The 2018 World Cup recently became the tenth consecutive tournament in which Scotland will not participate. Despite draws with England at home and Slovenia away, with a win over Slovakia in-between, a third-place finish ended any hope of a play-off spot in the European qualifying zone.
As a consequence of this, it was confirmed on Thursday that Gordon Strachan had left his post as national team manager. Immediately, talk turned to who would succeed him in the role, with a few familiar names among those mentioned.
Malky Mackay will take temporary charge but, with a whole generation of teenagers having grown up without witnessing Scotland in a major finals, now is the time for the country’s footballing planners to think big. Or at least to think outside of the box.
The Scottish national team wants, nay needs, an improvement in results. But it also needs a long-term focus, a pathway from youth to senior level, and some semblance of tactical clarity going forward. Here, Football Whispers considers the candidates who could deliver progress in most, if not all, of these areas.
Of all the short-term options available to Scotland, Allardyce is perhaps the most qualified. Rarely has the Englishman done a specifically bad job at club level, and his best work, with Bolton Wanderers, was innovative in its own way.
While the football wasn’t spectacular, his use of data analysis, POMO (Position of Maximum Opportunity) and intelligence in the transfer market combined to form a highly effective team that threatened the Premier League hierarchy.
His brief time as England boss may have been blighted by controversy, but he won his one and only game in charge. And, with Scottish parents and a potential international chip on his shoulder, he could be more motivated than ever before.
If Scotland want to reach Euro 2020, an interview with Allardyce should be one of the first appointments the Scottish Football Association diarise in the coming weeks. But, if they want to overhaul the style of play and maximise the skilled young technicians coming through, he wouldn’t be the ideal choice.
Cathro’s only managerial spell thus far ended in ignominy. He lost half of his matches in charge of Heart of Midlothian, with his final game a 2-2 draw at home to second tier Dunfermline Athletic seeing the Edinburgh club eliminated early on in this season’s Scottish League Cup. He departed amid howls of derision from the Hearts faithful.
The wounds from that day are undoubtedly still raw, and the 31-year-old may need time to refocus and return to a head coaching position. However, only in the United Kingdom is there such a reactive mentality in judging managers, and it’s vital not to forget just how highly rated Cathro was prior to his Tynecastle sojourn.
He played a vital role in bringing through some of the finest young Scottish talent today, including Ryan Gauld and John Souttar, while at Dundee United in his early 20s. He then moved abroad to work with Nuno Espírito Santo at Rio Ave and Valencia, before assisting Steve McClaren and Rafael Benitez at Newcastle United.
Furthermore, while results at Hearts were poor, Cathro’s ideas were – in general – fairly clear. He promoted building from the back and fluid movement to enhance possession, and occasionally, the end product was highly entertaining. With his emphasis on youth and tactical approach, he’d be an intriguing strategic choice.
After leading PSV Eindhoven to the European Cup in 1988, and before he became known as an interim specialist with Chelsea, Hiddink was the international football guru.
He took South Korea to fourth place at the 2002 World Cup, then guided Australia to the second round of the 2006 edition, where they were eliminated by eventual winners Italy in controversial circumstances. Two years later he led Russia to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, overseeing a 3-1 win over budding tournament favourites Holland in the last eight.
Hiddink’s success in the international arena owes much to his tactical acumen. With Australia he made good use of a number of versatile players, including Tim Cahill, Scott Chipperfield and Luke Wilkshire, within a 3-4-3 shape. As Russia boss, his system allowed the full-backs Aleksandr Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov to bomb forward while Andrei Arshavin relished a relatively free role in attack.
His experience, adaptability and nous for constructing effective units from underperforming national squads are all traits that would suit Scotland, who are in need of fresh ideas.
Klinsmann’s reputation took a battering during his time as manager of the United States’ national team. His final year in charge saw the US lose as many competitive matches as they won, with defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica setting in motion an unsuccessful 2018 World Cup qualification bid.
However, it’s important to note that the German did lead the country to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup. He also enjoyed the second-highest win percentage of all USMNT managers. And, on top of that, it’s worth pointing out that, following his exit, the team won just three of their remaining eight 2018 qualifiers.
