SFA have taken a huge gamble keeping Strachan

By Stephen McGowan…from Scottish Daily Mail.

THE Scottish FA made two announcements on Thursday. One punished Joey Barton for betting on football. The other took an almighty punt on the future of Scotland’s national team.

It’s four years since the board of the governing body donned black caps and passed judgment on Craig Levein.

In a statement laden with platitudes Chief Executive Stewart Regan expressed sadness and regret at the decision.

But after four games of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers the national team were bottom of their qualifying group.

And Levein, said Regan, ‘would be the first to agree that football is a results-driven business.’

Forgive the confusion, then, at the rather different message emanating from Hampden’s sixth floor on Thursday.

Under Craig Levein results might have mattered.

But under Gordon Strachan it seems the nation’s obsession with winning football games has suddenly become unreasonable.

Scotland’s national team are fifth in their World Cup qualifying group with four points. A better tally than Levein, perhaps. But four years ago Malta were in a different group.

If the SFA really feel football is a ‘results-driven business’, then, Scotland should now be seeking a new manager. Climbing back on the cycle of failure and pedalling for dear life to catch up with Lithuania and Slovenia as they thank Gordon Strachan for his efforts

Back in the day there *were* one or two results to be thankful for.

An epic win over Republic of Ireland in a Euro 2016 qualifier two years ago was never pretty. But it was dogged. And Scotland were hard to beat.

In contrast the last two years have witnessed just three wins in competitive internationals. Two were against Gibraltar. One against Malta.

Expectations have tumbled off a cliff. They’ve fallen so far, losing games is now met with a shrug.

The *bigger picture* is what matters now. Losing is now less important than *how* Scotland lose.

So it was, then, that a 3–0 defeat to England at Wembley ushered in a week of clutching at straws.

Missed chances and poor defending became grounds for hope rather than negatives. Competing with an underwhelming England side brought enough talk of jam tomorrow to shut down foodbanks.

Listen, Scotland *were* better in London.

Neither can anyone deny that Gordon Strachan has a poor deck of cards to deal from. He is not to blame for 20 years of failure.

Scottish football has deep, systemic, structural issues.

The governing body are seeking their third performance director in five years. The under-21 team have failed in their last eleven qualifying campaigns. And the national football team can’t muster a central defender big enough or ugly enough to fill a number five shirt.

Yet much of this could also be said two years ago.

And back then the current management team *were* getting performances and results from a team featuring Grant Hanley. They don’t now.

The success of neighbours is a painful business. And the immaculate lawns of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales do Gordon Strachan few favours.

Across Europe small, comparable nations are getting big results.

Granted, Strachan has no Gareth Bale. Barely even a Gareth McAuley.

But three years ago the streets of Belfast and Dublin were rife with fatalism. There was no point changing the manager. Not, they said, when the players were no use.

Oddly, they don’t think that now.

In Thursday’s statement the SFA said the decision to retain Gordon Strachan was ‘unanimous.’ It wasn’t at first. Some on the board wanted answers and, like a scene from the Apprentice, Strachan was forced to give the pitch of his life.

Football’s graveyards are littered with the corpses of managers who thought one more game could have turned things around.

Strachan believes Scotland can still use Slovenia in March as a launchpad to challenge for second place in Group F – and it’s his last throw of the dice.

But the Scots nation at large remain unconvinced. And the crowd for the Slovenia game will show it.

Within the SFA key figures seem almost in thrall of their manager and, while there is much to admire and respect in Gordon Strachan, granting a new two year contract – with no break clause – after the failure to reach Euro 2016 now looks a costly, indefensible decision.

Call it a leap of faith. A reluctance to pay him off. Or an act of craven boardroom cowardice.

However you paint it the SFA have taken a hell of a gamble letting Gordon Strachan stay on. And as Joey Barton can testify, that’s not always the smartest of moves.