IT NEVER rains but it pours. Gordon Strachan landed in Faro yesterday to be greeted with the sort of dreich day he remembered from setting out as a footballer in Dundee.
But the dark clouds have already begun to lift from his mind after the desperate events of last week.
While unsurprisingly reluctant to confirm his future intentions one way or the other yesterday, he is set to confirm in the coming days whether he will lead Scotland into a World Cup qualifying campaign that kicks off against Malta next September.
He will seek the counsel of others close to him before reaching a decision on whether to agree to activate the new contract the Scottish Football Association have already said is there for him to sign.
But after sitting with him yesterday in the Algarve as he poured out his heart after an agonising 48 hours, it was possible to gain the impression he is ready to go again. In news that will cheer those in the Tartan Army who view Strachan’s Scotland as a work-in-progress, the healing has already begun.
He emanated vibes appearing to suggest he is prepared for more of the frustrations that are seemingly the lot of a Scotland manager. Some of them are significant, such as Thursday’s twin-blows at Hampden and in Dublin, which saw Scotland eliminated from Euro 2016 with a game to play. And some of them are minor, such as the lashing rain yesterday that meant Scotland had to cancel training at the Estadio Algarve, where they play Gibraltar this evening.
But Strachan has been heartened by the response from those members of the general public he encountered on Friday as he cleared his head on a walk round the golf course at the team’s base in Renfrewshire. He has been heartened, too, by the professionalism of the players, some of whom were involved in an “inspirational” training session on Friday.
Only three of the squad involved against Poland won’t be available for tonight’s dead rubber engagement with Gibraltar – the injured pair Leigh Griffiths and Jordan Rhodes as well as James McArthur, whose wife is due to give birth. James Morrison hasn’t joined up again after being suspended for the game with Poland.
But the whereabouts of these players did not dominate yesterday’s briefing, at the team hotel on the drenched Algarve coastline. Rather, it was Strachan’s future plans that were top of the agenda.
This was the question he knew was coming. He wasn’t quite ready to provide an answer; not quite yet, at least.
“There are a right lot of people I have to speak to,” he said. “There’s a lot to be done. It’s just making sure it’s the right thing.
“You’ve got to remember that I’ve never had a plan in my life and it’s far better that way.
“I’ve never had a plan that I would be here, never had a plan that I would be Celtic manager, never had a plan that I would play for Man United and then Leeds, never had a plan in my life. And it’s better that way. As I say, I’ll get this game out the way and I just need to go round two or three people.”
There is his wife, Lesley, for one. “I think you do that in any walk of life. If you’re going to work in London do you say to your missus: ‘Well, I’m off to London, do you fancy it?’ Or do you sit down and talk about that. That is only natural.”
He is also certain to seek the views of his assistants, Mark McGhee and Stuart McCall. Both have been linked to a return to club management in recent weeks.
But Strachan stressed how much he personally likes international football management, even given heartaches such as Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Poland. Coupled with Ireland’s defeat of Germany, the result, which saw the Poles grab a last-gasp equaliser, confirmed Scotland would play no part in Euro 2016.
“I don’t have to deal with the nonsense you get day-to-day,” he said, when asked what he cherishes most about his current job, compared to club management.
“I basically get a good bunch of lads who feel good about themselves and just want to train and get on with it. I don’t have to deal with the rest of it.”
But he can’t deny that last week was a wounding experience. “It’s a body blow,” he conceded. “But you can’t reflect on what I was like at 15. I had body blows getting left out of the Scotland schoolboy team, bubbling my eyeballs out and all the rest of it when I was younger, and getting left out of the school team when I was 11. It works its way up to relegation. It is very hard to throw it in there to the top ten of major disappointments. I try not to recall them.”
Some of the players have, he admitted, described coming so near and yet so far as their worst experience in football. According to Strachan, this makes their willingness to travel out to Portugal for a dead rubber match with the group minnows so admirable.
He is likely to turn to the likes of Andy Robertson, Johnny Russell, Chris Martin and Gordon Greer. Having not taken part against Poland, they were among those involved in a training session that made Strachan feel a whole lot better about himself on Friday morning. In fact, the entire day left Strachan feeling better about himself.
“From the training session to that, to walking from the golf course, to meeting people at a wedding reception, all different people from different spheres of Scotland, different genders, it was so encouraging,” he said.
“That made a huge difference to Mark [McGhee] and myself as we were walking about so hopefully that kind of spread around the camp.”
Before Scotland can begin moving on, before Strachan can have those discussions he says to needs to have, they must endure the formality of a clash with Gibraltar. To describe it as a chore is an understatement. But the manager attempted to attach some meaning to it.
“The purpose of the game is that everybody gets another Scotland cap and we get the chance to play in front of the biggest away Scotland suppor ever seen,” he said. “We have got that to look forward to.
“This has given me another two or three days away with the players. I would not have liked it if we ended after the game and we had just dispersed into the night. So it is great that we get together [again] and it is done right.
“It has given us a couple of days to speak to these lads who have been working hard for a year. That’s important.
“I think the way we are all feeling is that this [fixture] doesn’t matter but it really does matter. I am sitting here picking a team and I might have just thought ‘whatever’. But no, you start to think here we go, want to do it properly, maybe have a look at a couple of things we have not tried previously.
“We will freshen it up because there are one to two players who have travelled the whole year with us and got little action. It would be nice if they got some action.”