Before that, Klinsmann did a fine job as Germany’s national team boss. Following on from a dismal period that saw the country exit two consecutive European Championships at the group stage, he led them to the quarter-finals of their own World Cup in 2006, modernising the style of play along the way.
Some argue he is little more than a motivator. But, if that truly is all the only strength in his arsenal, he makes very good use of it. He certainly changed the German mentality, saying: “We tried to activate the players’ brains…to get them to say ‘I’m in the driving seat here.’”
Joachim Löw, the assistant then and manager now, was given much of the credit for altering Germany’s style. So perhaps Klinsmann would work best for Scotland in a similar setup with a young, less widely respected tactician – Cathro? – as his second-in-command?
Moyes’ name was understandably one of the first to crop up following Strachan’s departure. The 54-year-old was, prior to a chaotic last four years, one of the most respected managers in the Premier League thanks to a successful 11-year reign with Everton.
Short-lived spells at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland damaged his credibility, but he remains the outstanding Scottish candidate for the role of national team manager, especially if results remain the priority.
At Everton, Moyes built a highly functional side based around creativity in wide areas. They were a generally resolute outfit, albeit one that never truly made the leap from top half to top six. But he never eschewed giving youth a chance and his tactics worked without rocking the boat.
He would be the safe appointment for Scotland. However, it is valid to question whether he would stick with the job should his career be revived and a Premier League club come knocking once again.
One of the most depressing elements of Scotland’s latest glorious failure was that, frankly, it wasn’t that glorious. A tepid, conservative performance away to Slovenia meant Strachan’s side slunk out without much noise. It was the wrong way to lose.
In the eyes of most Scottish fans there’s nothing wrong with defensive football, so long as it gets results. This is the approach taken by Iceland and Northern Ireland in recent years. Both play fairly simple stuff in possession and are unafraid to go direct. Both operate with a compact defence and are difficult to break down. Both went to Euro 2016, and both could end up at the 2018 World Cup.
O’Neill, who lives in Edinburgh, has managed the latter since 2011 and has been responsible for a complete change in Northern Irish footballing fortunes. While previously they were capable of the occasional shock result, they are now a more consistent force. He has instilled a clear tactical identity and made the most out of the limited resources available.
Scotland have a proliferation of gifted technicians and fast forwards. These individuals, moulded into a cohesive unit alongside sturdier defensive players, could form an incisive counter-attacking side. The only uncertainty regards whether O’Neill would be keen on the job – he has little left to prove at international level, after all.
Ross is one of the most promising young managers in Scotland. Having led Hearts’ Under-20s at a time when much of the club’s young talent had already been promoted to the first team, he took his first managerial role at Alloa Athletic.
While unable to prevent the club’s relegation to the third tier, he steadied them, made them competitive in a cup tie with Celtic, and left them in second place before moving to St Mirren. There, after a dismal six-game losing streak to start, he took the Paisley side to seventh in the Scottish Championship last term.
After a strong start to 2017/18, the Buddies now sit top of the league, with six wins from eight games. That position is a testament to Ross’ ability to secure improved results, while his style of play also appears progressive.
He likes his full-backs to push high and the ball to be retained and utilised, with plenty of movement and combinations centrally. That could suit the likes of Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor.
Derek McInnes and Tommy Wright are the most obvious domestic candidates thanks to their exceptional work at Aberdeen and St Johnstone respectively, but if the SFA are focusing on the future the wiser call may be the younger, less renowned Ross.
There isn’t much further outside the box that Scotland could go than appointing Paulo Sousa as national team manager.
Firstly, his only real association with the country’s football is that he once partnered Paul Lambert in midfield as Borussia Dortmund beat Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final. Secondly, he has never managed internationally before. Thirdly, he’s not the sort of big name the fans might want. But he could have what it takes to make the most of the country’s current squad.
During his time with Fiorentina, Sousa earned a reputation for getting his team to play a certain way. They passed efficiently out from the back, progressing possession through the thirds through the use of triangles and combinations.
Also, he was consistently using the 3-4-2-1 system well before it became all the rage thanks to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea – he even inspired Brendan Rodgers to use it after leading Basel to a draw against Liverpool in the Champions League.
The Portuguese’s tactics would suit the growing number of ball-players available to Scotland right now, including Hearts centre-back Souttar and the Celtic contingent. He also has some experience in the UK, having managed both Swansea and Leicester City.