Michael Oliver's travels

PEOPLE inside football know Michael Oliver. He has been in the game a long time, working north and south of the Border, and several top clubs have relied on his judgment of a player's ability, a skill that has seen him tour the length and breadth of Europe. It is a fair guess, however, that unless they have a long memory for lower league teams of yesteryear, most fans will not have heard of Scotland's new national team scout.

Oliver is a classic behind-the-football-scenes man. He doesn't even have his own page on internet know-all site Wikipedia, but then working as a scout and assistant to players' agent John Viola, after spells as a player with the likes of Queen of the South and Albion Rovers, who he later managed, is hardly guaranteed to make you a household name.

He could have been forgiven for blinking in the glare of publicity as he was unveiled to the Scottish press last week, but Oliver had a Morecambe to his Wise, an Ant to his Dec, in the shape of his old chum Craig Levein, the national coach who made Oliver his first and full-time appointment after starting work officially on Tuesday.

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The two men form a good-humoured, wisecracking double act, having been firm friends since they both played for Cowdenbeath in the early 1980s, with Levein subsequently employing Oliver as a scout at Dundee United. He has been employed by the SFA – Levein reported that he had "no problems at all" from the blazers in them paying for Oliver – as an analyst of players and matches, the first full-time occupant of the new post. But is it a necessary job?

Levein is adamant that it is: "I defy anyone to say it is a bad idea."

Oliver's scouting talents may also pay big dividends, as Scotland will be looking for new recruits to the national cause, though that is not the top priority for the manager and scout.

"The ones that might come out of left-field are the ones that we don't know have Scottish relatives, or at some point have been in a Scottish school for five years for whatever reason," said Levein. "We have already had a very brief word with (national youth coach] Billy Stark about this as well, about finding players like this for our age groups. We need to have a system in place – and we will get round to this eventually – that actually can tell us if there is a 16-year-old guy playing for Tottenham Hotspur whose parents or grandparents are Scottish.

"We need to establish very quickly a database of players, because it is all very haphazard at the moment."

Oliver agreed: "I would like to get to that, but the most important thing just now is the big team. I would love to get down there (to England) and get into the academies and find out who's got Scottish parents or grandparents.

"We have already had a couple of calls come in from down there in England. We think there are a couple of players we would like to look at, but they are younger players.

"As far as senior players are concerned, most of the players that can play for the big team we already know about. Guys like Kris Commons have been unearthed, but I don't think there are too many we don't know about."

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Oliver may go new-Scot-spotting in the longer term, but meanwhile he has a vital job to do in preparing dossiers on every player Scotland could meet in future. Before Scotland's friendly against the Czech Republic at Hampden on 3 May, he will go out on the road across Europe looking at the Czechs and other countries' players; by that time we will know who Scotland have been drawn against in the qualifying groups for the 2012 European Championships.

But will it just be an old pals' act, with Oliver acting as a cheerleader to Levein? Not at all, said the manager.

"Michael and I have known each other for a long time, we have a similar kind of idea," said Levein. "But one thing about him is that he has an opinion. I value that and I value people who have the balls to stand up and say yes, I am prepared to put my neck on the block here."

So what is Oliver's opinion of his new boss's squad? "I think people are too negative about Scotland," said Oliver. "I think we have got a lot of quality. We sat down and wrote out a list of players yesterday which is a good list of players. It is about getting the right pairings. It is about him (Levein] getting the right pairings on the park, and the right combinations. It is about coaching, and tactical awareness."

Oliver feels that the number of players who have turned out for Scotland in recent years under various managers means that Levein no longer has to experiment with new players.

Oliver said: "A lot of managers in the last five or six years have experimented with a lot of players. There have been a lot of wasted international games where experimenting on players has just been a complete waste of time.

"If you look at Fabio Capello with England, he goes out to win every game. I think it is important that you don't go down the road of experimenting too much.

"Some 34 players have played for Scotland at some point over the last five years so we know the squad of players and he doesn't need to experiment."

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Having worked for Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City and Sunderland, and having scouted Damian Casalinuovo and Danny Cadamarteri for Dundee United, Oliver feels he has the wherewithal for his new role.

"I have great experience of travelling Europe and have watched many, many international games," said Oliver. "Every game was about watching international players. I am confident I will be able to give Craig and the players the knowledge and information they require for match days."