Clubs must rise above bickering and agree SPL reconstruction, says Scots manager
A plethora of negative headlines have swamped the game since the country’s three remaining representatives in European club competition were ousted on Thursday night but while advising a degree of realism and warning against unfair comparisons with the more financially ebullient Celtic and Rangers teams which punched above their weight under the guidance of Martin O’Neill and Dick Advocaat, Craig Levein said living in the past or stagnating in the present were not appealing options.
Change is needed and while accepting the necessity for the SFA and the government to play their part, Levein said he found it frustrating that clubs were seemingly unwilling to help themselves.
“The SPL isn’t the strongest league in the world just now, which is why we need an SPL2 and to get this reconstruction thing sorted out. We need to get this idea into our heads about having the best versus the best, and get a competitive league. We are not there yet. We’ve got all this bickering going on about what is the right thing to do, and people have their own protectionist ideas about Scottish football, without looking at the bigger picture.
“We should be making the league as competitive as possible, and that means a 10-club league. But my fear is that that won’t happen. It needs the SPL and the SFL to sort out what the reconstruction should be, and get it done as quickly as possible.
“It does [frustrate me] to a certain degree. But, I don’t own a football club. It is easy for me to say ‘a ten team league because then there is better competition’, it is easy. I don’t have to worry about my staff, I don’t have to worry about people getting laid off. But, what I can do, without fear of contradiction, I can put my hand on my heart and say ‘that is the right thing for Scottish football’.”
But even aside from the major quest for league reconstruction, he says club would have a far greater impact in breeding higher quality players if they upped the amount of time players spend on the ball or learning about the game.
“We need the clubs to recognise that they need to train more often and it needs the SFA to help in every way possible, to help Scottish clubs develop good, young Scottish players. We recognise where we are, and we are doing something about it. The SFA’s job is try to lead people along a path which we believe is the right way to go.”
At the moment the route is one way and involves the cream of Scottish talent being lured south of the border. It’s not a situation Levein laments. In fact, he would prefer to see all his key squad men forging a future in the more competitive environment.
“It would be better for me if the Old Firm Scots were playing against better players – it comes back to this best v best argument. Playing against better players all the time.
“There is nothing wrong with top players coming through the Scottish leagues, and then moving on to play in the top division in England. It has happened since the beginning of football. I go back to the 1970s , when you went through the English top division, and every club had top players like Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. Back then they weren’t all playing for Rangers or Celtic or Hibs or Hearts – they were playing for the top teams in England. So, now is no different from 30 or 40 years ago. But what we need to do is develop young Scottish players, to play in Scottish teams, get experience, and then if they get a move to the Championship, or to the English Premier League, then great.”
The shake-up of the Scottish game has been ongoing for a couple of seasons with the demise of the clubs’ standing in the Uefa rankings and the struggles of the international side finally forcing those in the game to recognise that change was an immediate requirement if the rot was to be stopped. The momentum is there but progress has to be more swift, says Levein.
“There are some great conversations going on just now, brilliant conversations with people in Scotland about recognising where we are and what we need to do to improve. Stewart Regan got involved with the SFA, [newly-appointed performance director] Mark Wotte brought Ricky Sbragia in, and that is an indication. Mark is a clever man, a great visionary for what we need to do in Scotland to improve things. There is a co-operation existing now that I have never seen before. There has been loads of criticism, a lot of it justified, about what has happened in Scottish football in the last 25 but now there is something happening. People are working together to improve it and I think there should be some recognition. People have realised that we have been negligent over the last however many years and the time has come to make a huge attempt to redress the balance.”