In some ways, the infamous pasting that Scotland took in Kazakhstan seems a long, long time ago. Where the national team are now – about to contest their second major tournament since that disastrous evening in Astana – is light years away from where they were back then.

For some people though, like manager on the night, Alex McLeish, the pain is still near, and – even as the fifth anniversary of that defeat passed this week - still raw. It pleases to report though that he seems in a better place these days too.

During a storied career, the highs that McLeish scaled with Aberdeen and Scotland as a player and then as manager with Rangers, and for a short time in his first reign as leader of the national team, were offset by some crushing lows.

Like many who operate at the elite level of sport, the highs brought more relief than outright joy, while the lows were devastating. And none were as damaging or as personal to McLeish as the 3-0 loss to a Kazakhstan side ranked 117th in the world.

The fall out was severe, and bruising. There were baseless rumours and innuendos about McLeish’s health, and questions raised about his fitness for the position. The truth of it all was entirely more mundane.

McLeish inherited a project from his predecessor and great friend, Gordon Strachan. His reappointment was an unpopular one, both due to the way he left the position first time around, and because of his close association with his former Aberdeen teammate.

When the Tartan Army were crying out for a new broom, McLeish was perceived to be more of the same. An unwelcome, and arguably unfair, perception that wasn’t aided by the close relationships he enjoyed with SFA president Alan McRae and vice-president Rod Petrie.

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On top of this, many of the more experienced players Strachan had leaned upon had called it a day with their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, leaving McLeish the task of scrambling together a team for the future, whilst still being strong enough to meet the short-term demands of a weary fanbase and media.

“I was trying everything I could in terms of getting new recruits for the national team, but obviously at that time, we didn’t have the quality that we have now,” McLeish said.

“It was a process. I’m sounding like Erik ten Haag here, but it was about trusting that process. Everybody talks about the process these days, but at that point it was almost like a trial-and-error process to build an entirely new Scotland team.

“My great mate Gordon Strachan had narrowly missed out on qualification, and a lot of the guys he had tried then weren’t with me when I was trying to reshape the team. Gordon had used certain strikers for instance for a purpose, and they were now unavailable.”

Nevertheless, McLeish did manage to cobble together a team that navigated their Nations League group, securing Scotland the play off that would ultimately provide the pathway back to a major tournament for the first time in over two decades.

He didn’t get to complete that journey though, with the thumping in Kazakhstan and the laboured win over San Marino a few days later ultimately seeing him relieved of his duties. Might he have seen the mission through as Steve Clarke eventually did had the players who got him to that playoff been available to him in Astana?

“We went to Kazakhstan with six of the players missing from the team that got us the wins over Albania and Israel, so it was like an overnight refurb of the team again,” he said.

"Just when you think you are getting a wee bit of momentum going, then it smashes you in the face.

“We had brought in guys with a bit of nous like Steven Fletcher for those games, even though he was barely able to play two games a week. He played in Albania and in the Israel game at Hampden, and what a massive difference that made.

“Stevie Clarke has brought in Lyndon Dykes, and he has got a few goals, but the main thing that he has done is that he has allowed guys like John McGinn and Scott McTominay to prosper within that system he plays.

“We had that with Fletcher and the likes of Ryan Christie and James Forrest prior to Kazakhstan.

“You talk about the level of the player, and that night we qualified ahead of Israel we had fantastic players in the team.”

In Fletcher’s stead, Oli McBurnie led the line against the Kazakhs. There were also some of the men who have now become mainstays of the team, like John McGinn and Scott McTominay, but the line-up lacked experience.

“We had Ryan Fraser and Callum Patterson that couldn’t play because of the pitch on top of the other withdrawals, so we had to make massive changes to the starting XI,” McLeish explained.

“Andy Robertson had a dental problem and Liverpool, rightly, withdrew him.

“No disrespect to the guys who were in that starting XI, but half of them probably hadn’t even met each other before. Graeme Shinnie had to play left back, so it was very much a case of putting a team together that hadn’t played with one another, and when you have to do that, right away that is a negative first and foremost.

