Barry Bannan believes Gordon Strachan deserves to remain as Scotland manager for the 2020 European Championship qualifying campaign, even if he fails to lead the country to next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Strachan will take charge of Scotland for the 39th time in tomorrow night’s Group F showdown with Slovakia at Hampden, requiring nothing less than what would be the 19th victory of his tenure if his squad are to stay in contention for a place in next month’s play-offs.
If Scotland do not progress, it would be a second consecutive unsuccessful campaign for Strachan following the abortive bid to make it to the Euro 2016 finals in France.
But Bannan insists there has been sufficient overall improvement of the international team to warrant a further extension to Strachan’s contract, an outcome he claims would be universally welcomed by the squad.
“I’d definitely like to see him stay on,” said the midfielder. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. If you ask anyone in the squad, they would tell you the same. He’s a brilliant coach, very hands-on on the training pitch. If you look at it, he has actually improved us. Even in some games we’ve lost, like England at Wembley last year, we’ve played well and had chances. We have improved as a squad under him. He’s been brilliant since he came in.”
Strachan’s current deal will expire at the end of the 2018 World Cup campaign which sees Scotland seeking maximum points from the games at home to Slovakia tomorrow and Slovenia in Ljubljana on Sunday to claim second spot in Group F and a place in the play-offs.
The 60-year-old, who took charge in January 2013, agreed to stay on for the present campaign after initially considering his future in the wake of the Euro 2016 failure. After a poor start to the 2018 World Cup quest, his squad have won three and drawn one of their last four qualifiers to revive the nation’s hopes of reaching a major tournament finals for the first time since 1998.
“We’ve now got a group of players who have been coming together for the past two years or so,” added Bannan. “It’s been relatively the same squad, just one or two coming in and out. That helps, because you get a togetherness – it’s more like a club side. Everyone knows each other’s games a lot better and that’s been a big bonus [under Strachan] as well.
Bannan has won 14 of his 25 Scotland caps during Strachan’s reign but cannot be accused of simply stating his support for the manager because he is regularly selected by him.
The 27-year-old Sheffield Wednesday player has not started a match for Scotland since the 3-0 defeat in Slovakia a year ago, while his most recent appearance was as a substitute in the friendly against Canada in March.
Bannan is hopeful of forcing his way into
Strachan’s starting line-up this week following the injury withdrawals of Scott Brown, Stuart
Armstrong and Matt Ritchie from the squad.
“The good thing about this squad is that midfield is the strongest department,” he added.
“There are loads of players capable of going out there and doing a job for their country.
“With those lads dropping out, everyone else is looking to get into the starting eleven and I’m one of them.
“I’ll try my best to impress the manager this week and, if called upon, I’ll be ready.
“Whenever you come away with Scotland, if you train well every day you can get into the team. The gaffer wants you to be training well all the time and if you do that, you’ve got a chance.
“The boys have been in great form, so sometimes you can’t do anything about it. If people are ahead of you and playing well, you just have to hold your hands up and accept it. You just have to keep going until it’s your chance.
“That’s what’s happened. Scott and Stuart have been brilliant in the last couple of games. It’s unfortunate for them but it gives other players, who have not been involved for a while, a chance.”
Bannan turned in a man-of-the-match display for Sheffield Wednesday in their 3-0 win over Leeds United on Sunday, having previously suffered painful defeats against Sheffield United and Birmingham City which he revealed prompted him to take himself off social media.
“The Sheffield derby is bigger than I actually thought,” he said. “I’ve played in the Villa-Birmingham derby, but it felt bigger than that. It’s hard to take losing any game, but those ones are more important for the fans. So that felt worse than usual.
“I deleted my Twitter account after the game. I’ve not gone back on it yet, because we lost to Birmingham and their fans hate me as well! I’m just going to leave it a week or two – either that, or I’ll get myself in trouble replying to them. So I did the grown-up thing and deleted it. Although I will definitely put it back on if Scotland win on Thursday night.”