Shaughan McGuigan (@ShaughanM)
So, here we are again. Another qualification campaign ends with the realisation that we’ll be spending an evenly-numbered-summer enviously looking in at the party. Re-wind 12 months or so and it looked like we’d be there, stealing tins out the Euro 2016 fridge and pissing it away in the back-garden, before eventually being sick in the bath and wondering if it had all been worth the effort. Instead, our national team is now such an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things, we didn’t even get an invite.
It’s become trite to point out the myriad failings this country has throughout its national sport, which, as a consequence, mean the blame for failing to qualify for next summer’s jamboree can’t all be blamed on Gordon Strachan. However, while producing a silk purse from a sow’s ear would be beyond any Scotland manager they should at least be able to cobble together some kind of rudimentary ashtray device.
The campaign may have officially ended with a 6-0 win over Gibraltar but as strange as it sounds the seeds of doubt about Gordon Strachan’s ability to successfully guide us through it were possibly sewn during the 6-1 win in the reverse fixture back in March.
Up until that point, Strachan had barely put a foot wrong. However, while there was nothing untoward with his decision to start against the amateurs with a back-three, the fact it contained two full-backs in Andy Robertson and Alan Hutton, neither of whom looked comfortable in the unfamiliar position, was, well, odd. There wasn’t a huge amount of surprise that it failed spectacularly in the first-half before Strachan reverted to something more rational in the second.
At the time, it was seen as an irrelevant quirk that would have little bearing on matters but Strachan’s selection curiosities continued as Scotland met Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Be it through a lack of ability or mental fortitude, Craig Forsyth looked completely out of his depth at left-back, while the bold choice of Matt Ritchie over Ikechi Anya also backfired in a first-half that was the worst of the campaign up until that point. Again, alterations were made at the interval and as the manager himself noted afterwards, perhaps “he put too much thought” into his selection.
However, the 1-1 draw in Dublin again suggested Scotland and Strachan had gotten away with it, but while the performances of the players had deteriorated, so too had the manager’s in the not-exactly-dazzling glare of the media.
Where once he’d been positive and upbeat, he’d suddenly resorted to negativity and terseness. Strachan has always been a smart-alec but in the build up to the match in Tblisi his IWatch retort, after being asked an eminently sensible question, suggested he was more of a smart-arse.
He also appeared desperate to avoid the must-win label, which I suppose was just as well, since Scotland failed to win any of the games that mattered in the second-half of the campaign. The vast majority of the 90 minutes against Georgia during that 1-0 defeat was every bit as risible as the first 45 against Ireland, and while Strachan was quick to blame bad-luck, it was very much down to our own squalid failings.
Put aside the turkey-shoots against Gibraltar and Scotland took just nine points out of a possible twenty-four against the rest, a figure that was never going to gain qualification.
The argument that is normally trotted out at this point is ‘well who could do any better?’, a slightly bizarre query that suggests Strachan is the best manager around. He obviously isn’t and while the list of available home-grown candidates to replace him could barely be any more beige, it would be churlish to suggest that WGS is as good-as-it-gets.
Of-course, with a relative dearth of quality available to him, a Scotland manager can only do so much. Pick the best players available, play them in a system which not only best-suits their attributes but also gives them the best chance to top-trump the opposition, and lastly, motivate their charges.
Unfortunately, it’s becomingly increasingly difficult to argue that Gordon Strachan is doing all of those things.
Duncan McKay (@DuncMcKay)
I must preface this by saying I’ve not been prejudiced by the loss against Poland. Work reasons meant I didn’t see it.
The idea of Strachan being over or underrated is a curious one and realistically context plays a big role. Scotland started this group as fourth seeds and will finish fourth. We have held our own against both Poland and Ireland, only to be let down by our own performance against Georgia and our direct opponents ability to take points from the Germans.
Ultimately, many feel Scotland should be at the Euros because the likes of Iceland, Northern Ireland and those perennially no-marks Wales have made it. But it ignores the fact we faced a much tougher group. However, that’s not to suggest Strachan is blame-free. Personally, I find his tactics to be very cautious and some of his squad selection a little conservative, but hey, you can only pish with the cock you’ve got.
Scotland are probably exactly where they deserve to be. Nothing more, nothing less. This might mean that sometimes we’ll make the euros but more often than not we’ll be spending every second summer on the outside looking in.
I suppose, in a roundabout way I’m saying that despite all the headlines and renewed sense of purpose, the Scottish national side has barely progressed since 1998. Strachan hasn’t pushed us on very much under his tutelage despite the headlines, which makes me think at this stage he’s rather overrated. I’d loved to be proved wrong, and I certainly think it could happen, but at this stage, Strachan’s Scotland tenure reflects his side’s performances: a lot of hard graft and endeavour; little to show for it.
John Callan (@JohnLCallan)
From the moment Scotland drew a qualification group featuring three credible opponents, even the generously inviting Euro 2016 began to look like a bit of a struggle. That Gordon Strachan had fate stacked against him from the outset of the campaign is certainly fair enough.
There’s also a danger, when tallying up his performance, of letting envious glances elsewhere reflect onto our own campaign. The reality that every other home nation, Iceland, Stirling Albion and Middlefield Wasps under 15s are all going to Euro 2016 and we aren’t is enormously galling but, again, that’s hardly Strachan’s fault.
Blame that can be laid at his door, however, isn’t in terribly short supply. The eleven months since Scotland’s 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park have been alarmingly stagnant; I dare say folk wouldn’t have celebrated Shaun Maloney’s exquisite winner that night quite so vigorously had they known what was to follow. There hasn’t been a single convincing 90 minutes in the nine matches since then, with even friendlies feeling like un-adventurous slogs.
Strachan’s personnel choices have always raised eyebrows, but it’s only since a downturn of results that criticism has been more vocal. Continually selecting figures like Alan Hutton and Steven Fletcher, despite performance-based evidence suggesting they should make way, has become grating. And building a team around an alarmingly declining Scott Brown is cause for concern, especially as Strachan has been given another qualifying campaign.
The Georgia match was an absolute hammer-blow, and one which could easily have been a turning point in public opinion against Strachan, who’d enjoyed a hitherto comfortable ride. Add to that the Poland draw, and it’d have been reasonable to expect a real clamour for change. Certainly among the Tartan Army though, he seems remarkably well thought of. Although they’re notoriously loyal, and a hoarde of people who’ve spent their day knocking back Sagres and dancing down the Albufeira strip aren’t exactly the most reliable jury, the vociferous backing he personally received in the Estadio Algarve was incredible. While its a slightly spurious point, and one which can’t really be proved either way, swap his exact results for someone like, say, Craig Levein, and I doubt they’d have been quite so supportive.
On that basis, he’s overrated. Even in the tricky circumstances of Group D, the Euros were a very real prospect for Scotland eleven months ago, and this side has failed when it counts. World Cup qualification won’t be any easier, and none of us are either young enough or so blasé over major tournaments that we can afford to throw away qualification campaigns based on something which, on a decent amount of evidence, isn’t working.
What else is there more to say? It’s unanimous.
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