Mark McGhee: I don’t want to lose Scotland job too

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee enjoys training with the squad at Mar Hall. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee enjoys training with the squad at Mar Hall. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
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To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two within four weeks would risk seeing Mark McGhee develop a seriously debilitating caffeine habit.

The former Motherwell manager, sacked from Fir Park at the end of last month, insists neither he nor Gordon Strachan is thinking beyond Sunday’s game against Slovenia, which McGhee has re-emphasised is a “must-win” fixture.

He has also stressed Strachan is not “blasé” about the prospect of losing his job as Scotland manager as another crunch game looms.

It’s always cheering to encounter such an upbeat presence as McGhee, who, even the morning after the bitterly disappointing performance in the 1-1 draw with Canada, can raise a smile.

He is sorely aware his own future is tied up with Strachan’s. After being sacked from Motherwell at the end of last month, following a 5-1 home defeat to Dundee, he is more determined than ever to hold on to his post of Scotland assistant manager, something he accepts hinges on the outcome of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia.

“I’ve only got one job now – so I’d like to keep it,” he quipped. “What else can I say?” It is, he added, a more satisfying way to spend his days than going from café to café sipping cappuccinos, as he is now wont to do.

“I love this job,” he added. “I love being involved. Even this morning I was out there watching the quality and tempo they train at.

“It’s just fantastic. I love being around it. I enjoy it and want to be here.”

But McGhee concedes the pressure is on. Both he and Strachan are aware of the consequences of defeat on Sunday – or even a draw. “Gordon loves the job and wants to win this game,” he said. “More than anything else he wants to win it to keep us in contention with a chance of qualifying.

“But of course, within himself, he wants to win because he wants to keep doing the job. He wants to go into the England game still in with a chance.”

Some accuse Strachan of not being sufficiently concerned either way. In the event of Scotland dropping more points on Sunday to leave their campaign in tatters the manager can simply return to his Midlands home, to comfortable family life and part-time television punditry work. McGhee warns the cynics to think again. Strachan remains desperate to succeed.

“I don’t think he is blasé about it or saying, ‘if we win, we win and if I lose my job, I lose my job,’” he said. “I don’t think that at all. I think he desperately wants to keep the job. But I don’t think he is letting that worry him. I don’t think whether he loses his job or not has any bearing on the team he picks or the tactics or how he approaches the job on Sunday night.”

McGhee has endured an even more wounding period than Strachan in recent times.

He was ridiculed when his meltdown after being sent to the stand against Aberdeen at Pittodrie was captured on camera phone and then uploaded to Twitter. It didn’t help that Motherwell also lost the game 7-2.

A first-half collapse against Dundee saw him removed from his post shortly afterwards. Days later came the coup de grace – a six-game touchline ban from the Scottish Football Association for his behaviour towards the referee and fourth official at Aberdeen.

He seems blissfully unaware of the details, having returned to the south coast, where he lived prior to starting his second spell as Motherwell manager. “Do you know, I have no idea what ban I got, what the actual number is,” he shrugged. “I have no interest in that.

“I was hugely disappointed to leave Motherwell, but I have been sacked six times now. I will get over it.”

He’s in the groove of part-time employment but is conscious of what might happen if another pillar of his life was to crumble. Despite the attendant pressure, he is enormously glad to have a week such as this one when he can return to the training pitch.

Both McGhee and Scotland goalkeeper coach Jim Stewart, recently let go by new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha, have been keeping each other’s spirits up.

“I said to Jim, ‘it’s great to feel normal again’,” said McGhee. “You are not out the loop. I am on the East Sussex cappuccino trail now! It’s much better being here and being involved in football.”

McGhee, who turns 60 a fortnight before the June fixture with England, won’t consider a return to full-time management in the short term.

“Certainly not before the summer,” he said. By then he hopes to be back on track for Russia with Scotland.

Either that or he will be deeper in the clutches of a coffee habit that, as Oscar Wilde might have said, is the curse of the under-employed football manager.