• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Enter the man from the shadows

BILLY STARK would never do anything so crass as articulate his own personal ambitions.

Billy Stark speaks to the media for the first time since becoming interim manager. Picture: SNS
Billy Stark speaks to the media for the first time since becoming interim manager. Picture: SNS

The closest Scotland's interim manager got yesterday to stating that he might quite fancy the national manager's job on a permanent basis was when he grudgingly accepted that a convincing victory over Luxembourg in Wednesday's friendly match in the Josy Barthel Stadium might lead to a somewhat unseemly clamour for his appointment.

Could Stark be fated to become Scotland's version of Roberto Di Matteo, the in-house interim manager who suddenly makes himself invaluable?

"I would accept there is an element of truth in that," said Stark. "But that is something which probably irks most managers – that if you win a game you are a great manager and if you lose a game you are a poor manager. It [taking the job on a permanent basis] is not something I have thought about at any stage. I have been asked to take the team next week and that is a huge honour. As to what goes after that we will just have to wait and see. In terms of Di Matteo, I am sure there are plenty of examples where the guy that was there went on to do a fantastic job, but I am sure there are other examples of guys that it didn't work out for."

If the bookmakers are to be believed, the 55-year-old is merely keeping the hot seat warm for a few weeks for Gordon Strachan, his one-time Aberdeen team-mate, before he returns to his day job with the Under-21s. That would be a stopover with bizarre echoes of the fate of Tommy Burns, a man who he assisted for three years at Parkhead during the 1990s. Burns presided over the 4-1 friendly defeat to Sweden back in November 2004 and Stark, who also stood in as a caretaker for three unbeaten matches following the sacking of his mentor, admitted the precedent had lodged itself in his memory in the last few days.

"It did come to mind," said Stark. "The opportunity he had to take the team on an interim basis for that one game. But Tommy is never far from my thoughts anyway. It is strange how things work out. I also did the Celtic job for three games after Tommy left and they were difficult times and difficult circumstances. That is the way I feel about this too. It is never easy when a man has lost his job but we have to be as positive as we can about this game."

If it is just to be one game, Stark is desperate for a positive result to be remembered by. Despite home and away victories against Luxembourg in the most recent Under-21 qualifying group, he knows the nation are no pushovers. "Who knows what will be put in front of you in terms of the result and the performance," said Stark. "If you are a football guy there are challenges and tests put in front of you, and what you try to do is draw on the way you have been brought up and the people who taught you."

Despite talk of promoting wholesale from his Under-21 team, Stark's first and perhaps only squad was more notable for the names that were missing than those that made the list. Gary Caldwell, Allan McGregor, Scott Brown, Alan Hutton, James Forrest, Robert Snodgrass, Danny Fox and James McArthur have all been excused the trip as a quid pro quo with their club teams, but Stark is adamant that all would have had no problems reporting for duty if it were a competitive fixture.

"If we had said to them – whether it was me or Craig – then I am sure they would have come," said Stark. "But it is a November friendly and we need common sense. There has to be compromise, there has to be a relationship and Craig had built that up."

Matt Gilks, David Marshall and Cammy Bell will battle it out for the starting goalkeeper role, while Stark is delighted to welcome back the likes of Phil Bardsley, Steven Whittaker and Steven Naismith following injury and suspension.

Barry Bannan, who performed wonders for Stark at Under-21 level, is another welcome returnee after renewed form at Aston Villa, and there was a hint that Jordan Rhodes and Steven Fletcher – two other Stark proteges – could be given the chance to form a partnership up front.

"The first thing a manager does, or certainly the first thing I do, is that I want to win the game, so I ask who is going to score a goal," said Stark. "We have a friendly game which lasts 90 minutes, and there should be room to look at a few things."

In a squad of players who have been stung by recent criticism there is a place for Charlie Adam, who not only was singled out for criticism over his lethargy in tracking Gareth Bale against Wales, but for a tweet which blamed the press for the dismissal of Levein. Stark spoke with the Stoke midfielder this week and feels he is contrite.

"I think if he looked at it now, Charlie, he would probably think 'I shouldn't have done that'," said Stark. "The senior players know that they have got a bit to prove, they need to start winning games and to start a bit of good feedback."

Stark didn't share the same enthusiasm as others when Scotland's World Cup group came out and is well aware that the biggest difficulty for the national team manager is an unrealistic level of expectation. A stealthy midfield runner with St Mirren, Aberdeen and Celtic, Stark never earned Scotland honours as a player. But when it comes to the honour of managing his country, he is suddenly the man in possession.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

124506