“Listen, it wasn’t great. It was a poor performance and there’s no getting away from that.

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“Every time I was defeated as a player or as a manager, I was crestfallen, so needless to say it was a very tough night. I found it very hard to sleep at night after that, because I care so much about the national team.

“We took care of the players, staying on UK time and making that sacrifice. I am not chastising any of the players whatsoever, they turned out for their country, and we just fell short.

“The fact that we lacked a lot of the higher quality players made it even more of a nightmare.

“That is no slight on the boys who did come and a few of them were making their debuts for Scotland, but the international game at times can be ruthless.”

As can the reviews. McLeish knew all too well what the reaction to the result would be back home, but he had to grin and bear it with another perilous task ahead just a few days later with a trip to face San Marino.

If defeat to the Kazakhs was unpalatable, defeat to the Sammarinese was unthinkable. McLeish knew his job was perhaps already lost, but there was no way that match could be lost too.

“I’m not stupid, I realised I was going to be getting tortured," he said.

“That’s the way it is. Social media now is horrendous, and I could probably go back and sue a few folk for the things that were being said.

“But I couldn’t think about what was going on back home at the time. I had enough going on.

“Kazakhstan are obviously not the greatest team in the world, so I can take it on the chin that it was a shocking result. But we had a lot of boys just starting their international careers.

“The tension was high, and I could sense the players were playing with a bit of fear going into that San Marino game. They are only human, these guys aren’t robots, and neither am I or my staff.

“You just had to get on with it and make sure there were no slip-ups. The players were nervous, yes, but they dealt with it, and I felt that was a great experience for guys like Scott McTominay."

This is where McLeish does reflect fondly on his second spell in charge of the national team, with his crumb of comfort being that he was able to set the likes of McTominay and McGinn on their paths to becoming the national heroes they are today.

The credit for that lies with the players themselves, he stresses, and a lot of it with current manager Clarke too. But you sense a hint of regret when speaking to him that the timing of his return to the Scotland dugout coincided not with this era of such talented players in their prime, but very much in their developmental stage.

He said: “The more games Scott was playing, the better he was becoming, and the one thing I was really determined to do was to keep playing guys like Scott and make sure he was getting as much experience as possible to see if knowledge and intelligence of the game would thrive.

“Now you see what he is doing at Manchester United and for Stevie with Scotland, he’s found his forte in that attacking midfield role.

“We are now in a fantastic era. When I was there we probably only had Andy Robertson there who was playing regularly in the Premier League in England.

“We took John McGinn to Mexico and Peru too and it was all about making sure these players got as much experience as possible to see how they handled it and to pave the way for better things. He has turned into a wonderful player as well.

“Stevie is able to field a lot of boys who are playing in the Premier League now, and they have gelled and are playing at a really high level now.

“It’s great to have been there at the start. I’m not saying at all that I deserve praise or credit for where the team is now, but I was prepared to sacrifice myself for my country, you know?"

All that being said, McLeish acknowledges that there was probably no way back for him after Astana. And that hurts now just as much as it did back then, almost exactly five years and what seems like a Tartan Army lifetime ago.

“I thought that we maybe needed to change it," he admitted.

"Getting through to the playoffs, looking back on that it gives me a bit of pride being able to do that.

“Let me tell you, every time we never got the right result, particularly in Kazakhstan, I was hurting just as much as any other Scotland fan on the planet.

“It was a tough gig the second time around, and I do think it was time to change the guard. Gordon had a near miss, and I did really have to experiment with a few guys that had never had caps before.

“It was just about trying to get a bit of consistency after that, and it all came to fruition against Albania and Israel.

“Stevie came in and completed the job. It was a tough gig for me, but I’m happy to look back now and think that at least that period contributed to what has come afterwards.

“I took some amount of pelters, and that’s fine. All that matters to me is that Scotland are doing well, and hats off to Stevie, he is doing a wonderful job.

“I admire him hugely, and everything that he has done.”