SFA prepared to wait until after World Cup for new manager

Michael O'Neill has guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup play-offs. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Michael O'Neill has guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup play-offs. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
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The Scottish Football Association is prepared to wait until after next summer’s World Cup finals if it means getting the right candidate to replace Gordon Strachan.

Malky Mackay, whose appointment as SFA performance director sparked controversy last December, has agreed to step in as interim head coach for the quickly-scheduled friendly with the Netherlands at Pittodrie on 9 November.

But such is the governing body’s determination to give Scotland the best possible chance of reaching the Euro 2020 finals it is prepared to hold off making a permanent appointment until next year.

The strategy suggests Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill could feature high in the SFA’s thoughts.

Stewart Regan, the chief executive, will head a sub-committee of board members which will seek to identity someone capable of ensuring Scotland qualify for Euro 2020, when Hampden Park will host four matches.

Regan claimed there were funds available to attract someone with the skill set 
to take Scotland to the next level.

“The Scottish FA will try and get the best possible candidate and we’ll compete as best we can,” he said. “It would be nice to have the resources of one of the big six leagues, or FAs, but that’s not the case. But we’ll fight for the right person and we’ll do what we can to attract the right person.”

O’Neill, who has taken Northern Ireland to the brink of the World Cup after reaching the knock-out stage of Euro 2016, lives in Edinburgh and was understood to be prepared to consider the Scotland post last November, when Strachan’s position was again under scrutiny.

Other names already linked to the vacant post include David Moyes, Paul Lambert and Alex McLeish, all of whom are available now. Moyes indicated yesterday that he would be willing to speak to the SFA but his preference would be to return to club football.

“I don’t think anyone ever turns down their national team but it’s got to be at the right time as well,” Moyes said.

“My first choice would be to go back to club management but if Scotland want to talk I’d be happy to speak to them to see what they have to say.”

Mackay, meanwhile, will be in charge against the Dutch next month.

There could be two friendlies in March and two more in June. It’s possible an interim manager will be in charge for all of them. “We might have a new manager in place for those friendlies, but if we haven’t it’s not the end of the world,” Regan said.

“In order to get the right candidate then potentially we will wait, if we have to do that,” he added. “It depends on if they are in work or out of work. We have already, as you can imagine, had a lot of interest in the role, even overnight, but it is about getting the right person for Scotland.

“It would be my preference to try to do it sooner than that but the next competitive match is September 2018 and it’s about making sure we’ve got the best candidate,” he continued.

“The point I’m making is that there’s a degree of flexibility given the way the fixtures are now panning out that perhaps we wouldn’t have had in 
previous years, so we do have the luxury of a little bit of time on our side.”

It’s not believed Mackay will be among the candidates to replace Strachan on a permanent basis. His appointment as interim manager has already met with criticism from political figures.

Alison Johnstone MSP, Sport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, expressed disappointment at the SFA’s decision. Mackay was the subject of an English FA probe in 2014 concerning text messages containing discriminatory language which were sent while he was manager of Cardiff City.

“While this is a temporary appointment it is still disappointing to learn that the SFA aren’t taking these issues seriously,” said Johnstone. “This is a high profile role and while Mr Mackay has undergone equality and diversity training, there are undoubtedly more progressive candidates the SFA could have chosen to take Scottish football forward.”

Regan underlined Mackay’s focus will remain on performance areas for all age groups, as per his job brief as performance director. “We’ve asked him to do this as a one-off and he has agreed,” he said. “But Malky has got a big job to do, he’s working very hard and we are very pleased with the progress he is making.”