Dismal night proves radical measures need put in place

FOR Henry McLeish, the only surprising aspect of Thursday night’s European catastrophe for Scottish clubs was that it should have the capacity to shock anyone.

Having spent 18 months assessing the game’s myriad ills to compile his SFA-commissioned Review of Scottish Football, the former First Minister was acutely aware that such a day of reckoning was imminent.

McLeish now hopes that the country’s earliest ever collective elimination from European football will accelerate the introduction of the wide-ranging changes he called for when delivering his findings to the SFA.

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“Thursday night did not tell us anything about Scottish football that we didn’t already know,” McLeish told The Scotsman. “In that sense, it simply reinforced the high mountain that Scottish football has to climb.

“It was a bad night for our game but I’m hoping it will give us an added sense of urgency in implementing the proposals of both parts of my review. It is commendable that the recommendations of the review were accepted and warmly welcomed when I published them, but they must be implemented as quickly as possible.

“The whole of our game is in this together. We have to move faster and ignite the revolution required to take our game forward. Thursday night illustrated that in terms or world and European football, we are simply not good enough, full stop.

“Collectively, the game has to change its mindset. We can’t improve without extraordinary changes in everything we do in football in this country. A lot of people have accepted that now.

“There is no silver bullet, it is about implementation. I hope Thursday night will have convinced some of the doubters, who are still around, that we do need radical action.”

The SFA have already acted on several of McLeish’s recommendation, most notably the recruitment of Dutchman Mark Wotte as performance director to oversee a fresh and cohesive player development strategy throughout Scottish football. As enthused as he is by Wotte’s arrival, however, McLeish warns that a long wait may have to be endured before his labours bear fruit.

“That is going to be a tremendous appointment and will be the cornerstone of what we have to do,” added McLeish. “This is the clarion call. We have to find talent, nurture and develop it far more effectively. We pale beside most of the modern countries in what we are doing in terms of youth development.

“It may take five, 10 or 15 years, maybe even longer to achieve a sustainable youth development system, one which will properly bring through the young Scottish talent which I am convinced does still exist.

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“There are improvement being put in place. I’m impressed with what Craig Levein is doing as national coach, while a national performance framework is now in place. The SFA are pro-active, implementing many recommendations, and securing sponsorship as they did this week from William Hill for the Scottish Cup is another very positive sign.

“With the product on the pitch as it is at the moment, it is increasingly hard to attract the level of finance needed to deliver the kind of infrastructure Scottish football requires, especially in terms of facilities.

“We have some of the most appalling facilities in Europe. We are lagging behind countries like Iceland and Croatia. That’s the legacy we are dealing with and we need new money to address it, without a doubt. The government have been excellent in recent times, in terms of the new money they have invested in the game. But they need to be more involved and we need to reach out to the private sector in all forms as well.”

McLeish was one Scottish football fan who actually enjoyed his midweek, having seen his beloved East Fife cause the upset of the Scottish Communities League Cup second round when they knocked out SPL side Dunfermline.

Even at one of the nation’s darkest footballing hours, he believes it is crucial that everyone connected with the game strives to retain a positive outlook and refuses to simply accept that Scotland’s fate is among the also-rans.

“Scottish football touches everyone in our country,” he added. “We go from exuberance to despair very quickly. But the gap between our ambitions and our achievements is now vast. But we don’t want to fall back and become a country of low expectations and little ambition. I’m an eternal optimist and I’ve got no doubt that Scottish football, with a collective will to embrace the revolution we need, can achieve great success again.”