Here we are again – a campaign over before it has really begun. The easiest finals tournament to qualify for in history and once again it appears that Scotland will not be at the party.
After the SFA released ticket prices that were fair and reasonable for the 2020 campaign and with the Nations League group win fresh in the memory (albeit against Albania and Israel) it looked like things were turning better. Only for the first two matches of Group I to bring us back to reality of what a mistake it was to reappoint Alex McLeish after Gordon Strachan’s contract was not renewed.
The SFA board went for the easy option by appointing McLeish – a manager who had been out of the game for a few years. His managerial stints immediately before that hiatus had been short lived and largely disappointing. SFA President Alan McRae as much as said they were personal friends after he had organised McLeish’s testimonial dinner. It was an old pals act. Cronyism that is familiar throughout the SFA. It seems to take 10 board meetings for them to decide who puts the kettle on and this antiquated structure makes a Chief Executive look toothless and powerless. Such a shame after the promise of Ian Maxwell’s appointment. How long will he stay around when he knows he has no power over the blazers?
Back to McLeish. He was a wonderful Scotland player and he was a successful manager during his first stint in charge. The game has moved on immeasurably since he walked out on Scotland in 2007. Time does not appear to have been kind to him in the 12 intervening years and his methods look prehistoric. Since he was appointed in 2018, more and more players are pulling out of his squads. Whatever faults previous managers had, there at least looked to be better unity behind the scenes.
Any remote chance we have of salvaging this campaign needs to see change happen now. We can’t afford to take the risk of having McLeish in charge for the June matches against Cyprus and Belgium. If pundits think the atmosphere in San Marino was toxic then just imagine a half full Hampden against Cyprus in June. We can’t laud the Nations League group win (Albania and Israel) and entrust him to pick the teams for those play offs. The position we could be in by then makes the support shudder.
Let’s return to the fair and reasonable ticket prices the SFA released. This must have been on the back of an expectation that we’d be in a stronger position after the opening two matches. Indeed, season ticket sales exceeded sales for the 2018 qualifying campaign. These will now be a tough sell for every match. Money is a big driver to the SFA board. Replacing McLeish now could invigorate the fan base and give us just a bit of hope. Increased sales would allow financially for McLeish to be put on gardening leave while his successor takes the reigns.
And for the successor, don’t let the board get anywhere near that appointment. Empower the Chief Exec and the Performance Director to make the decisions that count. Failure to get this right will multiply tenfold the chanting against the board in June compared to what was seen in Serravalle.