The signs, reminding us all of better times, were still up in the room where Stewart Regan met reporters yesterday. “Silver badge holders only” read one on the door, left over from the match just over a week earlier, when Scotland briefly re-ignited their World Cup hopes.
These plans have gone seriously awry in the days since, leading to the departure of a manager hailed on the morning after the Slovakia game as a tactical genius.
Regan was shedding some light on what happened between then and now. Had Scotland simply held on to their 1-0 lead over Slovenia on Sunday then the manager would still be in situ. There would be no need for senior players such as Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths to take to social media to express their misgivings about his departure.
In what Regan stressed is a results business, letting slip a lead on such a crucial, pivotal evening meant only thing: Strachan’s time as Scotland manager was up. It had been his second chance of the campaign.
Regan underlined something else, for the benefit of whoever takes over. With Scotland guaranteed to play two matches at Hampden if they qualify, it’s unthinkable they won’t reach Euro 2020. Otherwise, even the joint-hosts will need a silver badge to be permitted entry to their own stadium, the final indignity, perhaps, after suffering so many others since 1998.
“We are still waiting for a major championship and felt we needed to have a new impetus and a new coach to try and get us to Euro 2020,” explained Regan. “That’s a key date for us because Hampden will be the host for the 60th anniversary of the European Championships and we would like to think that Scotland will qualify and play two of the four games that we have here as one of the 24 participants.
“We felt we hadn’t qualified [for the World Cup] and, ultimately, football is a results business and we are still waiting to qualify for a major championship,” he continued. “We felt we need to have a little bit of a new impetus and a new coach to try to get us to Euro 2020.
“Clearly that will be right at the top of the priorities. Any coach coming in will be left in no uncertain terms that that’s our ambition, absolutely. We want to play in that tournament here at Hampden.”
Some would say the best chance of doing that was retaining faith in a manager who has remained unbeaten in his last seven internationals, and took 14 from 18 points on offer. It is apparent that, despite the SFA’s attempt to present Strachan’s departure as a mutual decision, the impetus came from the board members, who met on Thursday. Regan said no show of hands was needed. There was “common consent” among the eight members.
The chief executive phoned Strachan afterwards to inform him of the news. They had met for breakfast just hours after Scotland landed back in Glasgow following Sunday night’s draw in Ljubljana, and Strachan’s last, some would say clumsily-handled, press conference. But Regan said it was then too early to tell whether Strachan wanted to continue. Not that his own views seemed to matter in the end.
“Gordon, as is his style, was basically non-committal in that regard, he wanted to know what we, as a board, wanted him to do,” revealed Regan. “So he was looking forward to hearing from us. I told him that in the 12 hours or so since I left him at the airport we hadn’t really had the chance to discuss it as a board – all of my colleagues weren’t on the plane coming back from Slovenia.
“So I said it was important we had a debrief and a full review of the campaign, considered the facts and that would happen on Thursday morning, which is what happened. I said I’d call him.”
“We gave him the chance to turn it around,” Regan stressed, with reference to the SFA’s support after Scotland’s 3-0 defeat by England at Wembley in November, which came on the back of a 3-0 thrashing by Slovakia. Whether Strachan survived for longer than the group games themselves was reliant on reaching a play-off place.
“There was a lot of myth and hearsay about the relationship Gordon had with the SFA,” said Regan. “We had a fantastic relationship, we still have. He and I are meeting for dinner at some point in the next couple of weeks, by way of drawing a line under his contract for the last campaign.”
Regan clearly isn’t expecting this to be an uncomfortable experience. However, what is awkward is the obvious discontent at the decision among some senior players, most obviously skipper Scott Brown. “Gordon had built up a club environment, a lot of the young players were really keen to work with him [too],” said Regan. “So that degree of support does not surprise me.”
Regan is conscious that, if given the choice between Strachan or his removal, many would plump for his. The chief executive has now presided over four failed campaigns, as opposed to Strachan’s two. But Regan was insistent. This isn’t about him. He won’t be falling on his sword.
“This is about putting in place a plan to try and get Scotland to a major finals,” he said. “At times like this the board has collective responsibility for doing what we think is right. Sometimes it is a judgment call – it was a judgment call yesterday to do what we think is right for the game. That’s what we have done.”
There are, he conceded, no guarantees. The appointment of yet another manager, the seventh since Scotland last qualified for the finals of a major tournament, won’t necessarily alter the trend for failure.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” said Regan. “If we had [I hope] we’d be playing at Hampden, we’d have two matches there [in Euro 2020] and we’d hopefully be making progress in that tournament.
“We can only do what we think is right,” he added. “We can only put in place what we believe is the best possible plan to make progress. That’s what we’ve done.”