GORDON Strachan says his winning start as Scotland manager last night was the most emotionally charged and draining experience of his long and illustrious football career.
It may only have been a friendly against Estonia but the 1-0 victory at Pittodrie, courtesy of Charlie Mulgrew’s 39th minute goal, was an occasion which Strachan found almost overwhelming.
The man who played 50 times for his country, appearing in two World Cup finals tournaments, and who has led Celtic into the latter stages of the Champions League insists nothing had prepared him for the way he felt last night.
“I’m glad it’s all over,” said Strachan. “I must admit, in 40 years of football that’s the most excited and nervous I’ve been before a game.
“I didn’t know how I would feel when I first took charge of the team. Now I know. It was an incredible experience. It rivalled getting my first cap as a player.
“I didn’t expect that. I’ve done nearly everything in the game, played everywhere, but it kind of blew me away tonight. It’s when you are on your own at times that it hits you. Getting to sleep last night wasn’t easy and when I woke up this morning it was ‘Bang – you’re on’.
“Maybe it’s the expectations of the country. I don’t know what it was. But it was different. Your first one is always different. I can handle big occasions. I’ve managed in the Champions League. I had to beat AC Milan, I had to try and beat Barcelona, I beat Manchester United. But it wasn’t like it was tonight.”
Strachan expressed his satisfaction with Scotland’s performance on a difficult Pittodrie pitch. He highlighted the display of Birmingham City winger Chris Burke, back in the international fold after a seven year absence, who lit up a generally positive first half display.
“There were loads of things which pleased me,” added Strachan. “There were things we wanted to do and to a certain extent we did it.
“We wanted to have players playing between lines, being brave enough to put it in there. Sometimes they were brave enough to put it there. Then when we got in between the lines sometimes, we had to go and eliminate people. We did that at certain times. We got free-kicks and we had asked them to take people on.
“But there is a point when if you can’t get through there, the players have go somewhere else and change it. Once we get to do that properly, then we will be fine.
“I liked some individual performances. I thought the two central midfield players (James McArthur and James Morrison) who went on in the second half were a real bonus. Burke was terrific. Robert Snodgrass had a hard act to follow when he came on for him but he also did well. That’s what I wanted, I wanted players to take people on. We got that.
“I thought the two centre-halves [Andy Webster and Christophe Berra], who had to put up with a lot coming at them, although nothing really dangerous, dealt with it nice and tidily.
“So there were combinations I thought were good, some I thought we need to work on and some where I thought ‘Nah, that’s not so great’. It was good that my first match was a friendly and I could have a look at a couple of things.
“Bits and bobs were good. But you can’t actually ask for a top performance in those conditions. We were asking Charlie Adam to get on the ball and spray it about but he literally couldn’t spray it because of the wind. The wind was moving the ball as he went to kick it.
“He knew fine well that it was hard to play the ball around in that. But he did well. I think the problem we have is that Charlie did well but you can tell the ones who have played regularly. That is not Charlie’s fault that he’s not had as many games.”
Matchwinner Mulgrew was ironically let go by Strachan when he was Celtic manager, before rebuilding his career and sealing a return to the Parkhead club where he has flourished in recent seasons.
“Charlie just seems more at ease with himself and more outgoing than he was as a young man,” observed Strachan. “He takes more responsibility on. He has taken a few knocks in his career and worked his way back to this position.”
Scotland adopted a noticably positive approach whenever possible last night, Strachan clearly ordering his team to play as high up the pitch as possible. It is a policy he says will be retained for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Serbia.
“We have to do that,” he said. “If that’s the players we’ve got, looking at the bench and seeing we’ve got a lot of them, but are a bit thin on the ground with defenders, we’ve got players who want to go and express themselves, beat players, make things happen.
“They tried it tonight. The players who I asked to beat players did that well.”