Craig Brown often used to speak about the “ocean of goodwill” which a Scotland manager can rely upon. Indeed, he could have done with some of it yesterday in the same city where Gordon Strachan sat in a car showroom and delivered news of his first Scotland squad.
On either side of Strachan were not assistants Mark McGhee and Stuart McCall. Instead, a couple of Vauxhall hatchbacks flanked the new Scotland manager, whose appearance in Aberdeen – where the local team were again recovering from a defeat the previous evening – raised spirits and helped promote next week’s friendly with Estonia at Pittodrie, the stadium where Brown, at the same time, was busy licking his wounds. Of course, the ground was once Strachan’s base of operations, too.
“It is nice to be here; even today I can go down and see my sister, who’s just half-a-mile down the road,” he said. “There are a lot of friendly faces.”
Now it is Strachan’s turn to experience the grace that a Scotland manager can count on, in the early days at least. “Since I got the job, it has been overwhelming the amount of best best wishes I have had,” he said. “And I mean from everybody.
“Even from this group here,” he added, with pointed reference to the gathering of reporters sitting in front of him. “I think there is a genuine feeling of: ‘I hope we do well’.”
He detects that everyone is urging him on: “I genuinely feel everybody in Scotland is at the stage now where we say, ‘listen whatever happens, let’s get to one of these finals and make sure we do something’. The best wishes have been overwhelming, even in England. They always say ‘good luck’ and then they kind of snigger at the same time.”
Even the call-up of Rangers full-back Lee Wallace has passed without the storm of criticism endured by Craig Levein when he dipped into the Third Division for a recruit. Strachan’s predecessor had exhausted his own reserve of goodwill by the time he turned to Ian Black for the friendly against Australia earlier this season, having previously explained he would probably steer clear of recruits from Scottish football’s lowest tier.
Strachan suggested Wallace’s return had been a decision reached by committee. “I’ve not seen much of him this year obviously,” he said. “But as a group, we have scouts and staff in Scotland and you have a word with them. In this collective group, people who have seen Rangers think that he is doing well enough to be in the squad. It’s not his fault he ended up in the Third Division. If you can play, you can play.”
The message from the new regime seems to be: it’s not where you are from, it’s where you are at.
The same rationale is applied to the issue of age. If you are good enough then the advancing years should not count against you. The 33-year-old Kenny Miller is preparing to play for his seventh Scotland manager since making his debut under Brown in Poland in 2001. Strachan was unapologetic about his inclusion yesterday, with the Vancouver Whitecaps striker set to earn his 66th cap next Wednesday. At the age of 35, the Scotland manager himself was still a vital cog in the Leeds United midfield when the Elland Road club won the English title in 1992.
“Kenny could easily have said: ‘Listen, I’m doing pre-season training, can I give it a miss?’ ” said Strachan, who becomes the latest Scotland manager to salute the player’s indefatigability. “But he wants to come over, which is great. “You can only put in kids if they are good enough. I have seen a lot of examples very recently of kids playing and not being good enough. Everybody screams to get kids in. Chairmen scream to get kids in.
“But if they are not good enough they are not good enough. I’m not saying the kids we have are not good enough yet. But they need to do a bit before they get in the squad.”
There was a time when Miller was absolutely central to the way Scotland played. Levein, certainly, preferred to use just one striker, ideally Miller. Strachan certainly wion’t be as rigid as his predecessor when it comes to formation. He will be guided by the players at his disposal rather than force the players to fit a pre-devised plan. He has made that mistake once before.
“I go back to one club in particular and I tried to change the system too soon,” he said, with reference to his brief, unhappy stay at Middlesbrough. “I should have used the players that I had there and got on with it, rather than changing to the way I think the game should be played.”
He did, though, wish to clear one thing up. As much as the idea delights him, he won’t have Scotland “playing like Germany”, which he complained was a mis-quote from his unveiling at Hampden Park a fortnight ago. “I know if we don’t play well I’m going to have the German helmet on and all the rest of it,” he said, in grim anticipation of the back page “mock-ups” that are the speciality of some newspapers. “And I don’t look good in a German helmet.”
• For ticket information for the game against Estonia at Pittodrie visit: www.scottishfa.co.uk