Former Scotland winger Pat Nevin admits that he was scared when he heard – a year ago today – that Gordon Strachan had been chosen to replace Craig Levein as manager of the Scotland national team – because he feared that, if the former Celtic boss couldn’t fix our problems, no-one could.
Scotland had slumped to 72 in the Fifa rankings under Levein but Strachan has restored the feelgood factor with home and away wins over Croatia (ranked No 4 in the world) and propelled his players up to No 34.
Now, on the first anniversary of his appointment, Nevin salutes the passionate patriot who has always given his all for his country – and who has done so much in the last 12 months to restore the Tartan Army’s pride.
“I knew, from watching his Celtic teams, that he was a capable manager, but I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by just how well he has done since taking the job,” said the pundit. “My worry when I heard the news is that if it didn’t work out for him then the real problem wouldn’t lie with the management.
“Let’s face it, with Gordon, Mark McGhee and Stuart McCall, it’s as close as you can get to a Brains Trust of Scottish football.
“Fortunately, it has worked and I’ve been impressed by the players Gordon has brought in. Ikechi Anya came out of left field but, after two appearances, he’s now a regular.
“That’s how it should be. I was delighted to hear him say that he’d be looking to bring Dundee United’s Ryan Gauld into the set-up, even though he’s only 18.
“It’s been the culture in this country for too long that we hold players back. We’re too slow to give youngsters international experience but Brazil didn’t wait until Oscar or Neymar were 24 before giving them a chance and it’s good to see Gordon thinks that way too.”
Nevin has been just as impressed by the way that Strachan and his team have helped to widen the net for Scotland’s pool of talent. “Bringing in Liam Bridcutt from Brighton was a smart move,” he continued. “Belgium has a population of 11 million but they widen it to 30 million when they include former colonies and use residency rules so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that, too.
“I was also pleased that Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd has been brought back into the fold. Most people thought that he’d had his time with Scotland but he’s still scoring and looking as dangerous as ever so it’s great to see him in there – it proves that no-one is being ruled out.
“The only player who should be involved but isn’t is Kris Commons and that’s obviously down to the player making that choice, but I hope that Gordon can persuade him to change his mind.”
Strachan has restored the confidence of the players who are asked to wear the famous dark blue shirt and Nevin reckons he deserves a degree in sports psychology for the work he’s done there.
“He’s had to calm down the expectations of the fans, who never need too much encouragement to get carried away,” he said.
“At the same time he’s delivering completely the opposite message to his squad, telling them that they’re good enough to go out and beat anyone. That’s been proved by the wins in Croatia and Norway. Gordon has given our players the self-belief which had so obviously been lacking for a long time.”
Nevin also reveals that Strachan was every bit as committed to the cause during his dozen years as a Scotland player, which ended in 1992 at the age of 35.
“I wasn’t quite his replacement but I was the next in line,” he said. “I was coming into the side as he was on his way out.
“However, he never once made me feel as though I was a rival.
“There was none of the quiet antagonism or bitchy comments you would get from some others.
“Gordon was always extremely positive and he only ever wanted what was best for Scotland.
“There were quite a number of players from his generation and the one immediately before who gave the impression that playing for their country was not a priority, but that was never the case with him.”