Craig Brown backs Scotland to reach Euros

Former national team coach Craig Brown, seen promoting Scotland's upcoming match against the USA, will be honoured in Largs. Picture: SNS

Former national team coach Craig Brown, seen promoting Scotland's upcoming match against the USA, will be honoured in Largs. Picture: SNS

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CRAIG Brown will be honoured by some of his closest colleagues and peers this weekend for his services to coaching in Scotland.

The recognition he will receive at the special SFA-backed dinner at the National Sports Training Centre in Inverclyde has been well earned by the former Scotland manager. But there is one part of his lengthy and impressive coaching CV which Brown would be happy to forsake.

He remains the last manager to lead Scotland to a major tournament finals, with the 1998 World Cup in France becoming an ever-more-distant memory.

Brown, however, is convinced that status is about to be removed as he predicts Gordon Strachan will finally bring Scotland’s wilderness years to an end by leading the national team to the 2016 European Championship finals back on French soil.

“Gordon will definitely get us there,” said the 73-year-old at Hampden. “I’ve been impressed by the last few performances of the team.

“They were a delight to watch in the wins over Macedonia and Croatia to end the World Cup campaign and you can clearly see Gordon has got them going in the right direction.

“He has also restored a feelgood factor among the support and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of that. Having the Scotland fans in a positive frame of mind is a big help for the team on the park.

“The other reason I believe we will definitely qualify for the Euros in 2016 is the size of the tournament. They are increasing the number of teams in the finals to 24, almost half of Uefa’s 54 members. Surely we are good enough to be among the top half of European nations?”.

Although at pains not to criticise Strachan’s predecessor Craig Levein, Brown also expressed the view that he blundered in opting to open Scotland’s 
ultimately ill-fated 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with two home fixtures against Serbia and Macedonia.

The Scots, of course, drew both games to leave themselves on the back foot right from the start.

In all of his four qualifying campaigns as Scotland manager, including the successful runs to the finals of Euro 96 and the World Cup two years later, Brown and his SFA bosses at the time successfully negotiated away games at the start of the qualifying process.

No such dates meetings will take place in future, with a computerised schedule being drawn up for the first time for Euro 2016, and Brown believes that Scotland must hope to kick off on the road.

“Having two home games to start with did not help the 
previous manager,” said Brown. “I would always be looking to start away from home and I was fortunate to work for chief 
executives who managed to get that. I know there is a feeling that you can get off to flying start at home. But I always believed it was best to get some of your away games out of the way first, try and get something from them and put pressure on the other teams to then also get something away from home. It gives you a chance to take the initiative at the start of the campaign and hopefully be able to finish off the job at home.

“Scotland also need to try to make Hampden an intimidating place for teams to come to again. It hasn’t always been that way but, if the team continue to do well and the stadium is full, then it can be a big factor for Gordon and his players again.”

Brown’s longevity in coaching, which only ended earlier this year when he retired as 
Aberdeen manager, will be reflected by those who gather in Largs on Sunday for the dinner in his honour.

Among them will be former Rangers and Scotland manager Walter Smith, former Hibs boss and Scotland assistant-manager Alex Miller and former Motherwell manager Willie McLean.

The dinner is part of the SFA’s latest coach education events at a centre which has been disparagingly dubbed as home to the “Largs Mafia” by critics of the governing body’s coaching methods down the years. It is a monicker which prompts a wry smile from Brown.

“When you look at the fact Sir Alex Ferguson, Walter Smith, David Moyes, Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas have been part of the network of coaching there, it’s not a bad Mafia to be part of,” he said.

“I’m delighted the SFA have invited me as special guest of honour at Inverclyde. I’m immensely proud of my time with the SFA in the many roles in which I’ve served the country and I am proud of the record of achievement we compiled together.”

Brown is also backing one of the Largs students, Moyes, to overcome a stuttering start to his tenure at Manchester United and prove a worthy successor to Ferguson.

“You don’t just go into a club like that, turn on a switch and everything works the way you want,” said Brown. “It took Sir Alex a while to get it the way he wanted. David has got an inner core of hardness, he is a really smart guy and he will do well at United.

“I also don’t think it’s a problem for him having Sir Alex still at the club as a director. I would want him there, especially as he was party to the appointment. He is a great resource for David to use and I believe everything points to him being a successful United manager.”

• Tickets for Scotland v USA on Friday, 15 November, are available now by visiting www.scottishfa.co.uk or calling 0844 875 1873.

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