Scotland boss Alex McLeish tells union chief stress claims are not true

The head of the football managers’ trade union has sought to play down concerns over the health of Alex McLeish following a report that the Scotland manager was suffering from stress and was on the brink of being sacked.

Scotland boss Alex McLeish spoke to managers union chief Richard Bevan about speculation over his position yesterday. Picture: Alan HArvey/SNS

Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, said McLeish had told him he was “absolutely fine”.

An Scottish FA insider, meanwhile, said there were no plans to cut ties with the manager yesterday and that no emergency board meeting had been called. “Things could obviously change but we aren’t preparing for anything big here,” said the source.

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McLeish was at his home in London yesterday and said to be preparing to take in games this weekend as he continues his efforts to improve the Scotland team.

The under pressure manager spoke with SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell on Wednesday for what has been described as a debrief following a particularly disappointing international double-header. The SFA board is not scheduled to meet again until the middle of next month but an emergency meeting could be called at any time if there is willingness to end McLeish’s troubled 13-month spell in charge.

It’s understood the SFA has been dismayed by certain aspects of the report on McLeish’s future. Bevan spoke with the national coach yesterday and reported him to be in good spirits.

“One particular newspaper put out a story on Alex’s health and his future as Scotland manager,” Bevan said on Sky Sports News.

“I’ve spoken to Alex several times today and to the SFA. Alex told me he’s absolutely fine.

“He’s a highly professional football manager. He is tactically aware, incredibly well prepared and absolutely fine.

“From an SFA perspective, they confirmed he is still their manager.

“If I was a Scottish fan I’d be very happy to have a manager with his passion and experience and who also has that love of his country.”

Roy Hodgson, the Crystal Palace manager and former England boss, also leapt to McLeish’s defence.

“Alex is a top class manager and has proved that many times,” Hodgson said. “It’s distressing to hear these stories. Unfortunately, it goes with the territory and people will find a way of trying to punish you.”

McLeish’s position was placed in jeopardy last week following a disastrous opening to Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. The side crashed to a 3-0 defeat to 117th ranked Kazakhstan and then produced an underwhelming performance in the 2-0 win over San Marino.

Scotland were booed off at half-time and then at full-time in San Marino with much of the anger directed at a trio of Scottish Football Association officials – president Alan McRae, vice-president Rod Petrie and Maxwell.

McLeish’s record since returning for his second spell as manager is seven defeats in 12 matches. This stands in marked contrast to his first period in charge more than a decade ago when he won seven out of ten matches, including against France in Paris.

Supporters are agitating for change and McLeish’s position remains uncertain. But the beleaguered 60 year-old received support from someone acutely aware of the stresses that come with being in charge of Scotland’s national football team – Hearts manager Craig Levein.

Speaking before the Tynecastle side’s Premiership clash with Aberdeen tomorrow, he describing the mounting pressure on McLeish as “nonsense”. Levein endured a torrid three-year spell as manager of Scotland and was sacked in 2012 with the team bottom of their World Cup qualifying group. He came under heavy criticism for playing without a striker when Scotland lost 1-0 to Czech Republic in Prague in 2010. While offering sympathy to McLeish, he said one of his first reactions to the furore is relief at being away from such an intense environment.

“It just makes me think, ‘thank God I’m not doing that any more’,” said Levein.”It’s nonsense, the whole thing. We are one play-off away from qualifying because of the work that was done in the Nations League, and I think we just need to calm down a little bit.

“He had a lot of injuries as well, particularly in the first match. It just seems that everybody is in such a hurry to hand out stick, and it doesn’t help the manager, it doesn’t help the players.

“It’s not been instant now for nearly 20 years. There are deeper-lying issues and I think we need just to take a step back. Things were put in place a number of years ago to try and improve the quality of young players, and I think we just need to have a little bit of patience.

“I know we are not going to have patience, but that’s what will have to happen. We have not got any choice.”

Levein’s successor, Gordon Strachan, this week blamed “selfish” clubs for failing to produce talented young players and claimed there was a denial and delusion about the process. Strachan criticised clubs who like to boast about their youth policy but then fill the team with mediocre foreign acquisitions instead.

Levein, who has also been Hearts director of football since 2014, believes there are good Scottish youngsters emerging.

“I think there are,” he said. “I mean Gordon didn’t say that when he was Celtic manager, did he?

“It’s easy when you are talking about something that doesn’t affect you.

“I would agree that the quality of player isn’t there to compete regularly at the top level but I think things are improving. And I watch a lot of youth games. Every weekend I am watching games and I’m seeing a lot of really talented young players. Clubs are doing their best.”