STEWART Regan has revealed he harboured fears that Gordon Strachan had lost the will to remain as Scotland manager.
Strachan brought an end to uncertainty over his future in the job when he accepted a new two-year contract which will see him lead Scotland into their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign which begins next September. While Scottish FA chief executive Regan was always optimistic Strachan would finally agree to extend his tenure, he admits there was a point when the failure of the Euro 2016 qualifying bid raised doubts in his mind.
Scotland’s attempt to reach next year’s finals in France began to unravel last month with a tame 1-0 defeat by Georgia in Tbilisi which was followed by the 3-2 home loss against world champions Germany three days later.
“There was probably a period after that weekend when Gordon was more down than I had seen him,” reflected Regan.
“That was the only moment when I thought: ‘I wonder whether he is going to have the fight in him to take the World Cup campaign on’.”
Strachan’s mood changed significantly earlier this month, however, despite the agonising loss of a stoppage time goal in the 2-2 draw with Poland at Hampden which ended Scotland’s Euro 2016 hopes.
It was the positive reaction of the Tartan Army towards Strachan after the dead rubber 6-0 win over Gibraltar in Faro three days later which Regan believes was decisive in persuading him to sign a new deal.
“We were all hurting about not qualifying, no-one more so than Gordon because, at the end of the day, he is a fan as well as the manager of the national team,” added Regan. “It was really disappointing and heart-breaking the way it happened. We had one match we all look back on – which is the away match in Georgia – and had we got a different result we might have been in a differen place now.
“We said from the start we would let the group stage get out of the way and then we would sit down and have a discussion about Gordon’s contract.
“The job suits Gordon. He likes the job because it suits his way of life.
“When we got to the end of the match against Gibraltar, he was elated at the reaction he got from the fans.
“If there was ever a doubt – I don’t think there ever really was – then that changed his mind and that sealed it.
“We got together shortly after coming back and we sorted out the terms of the contract and I’m delighted he is with us for the Russia 2018 campaign.
“It’s time to pick ourselves up and look forward rather than licking our wounds and look backwards.
“If you see the reaction from the fans, they are good judges over whether the Scotland team is performing or not and they are a good judge of the job a Scotland manager is doing.
“What they like about the current Scotland team is the way they play football, the style of play and the team spirit that Gordon has built and the new blood like Ikechi Anya and Andy Robertson.
“We felt that as much as we haven’t qualified, there was a new resolve about the Scotland team, a new attitude about not wanting to get beaten and going into every game – including Germany and Poland – believing we can win.
“There was no fear and that says a lot about the way Gordon has rebuilt and refocused the Scotland team.”
Regan feels that approach will serve Strachan well in a World Cup qualifying group in which they will face England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.
“It’s that ‘no fear’ going into the campaign – irrespective of England – believing we have a chance,” he said.
“Gordon and the senior players believe that on our day we can beat anyone in the group, including England.”
Regan was speaking as the Scottish FA announced a four-year extension with William Hill as title sponsors of the Scottish Cup. Britain’s biggest bookmaker has now invested more than £10 million in Scottish football since its first involvement back in 2009.
As part of the new deal, the South Stand at Hampden Park will now be formally named as the William Hill Stand.
Regan accepts there is some disquiet over football’s close commercial relationships with bookmakers but revealed the Scottish FA and William Hill will sign a “betting integrity agreement” in the coming months to try to address any concerns.
“We have agreed to enter into a memo of understanding to make sure we are on top of all issues related to match-fixing and potential threats to the game,” he said. “It follows on from activity within Fifa and Uefa to make sure match-fixing doesn’t get a hold in football. It is an information sharing agreement and allows us to take any action against any information which is provided.
“There is already an agreement with the Gambling Commission and also the Association of British Bookmakers. If there are any pieces of information which become available, they tend to get shared.
“We are trying to take that one stage further with our partnership with William Hill, so we can act quicker and deal with it quicker. It is something the game takes very seriously.
“We are talking about a major sponsorship today and it’s a fantastic piece of news for the game. William Hill have now invested over an eight-figure sum in the last decade in Scottish football.
“There are always going to be issues and criticisms around the betting category, but as long as it is managed in a responsible way then we believe it is something which is good for the game in the long run. That investment is essential for the game.”
Regan declined to state a view on the recent controversy surrounding Scottish Premiership sponsors Ladbrokes running markets on which manager will be next to lose their job.
“As far as talking about their business and what odds they offer, it is not something I’m interested in commenting on,” said Regan.
“In terms of recent times, today is one of the biggest deals we have done. It is a four-year deal taking in new inventory including the naming of the South Stand.
“That is of significant importance to the company. It gives them a greater profile in Glasgow and across Scotland.
“For them to have the William Hill Stand is a great piece of business for them. It is a lucrative deal and it has come at a key time for Scottish football.”