EVEN if the Scotland job is not for him, Alex McLeish could end up unwittingly playing a role in the identity of the successor to Craig Levein. Billy Stark currently occupies the position on an interim basis and will take charge for tonight’s friendly in Luxembourg, as a direct consequence of McLeish bringing him into the national set-up.
As Scotland manager in 2008, McLeish was responsible for Stark being placed in charge of the country’s under-21 side. Levein being relieved of his duties last week presented Stark with the opportunity to stake a claim for holding down the senior job on a permanent basis. Indeed, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan has stated that Stark is viewed as a “potential candidate” for the vacancy.
McLeish, reiterated that he “definitely” sees his “immediate future in day-to-day football at club level” where he believes he has “unfinished business” following his dismissal by Aston Villa in the summer. Moreover, though he sees much merit in Stark’s candidacy, and that of Joe Jordan, he doesn’t want to be perceived as a flip-flopper. McLeish continues to give his endorsement to Gordon Strachan.
After a series of favourable answers to questions over Stark’s credentials, McLeish paused and offered: “It’ll end up headlines ‘Big Alex goes for Starky’. I was going for Gordon two weeks ago and Joe last week. I think there are many great candidates. Any one of them [could do it]. I think the fans have spoken quite loudly about the choices, though [in backing Strachan’s appointment]. Two million Tartan Army fans can’t be wrong.”
Yet, McLeish accepted there was plenty that Stark does right that would make him suited to the post. “He’s a great lad and a very, very good coach. He knows what he’s talking about” he said. “I put him into the 21s because I just felt with young players he had the necessary patience and gravitas.
“I brought him in because of the manners he had, and the fact there was an aura about through having done so well in playing for Aberdeen, Celtic and St Mirren. He had gone into the coaching with Tommy [Burns] and you get to hear on the grapevine [how impressive he was on that front]. If he’s in the system and done decent things, it stands to reason he can be a credible candidate.”
And Scotland can be a credible football nation, in the eyes of McLeish. Far from seeing the hopelessness of the situation for any new man because of the risible recent record of three wins out of 13, he believes the successor to Levein will be bequeathed a group of players with more to recommend them at club level than the pool he came mighty close to leading to Euro 2008.
“The players, with the speculation over Craig and their backing of him, admitted themselves they hadn’t played as well as they can do. And I think if the next manager can get those guys to raise the bar, in terms of how well they’ve done in the English Premier League, as well as the guys in the Scottish league, then there’s definitely a few per cent more in a lot of these fellas. It is up to the next manager to galvanise them and possibly the experience they’ve had now of being at Hampden these past few games, they might stop and think ‘it’s not as tough as we expected it to be’.
“When I was in the job we didn’t have many English Premier League players. There was Fletch [Darren Fletcher], [James] McFadden, David Weir and Barry Ferguson, but for me the current crop are capable. They have shown such great form in England. This is not an ‘Alex McLeish blasts the players’. They have come out and said themselves that they didn’t do themselves justice in the four games.
“When you get to international level there’s a little bit more inspiration required, and you are really on the stage then. The whole world is upon you, there is no hiding place. Whether you are talking the defenders, or the attackers, there could definitely be inspiring performances within any of these guys.”
The last time Scotland delivered such a performance was in Paris five years ago. McLeish’s crowning glory of a victory in his all-too-brief-spell in charge that came to an abrupt end when he was enticed to England by Birmingham City.
In terms of those who came after him, McLeish at least had a crowning glory of a victory.
lAlex McLeish was speaking at a Positive Coaching Scotland (PCS) “Success through Effort: Mastery Coaching” seminar at Hampden Park. PCS is a cultural change programme designed to create a positive environment for young people in football by teaching them to appreciate the value of effort and learning. Join Scotland captain Darren Fletcher and show your support for the principles of the programme by signing up to the PCS Pledge at www.scottishfa.co.uk