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Spiers on Sport: Gordon Strachan - good coach, patchy record

Gordon Strachan’s appointment as Scotland manager can be damned with that most faint of praises: he seems a decent enough shout. But it is little more than that.

Picture: Jim Galloway
Picture: Jim Galloway

The 55-year-old has won the race to be the next poor sucker to manage Scotland amid a dearth of credible rivals for the job. It is also now nearly five years since Strachan was last successful in football.

He is a capable manager, and a thoughtful observer of the game, whose track-record is nonetheless patchy. One thing Gordon Strachan is not is a stellar appointment by the Scottish FA - not that they were left with much choice.

Few men of genuine standing wanted the job, such as Joe Jordan, who appeared happier being a no.2 at lowly Queens Park Rangers in England. Billy Stark, currently the Scotland under-21 coach, would have taken it, but his CV fails to impress.

Strachan, in truth, was the stand-out candidate, though it is sobering to note that his stock has fallen, not risen, in recent years. Upon leaving Celtic he was still only 52 but his lamentable year in charge of Middlesbrough led to a parting of the ways in October 2010.

Since then in English club football, it has to be said, Strachan appears to have been a spent force.

Yet he has been tipped from the word go to land the Scotland job, by a weary Scottish press unable to spot anyone else on the horizon. Yet again, media cynicism has proved to be perceptive.

Strachan was an undoubted success with Celtic, and this deserves to be pointed out. Not exactly a popular choice with many Celtic supporters, he nonetheless delivered three successive SPL titles and two trips to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Neither feat was accomplished by Martin O’Neill, who was lauded as a near saint by the Celtic Park faithful. It puts Strachan’s fine work in Glasgow in some context.

Yet patchiness has dogged Strachan for all of his managerial career, which will make some fret over how well he will perform with Scotland.

As Coventry City’s manager between 1996 and 2001, Strachan had two decent seasons and two poor ones before he got his team relegated and was sacked.

He was soon in charge of Southampton, where some league success (a finish of 11th place in 2002) and an FA Cup final appearance followed. That was pretty good going.

Then came Celtic and further success before Strachan’s 12-month disaster at Middlesbrough. On Teesside he won just 13 out of 46 games and led Boro to 20th in his second season in charge before resigning. The locals were champing to have him removed.

This is the man Scotland now has in charge: a thoughtful, temperamental character, with good and bad on his CV, and a career on the wane. It says a lot about the smudged prestige of being Scotland manager in this day and age.

It remains to be seen if Strachan can apply his undoubted gifts to the random chaos of international management. In this job you are, to be sure, at the mercy of the clubs, whose highly-paid players are often uneasily loaned out to their countries’ duty.

Strachan will have to adjust to competitive games being few and far between, never mind his immediate (doomed) task of reviving Scotland’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

He will require enormous patience – as will the Tartan Army and the Scottish press – given that Strachan’s first, fair task will be the commencement of the 2016 Euro qualifiers in fully 20 months’ time.

If this Scotland bumbling continues I shudder to think of Strachan not even making it to that gateway to the Euro qualifiers. Please God, give this man a fighting chance.

I wish Gordon Strachan well. He has proved he can do it in football, with some blemishes along the way. He is the best Scotland has to offer. I just hope he brings a prayer-mat with him to Hampden.

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