On this week’s podcast we mulled over the news of Alex McLeish taking up the…
Sat in front of the press, the Scottish FA didn’t exactly present the image of a forward-thinking, modern governing body. In his role as de-facto chief, Alan McRae welcomed Alex McLeish back for a second stint as Scotland boss. Here was the man characterised as an out of touch, Scottish FA blazer unveiling a national team manager who hasn’t held held a meaningful job in years.
Naturally, the appointment of McLeish has come in for criticism from Scottish football fans who wanted a fresh start, not a sentimental throwback. It’s as if, following the failure to convince Michael O’Neill to take the job, the Scottish FA board simply turned to their friends, first Walter Smith then McLeish. The epitome of the ‘jobs for the boys’ culture so many malign.
It’s true that McLeish is an uninspiring appointment. His recent track record hints at a manager who has lost his touch, leaving behind a sense of deep malaise at Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Genk. But before the torches are lit and the mobs appear at the steps of Hampden, perhaps we should seek to fully understand the set of circumstances that led to McLeish’s hiring.
This is not an appointment that is out of line with the way international football is at the moment. In fact, this just adds to the zeitgeist. The international game, in its current form, is not a place for the best managers and coaches, at least not those at the peak of their powers. McLeish might not the be the best man for the Scotland job, but more than likely the best men for the Scotland job weren’t interested.
There is a real lack of imagination in the appointment of managers across the board in the international game, as demonstrated by the hiring of McLeish, but that is a consequence of how the international game is perceived. When was the last time a truly top-tier manager took a national team job?
In the business of hiring a national team manager there are two choices – hire a novice or hire a veteran. Clearly wary of the reaction to his client’s appointment, Jon McLeish, son and representative of Alex, tweeted “Pep wasn’t available, guys” on Friday night, and this pretty much sums up why the former Hibernian and Rangers manager was approached in the first place. Even if there were better candidates out there, luring them into the international game might have been impossible.
Look at Gareth Southgate, who was handed the England job on the basis of a far from impressive C.V. Or Wales’ hiring of Ryan Giggs as national team manager last month. The former winger’s managerial experience amounts to a handful games as the interim manager of Manchester United, and yet now he finds himself as boss of his country’s national team. Even Spain, a true international football superpower, turned to Julen Lopetegui after just two years as a senior manager.
Before Lopetegui Spain was coached by Vicente Del Bosque, and that perfectly encapsulates the way international football is right now. Del Bosque was viewed by the club game as a relic of a bygone age, yet he led Spain to a World Cup triumph and back-to-back European Championship wins. After his retirement after Euro 2016, Spain swung the pendulum from one side to the other, going from experience to youth, but missing out the category in the middle. Because this is the way of things in international football right now.
So while the Scottish FA’s appointment of McLeish might warrant criticism and scrutiny, while the governing body’s hiring methods should be examined, this is the local culmination of a much wider trend. This might not be the best that we could have hoped for, but the best we could have hoped for isn’t that much better than this.