Ian Maxwell defends SFA's decision to extend Steve Clarke's Scotland contract

Ian Maxwell has defended the SFA’s decision to extend Steve Clarke’s contract despite Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup next winter having been left hanging by a thread.

Ian Maxwell, left, alongside Scotland manager Steve Clarke.
Ian Maxwell, left, alongside Scotland manager Steve Clarke.

Clarke’s side suffered a comprehensive defeat against Denmark in Copenhagen on Wednesday night to drop to fourth place in Group F. They now have a must-win match against Moldova tomorrow to negotiate before the under-pressure squad travel to take on Austria in Vienna on Tuesday.

The feel-good factor after Clarke led Scotland to their first major finals in 23 years is threatening to disappear after the latest defeat. It follows a disappointing Euro 2020 showing when the Scots picked up just a point and scored only one goal.

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Nevertheless, Maxwell is adamant that getting Clarke tied down to 2024 was the right thing to do. The new contract takes the manager beyond the World Cup in Qatar and through the next European Championships campaign.

The SFA chief executive admitted one of the reasons for the eagerness to persuade Clarke to agree to a new deal was the fear Celtic might move for him prior to the Parkhead club appointing Ange Postecoglou as manager earlier this summer. Maxwell explained that the SFA wanted to “safeguard” against the possibility Clarke might be attracted by an offer from a club side.

“He was on bookies’ shortlists (for Celtic) and he had been mentioned in the general discussion about potential next managers,” said Maxwell. “You are always going to be nervous. It is a sign that your manager has done well. It reinforces our decision to appoint him.

“You look at a bit of continuity, things settling down,” Maxwell added. “Steve has settled into the role and he understands it a lot more than he did when he first took over. We had absolutely no hesitation as a board in extending his contract. We appointed him, everyone was happy, he did what we asked him to do and then there is criticism of ‘why did you extend his contract?’ I think that’s just the nature of the manager’s role where you’re either getting a new deal or you’re getting the sack, there is nothing in between.

“With the best will in the world he is still bedding in as an international manager. Because of Covid he had the best part of a year when he didn’t see the players or have any games. There is definitely more to come.

"There’s more to come from the squad. They are at a good age. I am absolutely confident that he is the right guy to take us forward. We had no hesitation in terms of the board in extending his contract.”

Maxwell believes there is no reason why Scotland cannot go to Vienna next week and earn the win required to re-ignite their campaign, providing they first take all three points against Moldova at Hampden Park tomorrow. He pointed to the 2-2 draw against Austria in the opening game of the campaign.

“I didn’t watch that game thinking there was necessarily anything to fear about going to Austria but they will be looking at Scotland and thinking in the same way,” he said.

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“That could go either way. It’s important as a board that it’s not a knee-jerk reaction because we lose a couple of games or don’t quite get the results you want, if that happens.

“You need to look at things on balance and in the round and assess things over a period. When you stand back and do that there is absolutely no reason for us not to show our backing of Steve by extending his contract.”