Levein and Scotland - It was never going to work - and why Owen Coyle is the man...

Scotland Football

When Craig Levein was finally relieved of his duties on Monday afternoon, it brought a sorry end to a relationship between Levein and Scotland that was realistically never going to work.

After three years barren of progression a line has been drawn under the saga and the recent work written off. Scottish FA Chief Executive, Stewart Regan said in a statement, 'Craig has achieved a great deal with the team. However, he would be the first to agree that football is a results-driven business.'

Succeeding George Burley, Levein entered the job in 2009 with a mixed reaction from Scottish football fans. Whilst some accepted he'd done a decent job at most of his previous jobs, the failure at Leicester City between 2004-2006 lingered. Besides that, a tendency to favour a negative style of football had been carved in to reputation.

Nevertheless his Scotland managerial career got off to a great start as they beat Czech Republic 1-0 in Levein's debut game. Sadly that standard of performance and result was not to be replicated as Scotland's results began to tail off, hitting an all time low with dour football on the menu.

To be fair to Levein, during the toughest times of his rein he was without the two best players available to him, though one he only had himself to blame for. Whilst Darren Fletcher's sudden mystery illness kept the midfielder out for nigh on a year and a half, the circumstances under which Steven Fletcher slipped up of International reckoning were much more dubious and petty.

After an argument between player and manager in 2010 Levein told the Sunderland striker that he'd never play for Scotland under his management again, a crucial error that hugely contributed to Levein's eventual downfall. Despite eventually swallowing his pride, recalling Steven Fletcher to the side for the final two games of his rein, it ultimately proved too little, too late.

Propping up the table in their World Cup Qualifying Group, with just two points from four games and only two goals scored across those fixtures, the perilous nature of Levein's position was intensified. When Wales beat their British Isle rivals 2-1 in October the writing was on the wall. It meant that only a win against table topping Belgium could possibly save the former Hearts manager, which alas, did not come.

All the same questions have to be asked whether the nations expectations are too high for the standard of players they produce. Despite Levein's tactical shortcomings, a drop in the standard of the SPL - further emphasised with Ranger's three tier demotion - has meant less players making the move from the SPL to bigger leagues as they are seen as being of a lesser standard than alternate leagues players.

Rewind thirty years and perhaps you could understand high expectations for the national side with the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Gemmill etc... all plying their trade for Europe's best sides. In this current squad Fletcher is the only one who plays for a team that consistently challenges for European titles, who even then would not now be classed as a regular for the Red Devils.

Whether it is a coincidence or not, Levein's time in charge has seen a rise in Scottish players playing regularly in the Premier League. Charlie Adam, James Morrison, Robert Snodgrass, Steven Naismith and Russell Martin, amongst others, all form key components of their respective sides, a far cry from three years ago. Can you credit Levein with this or was it simply the willpower of the players to succeed? Only they will know.

Levein also carries a modest, if not spectacular competitive record during his tenure, winning five out of fifteen ties. Though two of these were against Liechtenstein, the success against the Czech Republic showed the man is not completely clueless of tactical nous.

However the proof is in the pudding and with such a disappointing run of results, Scotland's FIFA ranking has dropped to 56, which sees the likes of Panama, The Cape Verde Islands and Libya all ranked higher. Is this a fair reflection on the current state of the national team? Sadly, yes.

The responsibility of salvaging the nation from the depths it currently lies in will be a tough one and many candidates have already been touted. Gordon Strachan has sat as bookies' favourite from the moment Levein was given the boot but his recent spell in charge of Middlesbrough was a disaster that wouldn't fill fans with confidence. Alex McCleish is another that failed at his previous club but has a proven record in his homeland both for club and country, so would fit the mould well perhaps.

My personal recommendation would be Owen Coyle however. Whether the SFA could afford him - or whether he'd even want the job - are all factors that would have to be considered, but he'd bring greater enthusiasm and expansive thinking to a side devoid of ideas. His last job was also a failure but he's a talented young manager who has demonstrated good man-management skills over his short managerial career.

With the qualifying campaign all but over already, there will be little pressure on the new incumbent's early results provided implementation of fresh new tactical ideas is evident, a situation that any top manager should be able to thrive on.

Levein is now gone, but the SFA must think carefully about his replacement if the country are to progress. Far from one of the better managers Scotland have ever had, but care must be taken to ensure continuation of recent disappointment is not replicated under the next man.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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