End of world, just don’t expect Levein to admit it
Scotland huffed and puffed, but none of the players were blowing as hard as their beleaguered manager. At the end, the soundtrack of the Craig Levein era rose up from the stands and briefly swirled around Hampden. Booed off again.
Booed by people who were prepared to believe, diehards who still dared to dream. And now? Once more that old chestnut of a headline so beloved by the tabloids must be taken out and applied to Scotland. End of the World.
There is a hypnotist out there who makes a living on stage from convincing his audience that they are chickens laying a square egg, that they’re Frank Sinatra in Vegas, that they’re victims of a horrible crime – the theft of their bellybutton. But for all his mind-altering magnificence this desperado would surely draw the line at trying to get to work on the Tartan Army. Attempting to persuade the Scottish fans that qualification for Rio 2014 is still a possibility would be a feat too far. It’s just not going to happen, is it? We can say that now.
Levein will say otherwise, but then Levein says a lot of things and not many of the things he says have much basis in truth. It’s not that he’s lying, he’s just in denial. In denial about the last qualification campaign and the lessons to be learned, in denial about last Saturday and in denial again last night. These opening qualifiers were games that Scotland needed to win, but they haven’t. Six points were needed, but only two have been delivered. If Levein was honest he would admit that two points from two home matches is a calamity from which Scotland will not recover but he’s not going to say that no more than he’s going to say that he just didn’t have it at international level, that his managerial skills are not up to it, that the results are glaring, undeniable proof of it.
The stark numbers of the Levein era are these. He has been in charge for 10 competitive matches and has won only three of them and has beaten only two teams, Liechtenstein and Lithuania. That’s the beginning, the end and the in-between of his story. All the rest of it, the spin about improvement, is irrelevant because at some point his team needed to deliver a performance to match the boasts of their manager and they have failed to do it. And they don’t look like doing it. They are plodding along in much the same way they did under some of the hapless predecessors in the manager’s chair. At least Berti Vogts got Scotland to a play-off. At least George Burley’s side produced a performance of substance against Holland. Levein’s team have delivered nothing that makes you believe that they are moving forward.
Here is a snapshot of how out of touch with reality Levein is. We got a message from the Scotland manager, by way of his notes in the programme before this game. In his state of the nation address before kick-off, Levein, statistically outshine in the job by such luminaries as Vogts and Burley, took the chance to express his incredulity at all this flak he’s been getting these past few days. Bemusement was the word he used. Levein was bemused at the hysterical negativity of the media.
“Depending on results elsewhere in the group tonight, we could finish the first double header top of Group A in the best-case scenario,” wrote Levein. This is typical of the kind of thing we’ve heard from the Scotland manager, these endless visions of a rosy future that never come true, the perpetual promises of jam tomorrow. Scotland are not first in the group, they are fourth and next month they have two away games in Cardiff and Brussels. “I look at the table and it’s not damaging at all,” said Levein. Add that one to the list of all the other lamentable comments in the wake of dispiriting results.
Hampden was nervous last night; so jittery that you could practically hear the coins jangling in the pockets of the Tartan Army. Silenced by the Serbs on Saturday and now tormented by the Macedonians. Had Scotland taken on Macedonia anytime in the last year then they would have been coming up against a team that were easy prey, certainly to the likes of Luxembourg who beat them 2-1 in February and Armenia who walloped them 4-1 in October. Different animals now, though. Reborn, somehow, in Zagreb last Friday night when a gallant performance might not have been enough to beat the Croats but was clearly more than good enough to frighten the Scots.
A goal down in 11 minutes. A goal down and clearly uninspired by whatever it was their manager was telling them in the days since Saturday. Sure, Levein changed it from the start, but it didn’t work. He change it midstream, but that didn’t really work either. Scotland were 1-0 down and they could have been two goals down had Allan McGregor’s trip on Mirko Ivanovski in the box been spotted. It was a certain penalty. Scotland got lucky. Later, McGregor got busy. Some of his saves were terrific. McGregor was the outstanding player in this game. What does that tell you?
Scotland had chances and Macedonia hit a post. We could play a game of tit-for-tat in the totting-up of who created more goal-scoring opportunities but what is the point? This was a night where performance mattered less that points. Three were needed by whatever means and Levein’s players couldn’t produced them. Again.
What do we do here? There is a lot to be said for being bold, for accepting that Levein is managing a group of players that are better than the performances he is getting out of them – and then changing it radically. Levein has had his chances. Does the SFA have the gumption to sack him and replace him with, say, Gordon Strachan, thereby bringing Steven Fletcher back into the fold? No, you’d fancy it does not. Levein will carry on to Cardiff and Brussels and maybe beyond, will continue to preach a gospel that people want to believe but just can’t because there is nothing to believe in, nothing to cling on to, nothing but words and promises. “It would have been nice to have taken four points, or even six points, from our first two games,” said Levein. “But that’s football.”
Soon after, he returned to his mantra of being positive about the future. More and more, he is on his own.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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