Stephen Halliday: Should Rod Petrie have kingmaker role?

Stewart Regan, who has now quit as SFA chief executive, with  the organisation's vice-president Rod Petrie. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Stewart Regan, who has now quit as SFA chief executive, with the organisation's vice-president Rod Petrie. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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If it all goes to plan, Rod Petrie will be sitting front and centre of the directors’ box at Hampden in June 2020, watching Scotland make their return to a major tournament finals after an absence of 22 years.

If it all goes to plan, the Hibernian chairman will be in the second year of his presidency of the Scottish FA, welcoming the great and good of Uefa and other luminaries to Glasgow as the national stadium hosts four matches of the Euro 2020 extravaganza.

If it all goes to plan, Petrie will enjoy the kudos of being at the symbolic helm of Scottish football while a manager he played a key role in recruiting earns the eternal gratitude of the Tartan Army for leading the national team to qualification for those finals.

The problem for Petrie and his colleagues around the SFA boardroom table, however, is that absolutely nothing is going to plan for them right now.

Walter Smith’s decision to rule himself out of taking charge of Scotland for a second time leaves the governing body appearing as if they are no closer to finding a replacement for Gordon Strachan than they were on the day they dispensed with his services all of four months ago.

The images of a grinning Michael O’Neill formally signing his new four-year contract as Northern Ireland manager alongside Irish FA president David Martin in Belfast yesterday afternoon simply rubbed further salt into the wounds for those at the SFA tasked with securing Strachan’s successor.

With their protracted pursuit of preferred candidate O’Neill having backfired so badly when he knocked them back three weeks ago, effectively costing Stewart Regan his job as chief executive, the SFA have left themselves wide open to being perceived as rudderless and incompetent.

The defection to Scottish Golf of highly regarded chief operating officer Andrew McKinlay, who is acting as interim chief executive until that post is filled, does nothing to dilute that view in the eyes of many observers.

With Regan no longer there to act as the human shield for all of the criticism which is routinely directed at the SFA, it now leaves Petrie firmly in the firing line alongside president Alan McRae and board member Ian Maxwell as the three-man sub-committee wrestle with a not-so-short list of candidates for the job. Smith, it is understood, was just one of eight names being considered in the aftermath of O’Neill’s rejection of the offer made to him by Regan.

Alex McLeish, whose brief tenure as Scotland boss in 2007 saw him come agonisingly close to reaching the Euro 2008 finals, is on the list and it is believed his case is being championed strongly by Petrie who previously worked with him at Hibs.

There are many, however, who might feel uncomfortable with Petrie’s role as a kingmaker in the process. As both managing director and chairman of Hibs, it’s fair to say the 61-year-old chartered accountant had a chequered record when it came to the identification and appointment of football managers, with more misses than hits in the technical area at Easter Road on his watch.

McLeish has been out of frontline football for almost two years, since an abortive spell in charge of Egyptian club Zamalek. It’s a much shorter hiatus than the seven years since Smith last managed but similar concerns could be raised over McLeish’s recent absence from the sharp end of the game.

Making an appointment from within remains a strong option for the SFA. Performance director Malky Mackay, who stepped in as interim head coach for the friendly against the Netherlands back in November, is not without support in the sixth-floor offices of 
Hampden. Equally, however, there are those who are keenly aware that having to then begin the search for yet another performance director could seriously diminish the importance which has been placed on that role.

Less complicated would be the promotion of Scotland Under-21 coach Scot Gemmill, who has been viewed for some time as a future manager of the senior side. It remains to be seen if the SFA board may be persuaded that Gemmill’s time to step up has come sooner than anticipated and if they are prepared to follow the lead of their English FA counterparts who vaulted Gareth Southgate – the same age as Gemmill – from their under-21s to the top job in 2016.

It certainly seems less likely now that the net will be cast much wider, despite Regan having stated in the immediate wake of Strachan’s exit that candidates from overseas would be considered.

The SFA simply cannot afford to suffer another rejection after the snubs from O’Neill and Smith. Petrie & Co must be sure that the next man they target is willing, able and eager to accept the challenge. If they still have a plan, they badly need it to come together this time.