STEWART REGAN has backed the decision to appoint Ricky Sbragia as the Scotland under-21 coach and denied the suggestion the Scottish Football Association had dragged their heels on the issue. Sbragia, who had been working with the Scotland under-19s, was confirmed in the post this week, nine months after Billy Stark stepped down from the role. During that period, Danny Lennon, now Alloa Athletic manager, took charge for one game.

The under-21s begin their European Championship qualifying campaign away in Northern Ireland next month and Sbragia is set to name his squad for that match within the coming weeks. That would seem to give him little time to properly assess his options but Regan, the SFA’s chief executive, was confident the delay in appointing the one-time Sunderland manager would not prove detrimental.

“That’s unfair [to say the under-21s were neglected],” he said. “What you are seeing is just the appointment. There’s a huge pattern of stuff going on every day with all of the squads. We’re in regular dialogue with players, we’ve got coaches out and about watching players, and we’ve got scouts all over the country.

“We’re managing the administration and the fixture planning. It’s not as if the Under 21s are being ignored. What you’re seeing is the appointment of someone who is going to lead the squad into the next campaign. All of the work is going on behind the scenes.

“Ricky has been around the international players now for the best part of three-and-a-bit years. He knows the system, clubs, players and is able to hit the ground running without any major problems.”

Sbragia came to prominence earlier in the year when he chose not to select Jack Harper, then of Real Madrid, for his under-19 squad as he felt the forward was a “luxury player” while his preference at the time was for “a physical side” with “more height and runners”.

Regan felt it was an issue that gave a false impression of the coach. “Ricky was disappointed in the sense that he should perhaps have used alternative words. He gave the impression that he was something he is not. He is a very talented coach, and has a great awareness and understanding of the game. His relationship with players and their parents is first class.

“Brian McClair [SFA performance director] waxes lyrical about him, Gordon [Strachan, Scotland manager] speaks very highly of him, as does Sir Alex Ferguson. We’re not talking about a new kid on the block. It was rather unfortunate that the comments were applied to make him look old fashioned and harked back to the Seventies or Eighties.

“Ricky, as a coach, is picking a squad he thinks is the right one to perform. He didn’t feel Jack Harper was right for the squad. I think that happens all the time. Gordon leaves lots of players out. There was Charlie Adam who was playing well for Stoke City.

“You’ve got to bring in players you think can do that job for you. Ricky has to be given the freedom of the coach to pick the players he thinks will do a job and the coach will be judged on results. So that’s how he will stand or fall.”