Alan Pattullo: Alex McLeish has work to do to win over the Tartan Army

Sacked from his previous job and then out of football for a couple of years. If this automatically disqualified anyone from being manager of Scotland then Gordon Strachan would not have secured the gig in 2013.
Alex McLeish is returning to the Scotland job he vacated in 2007. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA WireAlex McLeish is returning to the Scotland job he vacated in 2007. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Alex McLeish is returning to the Scotland job he vacated in 2007. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

So that in itself should not be held against Alex McLeish, who has emerged from the wilderness to be re-appointed as Scotland manager on an initial contract until 2020.

He is in good company. Only Jock Stein has returned to the role previously. McLeish contends he is a better manager now than he was first time around. This is his chance to prove it, beginning next month with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary.

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The anguish and indeed bitterness felt when he left last time around was compounded by the frustrating sense of what might have been. After all, McLeish led Scotland to the brink of qualifying for Euro 2008 in a group including Italy and France.

There’s a feeling of McLeish returning to take care of unfinished business. At least this is how he is likely to pitch it when he meets the media this morning at Hampden Park. It’s an undoubtedly intoxicating thought. McLeish, a stalwart of 77 Scotland appearances, returning to finally take Scotland over the line and into a major finals.

Whether he can or not remains to be seen. The response from players has been positive so far. Charlie Adam, who played under McLeish at Rangers, commented on Twitter that the “lads will enjoy playing under him”.

Given how Strachan enjoyed the trust and confidence of the players it was important to ensure his replacement could also command similar respect. But then why ditch Strachan is a question that might now be asked of whoever from the SFA turns up to introduce McLeish this morning – not that he needs much introduction.

It should really be Rod Petrie, the SFA vice-president and someone who reportedly pushed hardest for McLeish, who undertakes this chore and also explains the reasons behind the appointment. Alan McRae, the SFA president, was also more than willing to let McLeish have another go.

A friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, it can be assumed McRae turned to the former Aberdeen manager for advice. McLeish is also one of Ferguson’s favourite sons.

But despite his exemplary service with Scotland as a player and the fact he has the best wins-per-games ratio as manager, McLeish will recognise he might still have to win over the Tartan Army. He will need to last longer in the job than last time to still be Scotland manager when he turns 60 next January.

McLeish blotted his copybook in many Scotland fans’ eyes when he absconded to manage Birmingham City just ten months into his last reign. McLeish resigned as international manager in November 2007 on his return from representing Scotland at the qualifying draw for the 2010 World Cup finals. He joined Birmingham after the SFA originally refused the club’s request to speak to him, waving Gordon Smith, the then SFA chief executive, off at the airport in London en route back from South Africa.

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It didn’t sit well with Scotland fans although McLeish enjoyed a fertile time at Birmingham, with whom he won the League Cup in 2011 with a surprise victory over Arsenal.

Few could argue with what he achieved in a short spell with Scotland too.

Only a bitterly disappointing defeat in Georgia could be held against him following a famous win against France in Paris and a thrilling victory over Ukraine. The 3-1 triumph at Hampden over Ukraine just weeks after the Parc des Princes win, with goals by Kenny Miller, Lee McCulloch and James McFadden, is still fondly remembered. It is also perhaps the last time Scotland really raised their game at home to win against top-quality opposition.

To all intents and purposes a one-club man as a player, it is harder to track and therefore assess McLeish’s managerial career, particularly latterly.

His has been a peripatetic existence, including brief stops in Nottingham, Belgium and, more recently, Egypt. This last involvement was still nearly two years ago. But he left the Egyptian club Zamalek for reasons other than results, citing non-payment of his coaches and interference by the club’s owner.

Afterwards McLeish said he felt he had earned the right to be selective about his next move in football. He has had to wait longer than he would have liked to return to the game. But there’s a sense that McLeish will be a lot happier than many underwhelmed Scotland supporters following yesterday’s development after a search stretching to 125 days.