Craig Levein is currently riding a small wave of popularity after last week’s 3 -1 of Australia but for many Scotland supporters the jury is well and truly out in regards to his tenure as coach of the national team.
Last year’s Euro 2012 qualification campaign was dreadful in the extreme. Although we managed to push it to the last day Scotland only managed to record 2 wins against the mighty Liechtenstein, a home win and away draw against Lithuania and a home draw against the Czech Republic. Added to this we had the national embarrassment of playing against the Czech Republic with no strikers and his infamous ultra-defensive 4–6–0.
The friendly games have been only slightly more successful with credible wins against Denmark, Northern Ireland and Australia. But with equally soul destroying humpings against the USA and Sweden his record is mixed at best: Played – 20, Won – 10, Drawn – 3 and Lost – 7.
On his current record it is hard to understand why the SFA (Scottish Football Association) had the confidence to award him with a five and a half year deal.
His win percentage is 50 % in all games is also reflected in his competitive ratio of Played 8, Won 3, Drawn 2 and lost 3.
However it is not the underwhelming statistics that created doubt in the Scotland supporters minds but more his poor handling of several player problems in his short tenure.
Last week it was his erratic decisions in regards to Rangers players Lee Wallace and Ian Black which created a tsunami of criticism and forced grudging explanations from Levein and his right hand man Peter Houston. Levein then countered the media based assessments by banning the Daily Record from the following match press conference. An act which could be viewed as retaliatory broadside or a childish swipe.
All this pales into significance compared to the problem of Steven Fletcher and his exclusion from the national team. The ambiguity surrounding the Wolves strikers omission form recent squads is frustrating and confusing to the Scotland fans. Recent transfer speculation has seen Fletcher being valued at up to £15 million, an astronomical amount for a Scotland player even with consideration of the accepted British player premiums. Fletcher is a quality striker in the English Premier League and it could be argued the best British striker in a top 3 European league. Scotland can ill afford to discount such an asset.
The coach/player stand off seems to have been created from the exchange of several text messages (how 2006) in regards to previous team exclusion and involvement. Whatever happened in the past, now we have to grown men unable to pick up the phone; or even text to give the slightest inclination their feelings or concerns. Maybe neither want to lose face; maybe one or both need to grow up.
With the possibility of a potent attack of Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes backed up with an English based squad of more than competent players, Scotland have team of great potential. The likes of which we have not seen since the late 90’s. Unlike Burley or Vogts before Levein cannot use the old of excuse of player quality as although his team is not top quality they better than previous squads.
The World Cup qualification draw was not kind to Scotland which was not surprising considering our recent tumble down the rankings. On paper Croatia and Serbia are better teams with more skillful individuals but with a little luck and a capability to score goals we can realistically hope to win some points, especially at home.
Belgium maybe a bridge to far and they should top the group in a similar fashion to Spain in the last group. With players like Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne its hard to look past the Belgians.
In truth Wales and Macedonia are of a similar level to Scotland and if we cannot take points against these teams then all is probably lost. The first two games are both at home against Serbia then Macedonia and realistically if we do not win both of these games we can forget qualification and dispose of Levein at the same time.
However if Levein can smooth over his teething problems and realise his SFA considered potential he will be given the opportunity push for our first successful qualification since 1988.
However in order to this he must have the Steven Fletcher in attack and a country 100% behind him neither of which he has right now.