CRAIG Brown, the last man to lead Scotland to the finals of a major tournament way back in 1998, spoke in these pages last week of the pressing need for the SFA to appoint a new manager.

His words are, following Michael O'Neill's decision to turn down the chance to succeed his managerial mentor Gordon Strachan yesterday, more pertinent than ever now.

Brown, who led his country to both Euro '96 and France '98 during his eight years at the helm, stressed that it would be helpful to the national team's chances of reaching the Euro 2020 finals to make an appointment imminently. He had a valid point.

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Scotland have friendlies against Costa Rica at home on March 23 and then play Hungary away in Budapest four days later. At the end of the season they will travel to South America to take on Peru on May 29 and then Mexico on June 2.

With the inaugural UEFA Nations League, the draw for which will be made in Lausanne, Switzerland, tomorrow, kicking off in September, Brown believes it is important that the new man, not a caretaker, is in charge for those games.

The matches will give him the chance to work with his players, see how they fit into the system he wants to play, learn about their strengths and weaknesses, get a handle on their personalities, before the competitive action gets underway and help him make a positive start.

So, it is vital that SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, who will be in the unusual position at the Nations League draw of not being accompanied by a manager, now acts quickly to bring somebody in.

A place in the Euro 2020 finals, which will be partially staged at Hampden, is available in the new competition and it is vital that Scotland are in the best possible shape they can be going into it.

Questions will be asked by many supporters about why the governing body is no nearer to announcing a new manager some three months after parting company with Gordon Strachan.

They approached their Irish Football Association counterparts to ask for permission to speak to O'Neill in November after identifying him as their preferred candidate for the position.

However, it was only last Thursday that they finally sat down around a table with the Edinburgh-based coach for discussions. A lot of fans are demanding to know what they have been doing with themselves?

However, the sad death of O'Neill's mother after a long illness in November led to the process being put on hold while the 48-year-old grieved her passing with his family.

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The Edinburgh-based coach didn't elaborate on his reasons for passing up the chance to take over the Scotland job. He may sign the lucrative contract extension he has been offered by Northern Ireland. He may decide to return to club management. He will not be short of offers.

Rangers, Sunderland, Stoke City and West Brom have all been linked with the former Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers manager since he led Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals and to a Russia 2018 play-off place.

He praised the professionalism of the SFA in the brief three paragraph statement which he released to the media yesterday so it is unfair to say he had reservations about working with them.

But this is not the time for finger pointing and recriminations. What is important for the SFA now is to ensure that the next man they approach - and a sub-committee has drawn up a shortlist of possible contenders for the role - accepts the job.

It is now nearly 20 years since Scotland last played at France '98, the tournament that Brown was in charge at, and generations of their supporters have not experienced the joy and excitement of seeing their team involved at a finals.

There are, though, ample opportunities to make it through to Euro 2020. Bringing in a manager before the friendlies in March will improve the national team's prospects of securing a spot at the Nations League. Failing to do so will jeopardise their prospects.

Alex McLeish, the former Motherwell, Hibs, Rangers, Birmingham City and Aston Villa manager, today admits he would be prepared to accept the position he once held even though he was not the SFA's first choice.

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Many members of the Tartan Army would be unhappy with the appointment of "Big Eck" given that he left for Birmingham in 2007 after just 10 games in charge. There is still ill-feeling over his departure.

But would it be the worst course of action for the SFA to go down. International management is ideally suited to an older man. Both Walter Smith and Strachan excelled after taking over in the twilight of their careers.

McLeish is 59 now and is, having suffered mixed fortunes at Nottingham Forrest, Genk in Belgium and Zamalek in Belgium in recent years, unlikely to seek a return to the club game any time soon.

He knows the Scottish game, understands the mentality of the players, has vast experience of international football both as a player and as a coach, is fiercely patriotic and is also,crucially, available now.

The SFA could do far worse than go back to the future.