‘Craig Levein never walks away from a fight’ says Gary Mackay

GARY Mackay believes Craig Levein’s hopes of leading Scotland to the World Cup finals will be over after just three games in Group A if he fails to oversee a first win of the campaign against Wales in Cardiff next month.

But even if three points are not claimed in Cardiff, Mackay does not expect his former Hearts team-mate to bow to what would be intense pressure to stand down as Scotland manager.

“I don’t think you can say it’s win or bust for Craig as Scotland manager, but it’s win or bust for our hopes of going to Brazil,” said Mackay. “Do people then make the judgement that failing to win means the manager can’t carry on?

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“I don’t think Craig would walk away. As Graeme Hogg would tell you, Craig will not walk away from a fight. It’s not in his character. When you go through what Craig went through with injuries during his playing career, continuing to bounce back, then you can face the things in management which are there to test you.

“There won’t be anyone more deeply in thought and knowledgeable about the situation going into the next game than Craig. He will realise what has to happen. It has to be three points, really.”

Mackay was speaking at the launch of his new book, in which he has no hesitation in naming Levein as one of his all-time Hearts XI despite a serious fall-out between the pair which sours their relationship to this day.

Levein, when Hearts manager, was incensed by a call from Mackay to supporters not to renew their season tickets under Chris Robinson’s stewardship of the club. Despite the rift between them, Mackay can appreciate the stubbornness which has come to characterise Levein.

“He will stick to what he thinks is right,” added Mackay. “In life, you have to admire people who have that single-mindedness. Craig is a very single-minded individual. He will definitely need that quality in the coming weeks and months.

“Other people are now making the judgement that his single-mindedness is hindering him. If Craig feels that way, I’m sure he will tinker with things but he is a man who follows through with the courage of his convictions.

“He has done that in all of his jobs, not just with Scotland. Having gone to England, and not been there in the best of circumstances at Leicester City when they were cutting costs, I think Craig looks upon the international job as the one which could enhance his career again.

“It could possibly damage his career, the way things are after Tuesday night, but personally I’m not as negative about the campaign as a lot of people are. The way Craig has set the team up, the away games could be more advantageous for Scotland.

“If you were to hand-pick a game to allow you to bounce back from the loss of four points, Wales is the one you would probably choose in relation to the results they have just had.

“The way football supporters are, the next result is always the one that could change it for you. Craig has that responsibility on his shoulders and it’s a massive responsibility to have. Wales on 12 October becomes huge now.

“I was disappointed by the reaction of the fans towards him on Tuesday, but if you are not getting at teams and are playing in a more studied manner than Scotland have in the past, then I’m not surprised by it.

“At Hampden, Scotland fans expect the opposition goalkeeper to be the busiest man on the pitch. That’s not what happened in the last two games. Having been a top defender himself, he has always focused on making sure his team are not leaking goals and not allowing the opposition to create chances. The worry for me on Tuesday night wasn’t Scotland’s own creativity, it was the number of times Macedonia got in behind us. If it hadn’t been for an outstanding performance from Allan McGregor, we would have been in a far worse situation this morning.

“We actually got one bit of luck on Tuesday night with Belgium and Croatia drawing. Having looked at the Serbians on Saturday, and thinking they were pretty ordinary, I was gobsmacked that they went on and beat Wales 6-1. Hopefully, that works to Craig’s advantage now, because Wales are in a fair bit of turmoil going into the game against us.”

It has been Levein’s stated aim to foster a club mentality among the international squad, although Mackay believes earning that level of trust and unity from the players under his command does not come easily to the Scotland manager. The bust-up with Steven Fletcher, which continues to cast a long shadow over Levein’s tenure, remains unlikely to be resolved by Levein.

“You watch Craig going onto the pitch at the end of the game and shaking every one of his players’ hands on Tuesday night,” observed Mackay. “Within the changing room, you want to make sure your players are with you.

“Alex MacDonald had that without trying at Hearts when Craig and I played for him. It came naturally to Alex. Managers these days have to work harder at it. From Craig’s point of view, it’s about making sure he keeps the players onside.”

• Gary Mackay’s Hearts Dream Team, Black and White Publishing, is published today, priced £11.99.