Craig Brown: Autumn cruellest season for Scotland managers

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan on the touchline during his side's World Cup qualifying defeat in Trnava. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan on the touchline during his side's World Cup qualifying defeat in Trnava. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
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“Beware autumn” is a warning that the SFA should consider writing into the small print of any future national manager’s contract.

As World Cup prospects and public support for his efforts have waned in the past week, Gordon Strachan’s appetite for remaining at the helm for Scotland has become open to question.

If he does vacate his post any time soon, he will be following convention. For every single Scotland manager forced out by failing fortunes across the past decade-and-a-half has found autumn to be the cruellest season.

Walter Smith and Alex McLeish went in winter, but both did so because they wanted to take up club jobs. In contrast, the departures of Craig Levein (November 2012), George Burley ( November 2009) and Berti Vogts (October 2004) were down to their positions becoming untenable.

As was the case in the mind of Craig Brown when he announced he was stepping down after eight years, following the success of guiding Scotland to Euro 96 and France 98. He did so immediately after a win over Latvia at Hampden in October 2001 which closed an unsuccessful Euro 2002 qualifying 
campaign.

Brown doesn’t believe there is a need for Strachan – whom he believes remains upbeat after he glimpsed him on the Scotland squad’s flight home following Tuesday’s desperate 3-0 loss in Slovakia – to consider his position. A win against a wholly unimpressive England at Wembley in three weeks’ time could make him a “hero” and “completely turnaround the current perspective”, according to Brown.

Brown’s own perspective was that his final chapter had been written come 2001. “I decided that they [the SFA] might sack me and that, after being with the national set-up for 16 years, having been involved with Scotland in five major tournaments, it was a natural end.

“Archie [Knox, the Scotland No 2] said I was being daft and that there was no way that would happen after we had just missed out of on the previous two tournaments, having made the two before. But I knew that I would be hounded by the media and that it was just time.”

Autumn is football’s time, Brown points out, for managers falling from footballing trees.

The demise of Burley eight years ago came in the aftermath of a heavy defeat by Wales in a friendly in Cardiff that did for him only a month after the SFA stated he would be given a second qualifying tournament.

Vogts, meanwhile, was three games into the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign that was already doomed because only two points had been accrued.

That same number of points left Craig Levein’s side sitting bottom of their 2014 World Cup qualifying group after four games in their bid to end the post-France 98 exile from this global stage.

“When teams, at any level, are struggling at this time of the year, a momentum builds for change,” explained Brown. “If managers are looking to get back into work, many holiday well in the summer and wait for the darker nights to bring them some shafts of light. I always like to point out that the daddy of them all made his move in the autumn.

“By that I mean that it was the start of November [in 1986] that Alex Ferguson moved from Aberdeen to Manchester United. Considering he went on to have the greatest managerial career in the history of the game, it can’t be said that is necessarily a bad time for a move.”

Brown believes he was “lucky” to have a much better time to move in international circles for Scotland than is true for Strachan.

“The easiest team to coach is someone else’s and you will never find me telling Gordon how he should his job because I once had a degree of success doing it,” Brown says. “I did that because I have a much better quality of player at my disposal than he does in the present day. That is an indisputable fact.

“Where I feel really sorry for him is in the absence of players with experience in cross-border competition – which is crucial if you are not operating at the very highest level, as most of his team aren’t. Of his starting line-up in Slovakia, only Darren Fletcher is season campaigner in European football. Kieran Tierney and Callum Paterson have played a smattering of games recently, but it is a real issue for others.”

Just one factor in Scotland appearing permanently out in the cold at international level.