: "Derek has brought Aberdeen alive again. I was at Parkhead for the League Cup final, the place was full of Aberdeen fans. I was at their semi-final at Tynecastle, the atmosphere was unbelievable. Not only has Derek done a great job for Aberdeen he's done a great job for Scottish football. He's filling stadiums with Aberdeen supporters. It's great he won a trophy. Derek has to work with the pressure of dealing with the ghosts that are around that place, although we're not all dead yet! He has cracked that."
At the risk of praising almost every manager in the Premiership, though, Strachan made a point of acknowledging the stress being felt by those embroiled in a five-way battle to avoid the relegation play-off. Had it not been for last summer's league reconstruction the men in charge of Hibernian, St Mirren, Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle and Ross County would be freewheeling towards the end of the season. Instead, each of their clubs could yet go down with relegated Hearts.
"We're celebrating the good side of management here at the moment in picking nominees but there are five or six guys who will be wandering about at the moment, having sleepless nights. It's families we're dealing with. People want them to go out and play flamboyantly. But the guy wants to survive because he has to look after his family, especially the younger managers. They want a foothold in the game. Those are the ones I feel for."