ON THE day Billy Stark stepped into his shoes to name a Scotland squad for next week’s friendly against Luxembourg, Craig Levein has confirmed he is taking legal advice after being “relieved” of his duties as national manager on Monday.
The news came as a surprise to the Scottish Football Association, whose chief executive, Stewart Regan, stressed that the remainder of Levein’s contract, worth an estimated £700,000, would be honoured by the governing body. Indeed, Levein is set to collect £35,000 a month for the next 20 months. However, it is understood that Levein believes his departure, almost three weeks after last month’s 2-0 defeat against Belgium, was handled unsatisfactorily by the association.
“I am extremely disappointed by the process of the last week. I note the position as stated by the Scottish Football Association but do not concur and I am currently taking legal advice as to my options. I will make no further comment at this time.”
This decision by Levein adds to Regan’s concerns as he prepares to begin the search for a new manager. Stark has taken temporary charge of the team and the Under-21 coach yesterday named a 21-strong squad for next week’s trip to Luxembourg. Meanwhile, two names touted to become Levein’s successor have outlined their ambition to be considered.
Owen Coyle, the former Bolton Wanderers manager, has said he would be “open” to an approach from the SFA, while Gordon Strachan, the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Levein, has also spoken on the subject, describing it as an “honour” to be considered. Although cautious with his answers yesterday, Stark himself refused to rule himself out of the running.
“It’s not something that I had thought about at any stage,” said Stark. “At the moment, that’s probably still the case. I’ve been asked to take the team next week and it’s a huge honour. I’m certainly not underestimating that. But, as to what happens after that, we’ll wait and see.”
Strachan, a former team-mate of Stark’s at Aberdeen, was slightly more forthcoming, although he, too, was uncomfortable talking about a role that the SFA board might not want him to occupy. He did not indicate whether he would apply for the post.
“It would be an honour to be asked to manage your own national side,” said Strachan, before quickly adding that “it would be arrogant to presume that someone will ask me”.
Strachan, who lives in the Midlands now, was back in Glasgow last night to watch Celtic’s Champions League clash with Barcelona. He was in the running to replace Berti Vogts as Scotland manager in 2004. Walter Smith stepped into the vacancy on that occasion, while Strachan went to have a successful four-year spell as Celtic manager. He then experienced an ill-fated spell in charge at Middlesbrough.
Coyle has recently been sacked by Bolton but is keen to return to the game. He has already stepped away from two job opportunities south of the Border. “I’m always open to hearing what someone has to say,” he said. “It’s a fantastic job for whoever’s lucky enough to be asked to lead Scotland. I’ve already turned down a couple of approaches down here, but I’ve listened to what people have had to say. And, for me, the next thing has to be the right fit in terms of matching the same ambitions as I have. There’s no doubt there’s a good squad of players there.”
Stark decided against deviating too much from the Levein era when selecting his squad for the game in Luxembourg next Wednesday. Gary Caldwell and Allan McGregor have dropped out, a decision Levein had already made before he was relieved of his duties by the SFA board on Monday. They have been excused due to the amount of football they have played recently. Celtic midfielder Scott Brown has also been excluded, although he missed last night’s Champions League clash against Barcelona with a virus in any case.
Stark admitted that he had been handed the role in “difficult circumstances”, given that a friend had lost his job. He acknowledged that a big win against Luxembourg might further underline his own credentials.
“Aye, I would accept there is an element of truth in that,” he said. “But something that irks most managers is that, if you win a game, you are a great manager, and if you lose a game, you are a poor manager. It’s not as simple as that, it’s over a period of time. I wouldn’t get carried away.”