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Comment: Welcome mat out for little man who can help Scotland grow

IMAGINE that: all those years after Gordon Strachan was too wee to get over that advertising hoarding, and at last a growth spurt may help him for Scotland.

Gordon Strachan will be a popular choice among Scotland supporters
Gordon Strachan will be a popular choice among Scotland supporters

It is pretty difficult to find any upsides to the national team spending so many years in the competitive equivalent of Siberia, but perhaps there is just the one. In a sense it has made the job of managing them perversely more intriguing.

What kudos and acclaim awaits the man who finally takes Scotland back to the finals of a tournament after a gap of at least 18 years (between France 98 under Craig Brown and the Euro 2016 finals, the next event for which there is a realistic chance of qualifying). Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein have all had a crack at a World Cup or European Championships since then. It's reached the stage where even play-offs are beyond Scotland now.

Strachan is taking over at yet another low ebb – Scotland are 72nd in the Fifa rankings, lower than the Cape Verde Islands – but he will bring a blend of optimism and pragmatism to the job, and hopefully the sound man-management which made him a popular figure in his most successful managerial years at Celtic.

Certainly he will also have projected ahead to Euro 2016 in France, and that's where the growth spurt comes into it. That tournament has expanded from 16 finalists to 24, giving Scotland an improved chance of scrambling into a qualifying place. There will be nine groups, in which the top two qualify, as does the best of all the third-place finishers. The other eight who finish third will go into four play-offs, for a total of 23 to go through to join the French hosts.

Strachan has looked at those odds and fancied his chances. Clearly he fancied working with Darren Fletcher and Steven Fletcher, too, and again with Scott Brown, whom he paid Hibernian £4.4m to sign for Celtic. In Steven Naismith, Allan McGregor, James Forrest, James Morrison and Robert Snodgrass he has real talent at his disposal. It will be on his watch that we learn whether Jordan Rhodes will fulfil his early promise at international level.

The team's most obvious flaw is in central defence. Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus were Strachan's partnership for Celtic. Caldwell is a mainstay but McManus, who he also took to Middlesbrough, has not played for his country since scoring that stoppage-time winner against Liechtenstein two-and-a-half years ago.

Scotland qualified for every World Cup during the span of Strachan's international career as a player and he graced the finals in 1982 and 1986. It was in Mexico that the impish, creative and dangerous attacking midfielder delivered the great iconic moment of his Scotland career. He lashed a superb shot past goalkeeper Harald Schumacher to put Scotland one-nil up on West Germany in Queretaro and then raced off to leap an advertising hoarding in celebration. Suddenly, sensing that he might not have the inches to clear it, he instead rested his leg on the barrier and waited for his team-mates to catch up. The fun of the moment only made the goal all the more memorable.

His 50th and final cap came in a low-key home friendly against Finland in 1992. Now, 21 years later, he'll pick things up for his country when another Baltic nation comes for what no longer looks quite such a meaningless game. Against Estonia, at Pittodrie on February 6, the next chapter begins for him and Scotland.

He handled the pressure of Old Firm management better than Levein handled the Scotland job. Being in charge of the country has its stresses but Strachan will find it less oppressive and claustrophobic than Celtic could be. The SFA must hope they get Strachan the Celtic manager rather than Strachan the Middlesbrough one. What they instantly have is a figure of real substance and profile, who will have the respect of players and their managers. He also has the backing of those Tartan Army supporters who will embrace him as the antidote to the caution and dourness of Levein's reign.

Some fans at Levein's last, doomed match in charge held a banner in Brussels which said simply: "Strachan SOS". He has answered the call.

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