After the Liechtenstein-Scotland game last Saturday, two Scottish players were taken into a small room inside the Rheinpark Stadion to produce urine samples for a drug test. UEFA didn’t think the Scottish performance was so good it must have been drug-fuelled; it’s just standard procedure after every international game to test two players from each team.
I think they should start testing the managers as well – because Craig Levein’s post-match comments showed he was on something. He said he was “thrilled for the boys”, “thrilled for the supporters”, and that “we are in a position now which I would have taken at the start of the campaign.”
I understand that he’s the leader of the team and therefore that he needs to be peppy and positive. He’d be even less inspiring than he is if he broke down on camera, told the nation it was Donald Ducked, and admitted that there was nothing he could do. But a leader also has to be credible, and Craig’s comments last Saturday evening made him sound more deluded than Ally McLeod ever was.
Thrilled? After a scrappy 1-0 win against a village team? This was the worst Scotland performance I’ve seen since Moldova, and Berti Vogts was fired for that.
Leaving the stadium after the game I didn’t see too many kilted warriors “thrilled” with what they had just seen: a dismal game of football played in the cold Alpine rain, in a stadium where they served overpriced alcohol-free beer without telling you it was alcohol-free. The general consensus seemed to be “at least we didn’t arse it up”, and because of the alcohol-free beer this was a more sober observation than you often get from the Tartan Army.
A position he would have taken at the start of the campaign? Surely the *last* thing any hallucinogen-free manager would want is to need a win against Spain to guarantee qualification. In their own country. In a stadium where they’ve never lost. (He did point out that “we go there with quite a lot of supporters inside the stadium.”)
Maybe he’s just trying to bring back some of the Ally McLeod bravado: yes, we’re Scotland, we can beat the world champions on their own patch, why not? After all, the odds against us beating Spain were 16/1, and there were 16 teams in the World Cup in 1978, so maybe we had as much chance of winning in Alicante as we did of winning in Argentina. God knows we are a miserable nation that could use a bit of optimism, but would Ally ever have played with just one striker against a country the size of Airdrie?
More suspect statements followed after the inevitable gallant defeat to the Spaniards. Looking back on the campaign Levein said we didn’t hit our stride until after the first round of matches. In the second half of qualifying we narrowly beat Lithuania and Liechtenstein (games we should expect to win by more than one goal), drew with the Czech Republic (a game we needed to win), and lost to Spain (a game we were never going to win). Those aren’t pass marks, and if he’s happy with that we’re going to continue our gentle slide down the seedings.
And that gets to the heart of it. After two years of his management, can we really say that Levein is the man to reverse that descent and get the Scotland side to Brazil in 2014, or France in 2016?
I don’t think he is. But I’m not sure there’s anyone we could get right now that would make it worth the bother of changing. Strachan? That would just be putting lipstick on a pig – or chapstick on a sheep. And while that might arouse an Aberdonian, it does nothing for me.
There are longer-term problems in Scottish football and we’re stuck with Craig in the short-term. I just hope he seeks help for whatever it is he’s taking.