Alan Pattullo: In case of emergency, phone Walter Smith

Walter Smith was unveiled as Scotland manager in December 2004
Walter Smith was unveiled as Scotland manager in December 2004
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It is now 117 days since 
Scotland dispensed with Gordon Strachan’s services.
So it’s true to say 118 days ago they had in place what the Scottish Football Association seem to want now – an experienced, well-qualified native manager.

As an exemplar of how not to do it, just pause to admire the SFA’s recent actions – or non-actions as the case may be. It’s brought us to a point where reports suggest they are ready to approach Walter Smith at a time when he is finally being allowed to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

He’s already answered one call for help when he was dragged into the increasingly insane world of Charles Green at Rangers after agreeing to become chairman for a brief period. Smith regrets that now. But he could be tempted 
by the SFA’s offer, whether it is to help out a younger manager or else take the reins himself for a second time.

Any interest he has might be despite himself. When asked about returning to the helm in recent years, Smith has been bluntly dismissive. “I’ve had my time,” he’s told reporters. Since he turns 70 later this month, it’s hard to disagree.

But if he does consider an approach it should be seen not as an illustration of football’s addictive properties. Rather, it’s proof of just how far the SFA have veered from having any form of succession plan post Strachan. They can’t even pretend there is one now. It’s gone beyond panic stations.

There was, once, something approaching a strategy. While undoubtedly hurting following Scotland’s elimination from the World Cup equation, Strachan had given no indication he would walk away. But the pain of missing out on another major finals meant decisive action was required.

The then chief executive Stewart Regan knew doing nothing more than offering Strachan another contract would fail to satisfy the thirst for change following that final, decisive 2-2 draw in Slovenia. Strachan’s post-match comments where he seemed to lay the blame for Scotland’s downfall at genetics helped hurry him out the door.

The SFA were hearing positive noises from Michael O’Neill’s camp. The prospect of acquiring him from Northern Ireland helped concentrate minds. One phone call later, Strachan was out. The thinking behind this seemed logical enough at the time. O’Neill’s standing was and remains high. He’s still in his 40s and known to be a studious thinker about modern tactics as well as able to get the best from a limited set of players. His teams regularly obtain results with possession stats below 35 per cent.

So he was well worth pursuing. However, having already severed ties with Strachan, this was also a high-risk strategy. In the end the Northern Irish FA put their money where their mouth is.

Project O’Neill hit the skids, Regan paid the price. Since the chief executive’s departure less than a week ago the profile of manager Scotland wants seems to have taken a quantum leap from relatively young to a candidate who’s at the other end of the scale. When once it seemed Strachan was considered too stuck in his ways and resistant to blooding young players, someone nearly a decade his senior is being floated as a credible alternative.

There is now a void at the seat of power which means we are exposed to a situation where Scotland’s future could be shaped by gentlemen such as Alan McRae and Rod Petrie, members of an SFA board sorely aware they are running out of options. They are now at the stage of pressing the big red panic button that reads: In case of emergency, phone Walter.

Somehow we’ve reached the point where a man about to celebrate turning 70 and who hasn’t managed for nearly seven years is being considered as a viable contender. Even Smith will find this hard to credit. “You can’t be f*cking serious?” he once muttered in the direction of broadcaster Chick Young during an interview that’s been viewed a million-plus times on YouYube.

As proud as Smith will be to be considered, you can bet he’s thinking that now too. If he is up for the challenge then good on him – he will likely bring organisation and spirit to the team. But then, didn’t Strachan?

That we are here in 2018, more than a decade after he resigned as Scotland manager, advocating Smith’s return is the far bigger issue. You can’t be serious.