Thursday, 29 November 2007

McLeish Leaves For Birmingham, Scots Face Uncertainty

Football report for Blogcritics

Scotland became the second British nation within a week to lose their football manager yesterday, after Alex McLeish (known to the fans as "Eck") resigned from his position to take the top job at Birmingham City. Whereas the English FA sacked Steve McLaren because of his incompetence, the Scottish FA desperately wanted to hold on to Eck after the stunning progress the Scotland team made under his guidance. Unfortunately for Scotland, that success just led to covetous glances from others, and ultimately the money and glamour of the English Premiership was able to woo Eck away from the job leading his country. That is hardly surprising if Eck's £400,000 per year salary will be quadrupled by Birmingham, as reports suggest. McLeish told the BBC today: “I absolutely loved my time as coach of the national team, but… I have always harboured a desire to manage in the Premier League and I am really excited about the challenge”.

While Birmingham City fans can feel excited about the prospect of Eck's arrival, for Scottish fans the news marks another period of soul-searching and uncertainty. It is the second time in a year that a successful Scotland manager has left the job to return to club football; Walter Smith quit to re-join Rangers back in January. Smith had turned the team's fortunes around after the disastrous reign of Berti Vogts, even leading Scotland to a famous victory over France. Incredibly, the team did not suffer from a change in management after Smith left, as Eck took charge and led the Scottish team to another famous win against the French. Although the team failed to qualify for the European Championships in the end, their ascent to 14th in the FIFA World Rankings was noted across the footballing world. The Scottish FA now face the difficult task of appointing a replacement with the nous to maintain the current squad's level of over-performance.

So who are the candidates? At the time of writing there is no obvious choice, with different bookmakers choosing their own favourites. Billy Davies, who was fired by Premiership strugglers Derby on Monday, is a front-runner who has already declared himself interested. Dundee United manager Craig Levein is highly thought-of, as is Hibs boss John Collins. Former national team captain Gary McAllister is also widely-tipped as a candidate, despite having no top-level coaching experience. Kilmarnock's Jim Jefferies, and Southampton boss George Burley, are also in contention.

Less realistic options include Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Everton manager David Moyes, and former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. The departures of Smith and McLeish have illustrated that club management is far more appealing than national management to ambitious bosses. Ferguson and Moyes are proud Scots, but neither would leave their current clubs. Mourinho is a dream candidate for any management position in the world; he is unlikely to choose Scotland above all else.

A Scots' worst nightmare would see Steve McClaren in the running. Even at odds of 50/1, he's not a wise investment – it's never going to happen. Don't be surprised to see the Scottish FA appoint a 'management team', pairing an older man like Craig Brown or Joe Jordan alongside a rookie like McAllister or Collins. With Scotland out of competitive action until next September, there's plenty of time to make a decision.

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