SCOTTISH FA chief executive Stewart Regan has lauded Gordon Strachan for his transformation of the national team’s fortunes ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Scotland extended their current unbeaten run to six matches on Wednesday night in a 2-2 draw with African champions Nigeria at Craven Cottage.
Since Strachan replaced Craig Levein as manager 16 months ago, Scotland have climbed more than 50 places in the Fifa world rankings, where they presently occupy 22nd place.
Regan, who, along with his fellow SFA office bearers, was under pressure to make the right appointment in the wake of Levein’s wretchedly unsuccessful tenure, believes Strachan has exceeded their early expectations of him.
“Gordon has the whole country smiling again as regards the Scotland team and that’s terrific,” said Regan. “We are delighted Gordon has turned things around as quickly as he has and he has got the confidence of everybody that he is working with – the management, the directors, the players and, most importantly, the fans.
“You could sense at Craven Cottage the strength of feeling from the supporters.
“The atmosphere was amazing, the best I’ve experienced since I joined the Scottish FA and it was just a shame the late Nigeria equaliser went in, because I felt the team deserved to win.
“We brought Gordon in, not just for the end of the last campaign, but for the Euro 2016 campaign. We felt that, if we managed to turn things around and get ready for that, it would be a real bonus. But, to be honest, Gordon has surprised everybody by how quickly he has managed to stabilise the ship and turn us into a side which is very difficult to beat. He is ahead of timescale in terms of what we would have expected by now.”
Scotland’s next match will be their first Euro 2016 Group D qualifier against top seeds Germany in Dortmund’s Westfalen Stadium on 7 September. They also face the Republic of Ireland, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar in the bid to reach the final stages of a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup.
Regan is optimistic about a potentially successful campaign under Strachan, although he is wary of being too bullish.
“It’s important to manage expectations and not immediately decide we are going to be the next European champions,” added Regan. “If I have learned one thing, it is to not get carried away and let’s not forget we have a very challenging group.
“But the way the team are playing under Gordon is very encouraging and we are all genuinely excited about Euro 2016 starting, without wishing to run away with ourselves or overplay anything.”
Regan, meanwhile, has expressed his confidence in the probity of Scottish football in a week when the build-up to the Nigeria game was partially overshadowed by a warning from the National Crime Agency that it could be the subject of match-fixing attempts. He insists the SFA will remain vigilant on the issue. “We have been looking at this area for some time,” said Regan. “Uefa are very keen that the individual associations invest time and resources in knowing what is going on and that we have a clean operation within our own areas.
“We’ve appointed Peter McLaughlin as our security and integrity officer and set up our Keep it Clean campaign through Scottish Crimestoppers.
“So far, there has not been a single incident which has needed to be brought to their attention – not a single call.
“We’ve taken a view we need to communicate, but what is encouraging is that, when things were going on this week, no-one pointed a finger at Scotland. At no time was there any suggestion any Scottish players were involved.
“We are liaising very carefully with the Gambling Commission, have good lines into Fifa and Uefa and have got a good network with the betting companies, having signed agreements to share information.
“We are conscious this is an area of growing concern across Europe, but we are doing an awful lot behind the scenes.”