Gordon Strachan will stay on as Scotland manager after the Scottish FA board yesterday voted unanimously to back the man they appointed in 2013.
The position of the national boss has come under severe scrutiny since the defeat to England in last Friday’s World Cup qualifier, at Wembley. The result left Scotland second bottom of Group F, with just four points from their first four matches, and facing the increasingly likelihood that the country will again be mere spectators when the football festival kicks off in Russia in 2018.
But in a statement released yesterday, it was made clear that the former Celtic manager retained the confidence of the Hampden hierarchy.
They said that they had considered the performance of the team thus far in the World Cup qualifying campaign, adding that Strachan had also given his feedback, not only on past results but also regarding his view on the team’s prospects for the coming year. In the end, the board concluded that Strachan and his staff should be allowed to continue in their roles and be given the chance to turn things around.
“The Board have considered the team’s performance since the start of the campaign and subsequently discussed the disappointing points total after four matches,” said Stewart Regan, Scottish FA Chief Executive: “Gordon shared the disappointment of the Board and, of course, the fans. He is adamant, however, that we can recover the position and believes a play-off place still to be attainable.
“The Board are convinced that he still has the hunger for this challenge and we have four home qualifiers in 2017 to rejuvenate our campaign.
““We support Gordon unanimously in improving our qualification prospects.”
The decision will be a blow to many who have been actively campaigning for a parting of the ways. Angry that the positive start away to Malta was swiftly and significantly undermined by a disappointing draw at home to Lithuania, followed by a poor 3-0 loss on the road against Slovakia, it meant that the result against top seeds and the auld enemy, England, was even more bruising. It left many critics insisting that neither the players or the manager were good enough.
But, agreeing with those who jumped to his defence, and with six games remaining, four of them at home, Strachan is of a different opinion. Aware of the pressure and the spotlight that has been shone on him in recent fixtures, he has always insisted that it is not all about him. Adamant that his thoughts are occupied only with how he can develop the players and conjure up the wins and the points needed to satisfy the demands of a nation starved of major tournaments since 1998, he believes that there are still enough points up for grabs to turn the campaign around.
“We were all extremely disappointed with the result on Friday night but having reflected on our performance, I still believe we can get ourselves back into contention in the group,” said Strachan in the statement issued by the SFA.
“There are still 18 points to play for and the players, the staff and I, as in previous games, will give everything we have to turn things around. I have said consistently that our fans deserve success and a return to a major tournament finals.
“Although we have had a difficult start to the campaign, I firmly believe that this group of players, together with our supporters, can maximise our chances of a play-off place, starting with the home match against Slovenia in March.”
But if he is to kickstart the qualifying dream and repel more demands for his head he will have to ignore the distraction of ongoing hand-wringing and find a way to navigate the tough-questioning that will accompany the build up to that match in four months time. He will also have to find a way to deliver the victory that is needed to ignite hope and haul them up the group standings.
The decision taken by the SFA board and the national boss, who has often spoken of his pride in leading his country, now renders the match a must-win. The margin for error has gone, with many watching and waiting for the slip up that would, in their view make his position untenable.
Even if he delivers against Slovenia, the tensions are likely to rumble on and the home match against England will be up next. It means that while the SFA have backed their man they have also invited several more months of navel-grazing and revolutionary calls. At home, down south, Strachan has already proved he can take that, the question is whether the SFA can cope with the same kind of scrutiny as people look for someone other than the manager to blame for the way the game is going in this country and the fact the national boss has been left with a pool of players, who despite publicly backing their boss, have turned in the kind of error-strewn performances that made this week’s introspection necessary.