ALEX McLeish’s chances of making a success of his second stint as Scotland manager were compromised before he had even taken charge of a game by the SFA’s very public failed pursuits of both Michael O’Neill and Walter Smith.

Bringing back a man who had alienated many members of the Tartan Army by leaving for Birmingham City in 2007 after spending less than a year in the position and whose track record after departing St Andrew’s was less than impressive was always going to be a hard sell.

But the knowledge that another two candidates had, to no avail, been approached before McLeish was brought on board undermined his authority immediately. McLeish was never, through no fault of his own, quite able to convince his arrival was anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism the governing body had received.

So if the SFA do, as looks likely, manage to get their preferred choice Steve Clarke on board this week they will have avoided the unfortunate circuses that preceded their last appointment and given the new manager an altogether better start in the role.

Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, has kept a very low profile since taking over from Stewart Regan 13 months ago. But the major decisions his much-maligned organisation has made during his tenure to date have been the right ones. Remaining at Hampden was the smart move, refusing to consider importing foreign referees a no brainer and targeting multiple Manager of the Year winner Clarke a masterstroke.

All that said, the man who has transformed the fortunes of Kilmarnock since joining the Rugby Park club last season still faces a gargantuan task getting his country to the Euro 2020 finals next summer following the disastrous 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan in their opening qualifier in Nursultan back in March.

So how can the former Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Aston Villa assistant and West Brom and Reading manager fulfil the high expectations that the Tartan Army have and lead Scotland to their first major tournament since France ’98?


Has any Scotland manager ever been faced with such an important opening fixture?

Possibly only Sir Alex Ferguson, who stepped into the dugout for the World Cup play-off double header against Australia in 1985 following the tragic death of Jock Stein, has had to negotiate such a daunting debut.

Scotland must win their third Group I fixture against Cyprus at Hampden on June 8 to stand any chance of finishing in the top two in their section and progressing automatically to the finals. Defeat, or even a draw, will effectively end their prospects.

Clarke will only have had a handful of sessions with his players before the game. He will doubtless be missing key men. It will be a huge task lifting those who do turn up at the end of a long hard season and overseeing a vital triumph. But there will be no margin for error in his new position so it will be a good introduction to the demands of his new role.


Not even the most deluded Tan O’Shanter-wearing, Doe-A-Deer-singing, Tennent’s lager-swilling supporter holds out any hope of Scotland taking anything from their Euro 2020 qualifier against the top-placed side in the FIFA World Rankings in Brussels on June 11. Just avoiding a doing will be an achievement of sorts.

Yet, the national team have traditionally been at their best when they have been written off against bigger and far better opponents. It is usually the minnows they struggle against. So a spirited showing against the Russia 2018 semi-finalists and possibly even a draw would be a definite return to the good old days.

Andy Robertson and his team mates must pull off a shock result after the Kazakhstan debacle if they are to recover from their dire starts and achieve their objective. What better game could there be to do that in than against the best side on the planet?


Scotland fans understand the limitations of their team and can accept them getting beaten by superior rivals as long as they put up a good fight. But being pushovers is completely unacceptable. That, alas, was the case against Kazakhstan.

The loss of first Andy Robertson and then Kieran Tierney had a lot to do with that. McLeish was forced to field Graeme Shinnie at left back and the Aberdeen midfielder gifted the home team two goals in the opening 11 minutes.

But getting players to give their absolute all and making the national team hard to beat, as Kilmarnock certainly have been in the past couple of seasons, would be a definite step in the right direction.


The apathy towards Scotland of late has been alarming. Attendances, even in important qualification matches, have been poor. Those who have turned up have often, as was the case against Israel, Kazakhstan and San Marino games, booed their own players. Getting the crowd firmly behind the team would be beneficial if an ordinary international side is to satisfy their ambitions.


McLeish vehemently dismissed accusations that players withdrew from squads due to underlying issues with him during his reign. Whether that was the case or not will be seen in the months ahead. Whatever the reason, the number of call-offs and retirements was unhelpful.

Kris Boyd delayed his decision to hang up his boots because he was so impressed with Clarke during his time with Kilmarnock and his eagerness to work with his fellow Ayrshireman. Hopefully that will be the case with both senior professionals and aspiring hopefuls in the Scotland set-up going forward.


Faith in the SFA's judicial process is at an all-time low following another contentious ruling - the decision to let Rangers left back Jon Flanagan off following his elbow on Celtic captain Scott Brown in the Old Firm game at Ibrox - and in urgent need of an overhaul.

The Parkhead club described the episode as a "huge embarrassment for Scottish football" on Friday. Their city rivals were obviously satisfied with the outcome. But the fact the player was cited at all was not well received at Ibrox.

After all, the incident had been seen by referee Kevin Clancy and his assistants at the time and the defender yellow carded. Wasn't that the reason Alfredo Morelos didn't receive any retrospective punishment after the Glasgow derby match in December?

As Steve Clarke, who himself was given a two game touchline ban last week for comments made about a match official, has previously stated, it is a confusing and inconsistent system.

It needs simplified to regain the trust of Scottish managers, players and supporters.