The Scottish Football Association’s search for a new manager will begin in earnest tomorrow morning. The stakes have never been higher.
“This is up there with the biggest decisions of my tenure,” said Stewart Regan yesterday. The chief executive will head a sub-committee of SFA board members as they first draw up a short-list of candidates. They will then make a recommendation to the main board.
While Regan has already admitted it might take a while for the chosen candidate to be appointed, hopes are high they can trigger a successful era. It is, after all, a critical time.
As if to emphasise what Regan hopes will be a new dawn there are plans to launch a new home strip ahead of next month’s friendly against the Netherlands.
“We’re now entering the phase where we’ll be hosting 2020,” stressed Regan.
“It would be disappointing – that’s probably not a strong enough word – to be sat there in the South Stand watching someone else [play]. It would be hugely dissatisfying for the board, myself and the fans not to be there. That’s why this was such a big judgment call. It’s just what we felt was right for Scotland and the game.”
If Scotland qualify for 2020 they are guaranteed to play two games at least at Hampden. So Regan can’t afford to treat the Nations League as a laughably convoluted new format devised by Uefa, as some are. Rather, it’s a deadly serious and actually quite realistic route to Euro 2020.
As top seeds in Group C, Scotland are projected to be very much in the frame for the play-offs in March 2020, if they have not already secured a place in the finals via conventional qualifying.
Whoever is chosen to lead Scotland post-Strachan has two chances to reach Euro 2020 and become the first manager since Craig Brown to reach a major finals. It is an attractive thought for any potential candidate and certainly achievable. It would also be the realisation of a strategic plan launched as long ago as 2011, when Scotland United – A 2020 vision was devised.
“We had an eye on our performance schoolkids coming through, pulling on that dark blue shirt and playing for Scotland at Hampden in the European Championships,” said Regan. “That was the vision. Everyone has that in their mind: ‘We’ve got to be here’ for Hampden 2020. What’s the saying the fans have? No Scotland, no party. So this is an opportunity to make a difference in Glasgow.”
While the Nations League gives Scotland, and teams of similar standing, a better chance of qualifying for Euro 2020, there is, Regan accepts, a downside. Games against the likes of Hungary, Romania and Slovenia (again) are unlikely to be moneyspinners.
“The potential is the attendances might not be as great as they would be if you were playing a glamour side like Germany or Spain, or one of the big six,” he said. “That’s got the potential to have an impact on revenue streams.”
This could, in turn, impact on the SFA’s list of options as they begin the process of replacing Strachan. Even the Northern Irish FA, whose manager Michael O’Neill surely features in Regan’s thoughts, can flex some financial muscle, having earned a windfall from reaching the group stage at Euro 2016.
“It would have been great to do a Wales or a Northern Ireland,” said Regan. “I think in Wales’ case they brought in €18 million from reaching the semi-finals of the Euros, probably half of that in the case of Northern Ireland. But we are where we are and have our own resources, supplemented by income from FIFA and UEFA, as well as the public sector.”
Regan isn’t averse to the offer of outside investment to help fund a new, high-profile manager, as happened when the Republic of Ireland hired Giovanni Trappatoni. A local businessman paid half the Italian’s salary of €1.2m.
“It would be a great opportunity as long as it was the Scottish FA who was appointing the successful candidate and were in control of any decision making,” he said.
Scotland will aim to make better use of facilities funded with investment already received, including £25m from the Scottish Government to help build the Oriam performance centre in Edinburgh. Another mark of the post-Strachan era could be the relocation of the senior team’s headquarters from Mar Hall in Renfrewshire, where the players gather before internationals, to Riccarton.
“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t use Oriam more in the future for all of our squads, male and female, from A to Under-17,” said Regan. The hope is this pipeline can deliver younger players to the full Scotland men’s side. The chief executive mentioned recent better performances from the Under-21s.
“They’re the players that I’d advise the A squad manager, when he comes in, to look closely at, and to work closely with Malky [Mackay] and the coaches so he has a full 360 degree view of their progress,” he said.
Regan batted away concerns about Mackay’s promotion to interim manager for the Netherlands clash after last year’s storm over sexist and racist text messages sent while he was manager of Cardiff City. The chief executive described Mackay as a “breath of fresh air” since his appointment as performance director late last year.