Gordon Strachan: Focus on game, not managers

GORDON Strachan insists the focus should not be on the personalities involved as he prepares to go head-to-head with Martin O’Neill in Scotland’s crunch Euro 2016 qualifying clash against Republic of Ireland next month.

Gordon Strachan and Martin ONeill to meet in next Group D fixture

The Scotland manager made the optimistic appeal as the countdown begins to the crucial Group D fixture, in which O’Neill will return to his former Celtic Park stamping ground. Strachan was his managerial successor at Celtic and an intriguing battle is set to take place – one that will prove hugely significant to both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the finals in France.

Scotland’s 2-2 result with Poland on Tuesday night in Warsaw was matched by Ireland’s draw in Germany, and means O’Neill’s side now lead the group with the Poles. Scotland are three points behind in joint third place with Germany.

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Much will hinge on what happens on 14 November when O’Neill takes a seat in the away dug-out at Parkhead for the first time and prepares for a battle of wits with Strachan, who replaced the Northern Irishman as Celtic manager in 2005.

“We’ll not be locking horns, it’s the players who’re playing,” pointed out Strachan. “Martin, like me, doesn’t over-think football. We generally leave it to the players. We give them an idea of how to play and then let them get on with it.

“It’ll be a British cup-tie type thing. Neither of us will be too interested in who wins the possession count, put it that way. There will be analysts telling us at half-time how many passes each team had. They’ll be like: ‘you’ve had 452 passes, you’re going great,’ so the lads can keep passing. No, Martin and I will feel the same about it.

“If players feel fatigued then have a day off.”

In a fixture brimming with sub-plots, even the identity of O’Neill’s assistant provides an additional strand of intrigue. Recent revelations in Roy Keane’s autobiography, The Second Half, were presented as embarrassing for Strachan, although the manager has dismissed them with the humour he says Keane intended for them to be treated.

In one passage Keane suggests he signed for Strachan at Celtic simply to spite him after he was left with the feeling that the manager was not bothered whether he joined the club from Manchester United or not.

Keane also queried Strachan’s unfussed reaction when he told him he was retiring at the end of the season due to a hip injury: “Gordon went: ‘All right, it’s for the best’. And I was saying to myself, ‘Try and persuade me, for f***’s sake. At least pretend’.”

Strachan denied that Keane’s presence on the sidelines means there is added spice to a fixture set to prove combustible in any case. “Not at all,” he said. “It’s not even a second thought. We have spoken about bits and bobs from our time at Celtic in the last three years with ITV. We just laugh at things.

“You need to take into account how he wrote the book. He was sitting smiling when he told that story. He laughs and so do the people round about him. There you go, it’s funny.”

Strachan reflected on the twists and turns which have already turned Group D, judged by him to be the highest quality of “If you look at the games so far you can say ‘where did that result come from?’ That’s just the way it’s going to be.

“Like I said the other day, you never know where the big one is going to be. Ireland are in good fettle, good form, but we’re the same. Poland beat Germany and people talk about them being fantastic. But we’re happy with how we’re playing. We showed it didn’t matter to us how they did on Saturday [when beating Germany]. We were next on and we felt good about it.”

Strachan also considered the question of Germany’s poor start to the campaign and backed them to improve after adjusting to the retirement of several players following their World Cup win in Brazil.

Influential skipper Bastian Schweingsteiger is also currently injured.

“I’ve got to say, no matter who you are, if you lose the players they’ve lost to retirement and injury, it’s going to have an impact,” he said. “Their whole team has been decimated. Their team against Ireland was unrecognisable from the team that won the World Cup.

“But if you look at the number of times people have questioned Germany in their history over the last 60 years we all end up with egg on our face. I’m a big fan of the Germans but I didn’t see them winning the World Cup.

“I changed my opinion after two games but I didn’t rate their chances before it started. Listen, they’ve lost key men and you cannot do that and just tick over. They can’t be the same as they were when they had all those players, it’s impossible, absolutely impossible.”