BILLY Stark says he doesn’t care if he is not the popular choice to take over from Craig Levein and insists that people who don’t know him should stop writing him off.
Placed in temporary charge of the national side for the midweek friendly win in Luxembourg, Stark got a glimpse of what life could be like if he was named the Scotland coach on a permanent basis. Stung by some of the criticism, he says people have to get real and start analysing things a bit more deeply before making harsh judgments.
While Gordon Strachan and Joe Jordan are considered the front-runners to fill the vacancy, Stark will not rule himself out. He says he has had a couple of informal conversations with SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and president Campbell Ogilvie and will seek a more formal pow-wow soon. But the fact that he was never capped at full international level and lacks a CV littered with Premiership coaching jobs should not undermine him.
Far from a rookie, he says he has handled big names in the past, during his spell as assistant manager at Celtic and jokes that “when you have tried to keep Di Canio calm everything else is piece of cake!” He also served up a telling reminder that the last time Scotland regularly qualified for major finals, the men in charge were Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown.
“Craig and Andy have the same number of caps as me!” he quips. “This is a great football country and 90 per cent of any sort of criticism is for the right reasons. All you ask for is a sense of realism. Andy took a squad to Luxembourg in a championship [qualifier] and drew 0-0 and still went on to success. I don’t remember it but I bet the reaction at the time was Armageddon. They are arguably the two most successful managers we have had in modern times. Picking a manager is always a fraught business because there is an element of luck involved. A big part of it is the players you have at your disposal, the tools you have to work with.”
Former Scotland internationalist Craig Burley, an analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the 2-1 win in Luxembourg, was dismissive of the idea of Stark getting the job. Others have questioned his ability to cope with the country’s top players but the man who has worked with many of them as they came through the under-21 ranks, says people are making lazy assumptions.
“Craig Burley doesn’t know anything about me but that’s something you have to put up with, people making definitive judgments like that about you – that’s the job he’s in, I suppose.”
And, while Stark does not relish waking up to newspaper front pages superimposing his face onto a vegetable, he says he is not naïve. “The point is it’s a high-profile job, I’m not daft enough to not recognise that. I wouldn’t be looking forward to finding a turnip on my shoulders but you recognise that the hopes of the nation are on you. You have to keep perspective though – managers get far too high a profile in terms of what they can do – it’s down to how good your players are. You have to organise them, get the best from them, but it’s down to the level of player.”
Stark was praised by the SFA hierarchy for his handling of the Luxembourg fixture but he still does not know if that has catapulted him into the reckoning.
“I am happy to proceed on the basis that I am in interim charge at the moment. There’s not another game until February [a friendly against Estonia] and I have not had a formal conversation so I don’t know what the thinking is. I am the under-21 coach and that’s a job I really enjoy. I am not a guy that’s out of work and desperate for a job.
“But, if you say you don’t want the job, people accuse you of lacking ambition. If you say you want the job, you put yourself out there and I am then just a candidate the same as Gordon Strachan or Joe Jordan or any of the ones that have been mentioned. I really don’t feel I need to do that. What I’d be saying to Stewart is ‘I’m delighted with what you’ve said about how I’ve done the job in the last week, I’m still proud and honoured to do it and I’m happy to take your guidance as we go through the coming months’.”