Stephen Halliday: Billy Stark may be SFA’s solution

Billy Stark is highly regarded at the SFA. Picture: SNS
Billy Stark is highly regarded at the SFA. Picture: SNS
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IT IS now 27 days and counting since the Scottish Football Association finally dispensed with the services of Craig Levein. With every one that passes, the prospect of his replacement as Scotland manager being recruited from within the four walls of Hampden’s sixth floor may be increasing.

Billy Stark’s appointment as interim boss for last month’s friendly in Luxembourg would have been regarded by most observers, and perhaps even the majority of the SFA board themselves, as a purely temporary measure while they considered their options.

But the possibility of Stark being handed a permanent promotion from his role as Scotland under-21 coach cannot be discounted. For it would seem the SFA do not share the widely held view that there are two obvious and outstanding candidates to take charge of the international team.

Even before the ink had dried on Levein’s P45, Gordon Strachan and Joe Jordan were both being championed strongly from various quarters to take up the challenge of restoring the fallen pride and damaged credibility sustained by Scotland in the past few years.

Yet it is understood neither man has received any contact, informal or otherwise, to tell them he is being considered for the job. While it is understandable that the SFA are determined not to rush a decision, and have no need to do so, it is fairly standard practice in football for potential candidates to be sounded out before the formal recruitment process begins.

Strachan and Jordan may yet find their way on to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan’s short list, of course, but there is no guarantee either of them will be available. Jordan, while still nurturing a passionate and long-standing ambition to manage the country he played for with such distinction and inspiration, was in no position to turn down Harry Redknapp’s invitation to join him at Queen’s Park Rangers. It does not preclude Jordan from consideration by the SFA, but it adds a complication which did not exist just over a week ago.

A similar situation could easily develop with Strachan who continues to be linked with potential club vacancies in England. Southampton and Wolves have both been reported to regard the former Celtic manager as their first choice if the axe were to fall on their current under-scrutiny incumbents, Nigel Adkins and Stale Solbakken respectively.

For the SFA, the simpler solution may prove to be close at hand. Stark is highly regarded within the organisation, having impressed with his work in charge of the under-21 side since his recruitment to that role on a full-time basis five years ago.

A win percentage of 50 per cent from competitive matches (11 in 22 games so far) is decent rather than outstanding, but Stark is not judged solely on results as under-21 boss. In the business of developing players for senior duty, Stark has performed favourably with James Forrest, Barry Bannan, Lee Wallace, Ross McCormack, David Goodwillie, Charlie Mulgrew, Graham Dorrans, James McArthur, Robert Snodgrass, Andrew Shinnie, Leigh Griffiths and Jordan Rhodes among those he has helped on their way to full international recognition.

The 55-year-old has experienced coaching and management at a variety of levels, as assistant manager to Tommy Burns at Kilmarnock, Reading and Celtic, then in his own right at Morton, St Johnstone and Queen’s Park.

It is worth noting that it is a more expansive managerial CV than two of Scotland’s most successful bosses were able to boast before they took the job. When Andy Roxburgh was promoted from within by the SFA in 1986, he had never worked in club football but took Scotland to two major tournament finals. Craig Brown did the same, stepping up from the under-21 role and position as Roxburgh’s assistant with his only previous managerial gig having been on a part-time basis at Clyde.

Those opposed to Stark’s appointment may cite his perceived lack of box-office appeal. But, however understated he is, it would be of little consequence to the Tartan Army if results on the pitch improve. Scotland’s qualifying matches at Hampden have been a hot ticket for many years now, regardless of who is in charge. While a more glamorous appointment may have a short-term commercial benefit for the SFA, any feelgood factor can only be sustained by winning matches.

Stark was never capped by Scotland as a St Mirren, Aberdeen or Celtic player, his only national service on the pitch coming as an over-age participant in an under-21 fixture against Iceland in 1985. Had he been playing today, the free-scoring midfielder would be a first pick. He may prove to be just that for the SFA whenever they do get around to naming the new Scotland manager.

It will always be known as Ibrox

THE suggestion that Ibrox Stadium could soon be rebranded as the Sports Direct Arena, courtesy of Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s investment in Charles Green’s plans to restore Rangers to the top echelons of Scottish football, has caused understandable angst among many of the club’s supporters.

But as manager Ally McCoist observed, while diplomatically accepting the commercial factors which may drive such a decision, it will always be known simply as Ibrox by those who make their way down Copland Road every matchday.

Rangers fans will regard the name of their stadium as sacred. But in football, nothing really is. For example, asked to name the most famous stadium in the world, many people would have the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro at the top of their list.

Yet how many know that its official name is Estadio Jornalista Mario

Filho? Not many.

Filho was a celebrated football writer who championed the construction of what became the storied home of the world’s most glamorous international team.

Whatever schemes Green comes up with in the coming weeks and months, Rangers fans can be safely assured he will not be naming Ibrox after any member of the fourth estate.