Scotland will have to wait a decade before they have the quality of player needed to qualify regularly for the finals of major tournaments, according to former national manager Craig Levein.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Levein says that, while Scotland have quality midfielders, deficiencies in both defence and attack leave them short of the required standard. Levein admits to having exaggerated the strengths of the players to try to boost confidence.
Unable to guide Scotland to the last European Championship finals, Levein was sacked after a disappointing start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Despite scouring the globe for players to enhance his side, Levein says Scotland still does not have the required strength or depth and may have to wait until the fruits of the new SFA development system ripen.
“There’s no doubt we have a group of players which needs to punch above its weight to be successful,” said Levein. “Maybe in ten years’ time, with the new performance system, we will be developing better players.
“When I was playing, the competition I had to get into the [Scotland] team was scary. [Alex] McLeish, Willie Miller, who was coming to the end of his career, so was [Dave] Narey and [Paul] Hegarty; there was Gary Gillespie, [Richard] Gough, big Slim [Dave McPherson], myself, Roy Aitken and Colin Hendry was coming through. Defensively, especially, we were really strong and you need that competition, you need that quality of player to be able to go into games and win them.
“We have that quality of player in midfield but we haven’t got that strength or depth up front or at the back. That’s a fact and I don’t care what anyone says. It’s easy for me to say that now because I am out of it. Until we get players who are playing at the top level week in, week out then we might qualify but we won’t on a regular basis.”
Levein was criticised after the players he talked up failed to deliver on the pitch but says he had no option but to exaggerate their merits if he wanted to keep them onside. “My job was to give the players confidence. I don’t care if I made a rod for my own back. Ultimately, it was the players who I needed to listen to me.
“Do you go in and say: ‘We have deficiencies in these areas and we will be lucky to get third in the group’?
“If I’d said that we were fourth seeds and should finish fourth, the players would read that and think ‘oh well...’
“The group has deficiencies – every team has. Attitude was not one of them – that was first class. They were trying their best and that’s all I could ask.”
But Levein warns that a laudable work ethic isn’t enough.
“We are going to stay at the same level until we get better players. We might get a genius of a manager who qualifies us for a tournament but it will then be another two competitions before we get back in, because we can’t sustain that level of performance.”