A one-game tenure as Scotland manager may now have given way to Malky Mackay being returned to the post of SFA performance director. However, the 45-year-old believes that he has succeeded in creating a bridgehead for the next man.
On reflection, Mackay made much of the friendly that was lost 1-0 to the Netherlands on Thursday night at Pittodrie. On the pitch there was an extensive, and encouraging, reboot. He dispensed with such Gordon Strachan favourites Barry Bannan, James Morrison and James McArthur in favour of Callum McGregor, John McGinn, Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean. He demonstrated that accomplished Kieran Tierney could be a possible solution to the centre-back issues, and that Ryan Jack could be an option for what has become the equally problematic right-back role.
Mackay also tried, with no great success, to give Matt Phillips the chance to show he could be back-up to the injured Leigh Griffiths as the main striker, and to that end also handed a first cap to Jason Cummings late on. Notably there was no Chris Martin or Steven Fletcher in the squad.
Off the field, he installed an almost entirely new support staff and considers all his changes point the way to the future for the next man, who will be in place before Scotland head to Morocco in March for what will be their final build-up games before the new Uefa Nations League competition starts in September. Yet, for all this, Scotland’s next manager could wipe the Mackay blueprint and go back to what was in place before.
“That will be someone’s call and absolutely their call because they will be the boss, but I love the look of that now and anybody who watched us against Holland, if nothing else, saw a team that matched them,” he said. “We blew them over in terms of chances. How we looked in possession and our athleticism was big as well.
“The best we have played in years was certainly Lithuania away [for the 3-0 win in September], everybody was happy with it, we were really athletic. Against Holland, we looked a team that could run a team off the pitch and that’s the way we need to be going forward, but we also had to be tactical and [have] technical ability.
“We have young players coming through who have got touch, and by God it is about time. We need that to play against a top European team. But if we are going to go and play against mid-level European sides and qualify, we play like we did against Holland and we will blow them away... if we keep shifting the ball like we did and are as athletic as we were. That’s my view of how we should be going forward and I’d love that to be how it is.”
Mackay was asked about Scotland being imbued with Celtic standards as well as Celtic players going forward.
Theoretically, the national team could practically become a Celtic select with the potential that Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong, Tierney, McGregor and, on-loan Aberdeen attacker Christie, could all play together. Mackay interpreted the question in a different context.
“Massively in terms of the structure around the team and the staff,” he said. “I expect English Premier League or Champions League standard from now on and I’ll be involved in the performance staff who come in. I want to make sure that when players come away with Scotland they are not underwhelmed with what surrounds it. I’m going to make sure that this exists.
“I wasn’t involved before and I’m not saying it wasn’t there but I know what I want and I know what is top level. The staff I brought in and how I tweaked things was top level. The players have had that – every sense of tactical analysis, GPS readings, physiological readings, the way they are treated, what they are given in terms of protein shakes and strategies.
“Then there’s imparting tactical knowledge on them in training sessions the way that I want it done. Eric Black conducting it means that they just go on the pitch and enjoy it. We just want to give a young group like that confidence and if we can do that then we have a chance.”