With just two match days left of the Scottish Premiership season we still find ourselves…
Scots are never happier than when they’re miserable. While the Germans may have a word for taking pleasure from watching someone else’s misfortune, we must surely have an old Gaelic or Scots term for subconsciously seeking out something to moan about.
It would, in no uncertain terms, sum up the daily life of a Scottish football fan. While we all work our weekly schedule around club football every Saturday, the international break brings a complete halt to the comfort of routine and throws our perspective in the air. And from it comes raw, uncontextualized emotions. The kind that demand a manager gets sacked just two competitive games in to the job.
I’m of course talking about the situation Alex McLeish currently finds himself in after losing 2-1 to Israel and then 3-1 to Portugal. Two games that contrast wildly in their importance in the grand scheme of things but will both undoubtedly be referenced time and time again this week as we all stumble in to work colleagues, debate in our forums of choice or even take to social media to unleash our displeasure.
Yet context is key here. While Scotland’s performance in Haifa was unquestionably a black mark on McLeish’s record – and has been talked to death – when we consider it against the wider scope of Scotland performances down the years it’s not nearly as troubling as first perceived.
Essentially, Scotland have always been pretty terrible in away games. In the four years prior to McLeish’s appointment the national team had won just five home matches under Gordon Strachan’s reign. Those came against Lithuania, Malta, Gibraltar and international friendlies against Poland and the Czech Republic.
What’s more, we also tend to trip over ourselves when the possibility of taking advantage of another medium-sized nations comes along. Last year we bottled it against Slovenia, the year before that we allowed Lithuania to leave Hampden Park with a point, and in 2015 we lost that all-important qualifier away to Georgia. The Scotland national team has always prided itself on glorious defeat against the giants of international football while slipping up when we should be professionally beating teams in crucial qualifiers.
On top of that, Israel are no slouches. Ahead of the match we heralded their defeat to Albania and a calendar year that had seen them lose to all but Lichtenstein, but that is a rather disingenuous take on a decent side.
Yes, Israel did lose in away matches to Albania and Northern Ireland in September, but in March they were eight minutes away from drawing at home with Romania. And last year they lost by solitary goals to Macedonia, Spain and Italy. Sure, they still lost, but each of these performances showcased a side that would undoubtedly prove troublesome to Scotland when allowed to compete in front of their own fans. On Sunday Israel proved this again by confidently disposing of the same Albania side that beat them on the road.
So, essentially, Israel are actually a pretty decent side at home and Scotland did what they always tend to do: lose on the road or against a nation of equal size or quality. Although neither of those things negates the result on Thursday night they do somewhat soften the blow. And while McLeish still has a lot to do before fans can legitimately buy in to his tenure, we have to take it all in to context before we throw him to the dogs.
Rebuilding Scotland’s national team and getting us to an international tournament was always going to be a Herculean task for any manager, but no matter how unpopular McLeish may be the concept of sacking him after just two competitive games – the first of which he won comprehensively – suggests such critics aren’t really interested in sober analysis or a patient approach to a complex problem. Some football fans just want something to moan about and McLeish offers them exactly that.