he appointment of Gordon Strachan as Scotland manager was met with few dissenting voices. But if opposition was low, so too were expectations, with the former Celtic and Southampton boss expected to affect only minor improvement in a weak and demoralised side.
The motley crew he inherited had, after all, taken just two points from their opening four FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, and would go on endure the indignity of becoming the first European team officially eliminated from the race to Brazil. Nor was this fate altogether unfamiliar to a nation that has failed to reach each of the last eight major tournaments.
“If you take the likes of Wales and Sweden, I’d fancy our chances any day against those teams if they didn’t have [Gareth] Bale and [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic. With those two playing, it’s a different ball game altogether. Hopefully, in time, our clubs will start producing that kind of player. But because we don’t have a someone of that standard at the moment, we have to do everything as a group.”
For Strachan, who played in international teams with the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness – and was himself the last Scot to be voted England’s player of the year – the lowering of sights is unavoidable. Yet it is evident that he is nonetheless enjoying a job to which, already, he seems ideally fitted.
“If there’s anything I miss, it’s the day-to-day training ground stuff. But as the players will tell you, I make up for that when I meet them. I don’t have them for long, but as long as you use the time wisely – and the boys themselves are receptive – there’s still time to make an impact on them. We can only make a small difference in the time we have, but small changes can often make a huge difference to results.”
With a UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying campaign against, among others, Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland now looming, Strachan is hoping that the differences he has made – big and small – can help his team compete for a place in France.
He said: “Our opponents are starting to play now, so we’ll be able to have a real good look at them very soon. But we have a good idea already of what we’re up against. It’s a cracker of a group for all sorts of reasons, with the ‘derby’ against the Republic of Ireland, going up against a great Germany team and playing Poland in an absolutely magnificent stadium. There’s lots there to get excited about.”
For the first time in years, and thanks largely to Strachan, Scotland supporters feel exactly the same.