Gordon Strachan is living on borrowed time as Scotland manager, and many of my esteemed Terrace Podcast colleagues have suggested possible replacements. With the greatest of respect, they’re all wrong. Only one man can lead Scotland out of the international wilderness and into the promised land of losing 2-0 to Saudi Arabia at the World Cup.
It’s got to be King Kenny (no, not that one).
1. He has the international experience
Shiels has a proven track record of success at the international level. He spent more than five years at the helm of the Northern Ireland U17s, guiding them to their first ever European Championships back in 2004. In that role, Shiels was responsible for the development of many of the squad which took Northern Ireland to the knockout stages of this summer’s Euros. He also gained knowledge of the internal workings of the SFA during his short spell in charge of the Forth Valley Academy. The next Scotland manager will have two main objectives – qualifying for a major tournament, and developing promising talents like Oliver Burke, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Gauld. Shiels has already shown that he can do both.
2. He loves to make history
Ending Scotland’s 20 year wait for a major finals appearance would be a daunting task for any manager, but Shiels relishes that sort of challenge. His spell at Kilmarnock saw him tear up all the record books. Never won the League Cup? Enter Kenny. No wins at Celtic Park in over 50 years? Kenny’s your man. Haven’t beaten Rangers at home in 17 years? Send for Kenny. Of course, his desire to boldly go where nobody has gone before can also work the other way. Losing six goals at home to Inverness was a first for a Kilmarnock manager, and there aren’t many Morton managers who can lay claim to conceding double figures in a league match. But you have to take the rough with the smooth. Who wouldn’t accept a 7-4 defeat at home to Malta if it means we can beat England home and away and qualify for the World Cup.
3. He knows how to build a rapport with his supporters
Gordon Strachan was initially very popular with the Scotland support, but gradually his abrasive nature has begun to rub supporters up the wrong way. He treats the views of the media and the fans with disdain, and that will not buy you many friends when results go poorly.
There is little danger of that being the case with Shiels, who always stressed the importance of having his supporters onside. When he was in charge at Kilmarnock, he would often go into local pubs and drink with supporters. When season ticket sales were going poorly, he arranged for himself and his players to phone fans to ask for their support. Even though he lived in Edinburgh, he would travel to Kilmarnock to get his hair cut “because the town needs an uplift”. When Killie played Inverness in a midweek game in February, he went to the away stand before the game and personally thanked each of the 60-odd fans who had made the journey. Shiels gets what it means to be a football fan.
The Scotland support would lap that stuff on an even bigger scale. They already think they are the best fans in the world, and would shoot their load instantly at a manager who reinforced that belief. You can picture him going round the Lithuanian pubs the night before the game leading the singsongs of “Doe a Deer” and taking selfies with fat, hairy guys wearing nothing but a kilt and a glengarry.
4. He sends his sides out to entertain and win
Over the last couple of decades, Scotland have been stifled by negative tactics and a lack of self-confidence. Shiels wouldn’t stand for any of that. Together with Mixu Paatelainen, he oversaw a change in culture at Killie. Out went the drab, dour performances of the Jefferies and Calderwood eras, and in came entertaining, flowing and most importantly winning football. And it was mostly done with the same group of players. One generation of Scotland players has already been constrained by the stuffiness of keep-it-tight-and-hit-the-channels football, and we can’t allow that to happen again. Shiels would let the players express themselves.
The beginning of the downfall of our Euro 2016 campaign was settling for a draw in Ireland when we could have gone for the jugular. Many of us (me included) thought a draw was a good result at the time, but in hindsight perhaps a bolder approach would have helped us towards qualification. Shiels wouldn’t have thought twice about going for the win. With Killie’s League Cup final against Celtic poised at 0-0 with 15 minutes to go, conventional wisdom would have been to shut up shop and play for extra time or penalties. But Shiels chased the win, bringing on striker Dieter van Tornhout for midfielder Gary Harkins, and his gamble paid off with van Tornhout scoring the winner. That could be Leigh Griffiths at Wembley next month.
If the SFA want to maximise their patter-to-pound ratio, then Shiels is the obvious choice. He’s cheap and he’s batshit mental. Put a microphone in front of him and he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks about every single thing that’s going on in the world. Gordon Strachan gave a diplomatic answer when asked about the departure of Sam Allardyce as England manager. Shiels would have given a 45 minute lecture on morality and called for Allardyce to be jailed and/or knighted. A highlight of Shiels’ reign at Killie was him gradually getting under the skin of Paulo Sergio until the supposedly suave and sophisticated Hearts boss descended into a seething mess and got himself sent to the stand after yet another defeat. He had similar spats with Kirk Broadfoot, Andrew Dallas and just about everyone else who crossed his path. Add in the pressure of the Scotland job and Shiels might be the first ever manager to argue with himself via the media.
Whatever the question is, the answer is Kenny Shiels. Get it done, Regan.
Written by Craig Anderson