Former Blues boss, Alex McLeish, must have an impeccable agent. Last week, Big Eck was appointed as Scotland national boss for a second spell in charge, replacing the outgoing Gordon Strachan. Some 11 years after leaving the post for the first time, McLeish was the Scottish FA board’s unanimous choice, according to their official statement. However, that statement fails to mention that Northern Ireland boss, Michael O’Neill, was the Scottish FA’s prime target, but O’Neill opted to stay and agreed to a new long-term contract in Belfast.
The appointment has left many Scottish men and women distinctly nonplussed. In fact, lots of Scotland supporters still haven’t forgiven McLeish for walking out on the Scotland job to come to St. Andrew’s for a four-year spell. The 58-year-old’s turbulent spell with the Blues saw him lift the League Cup, before the cup-winning run left the squad out of steam in the closing stages of the season; this resulted in a heart-breaking relegation that the club has failed to recover from since.
Don’t forget, McLeish also left Blues in the lurch to join fiercest rivals, Aston Villa, in the summer of 2011. After resigning from the Blues job via email, he promptly agreed to take the reins at Villa Park, despite significant protestations from the Villa faithful. A dull 2011-12 campaign cost McLeish his job, with the board of directors citing a poor style of play. Since then, McLeish has led something of a nomadic managerial career, with a spell at Nottingham Forest, as well as brief stints in Belgium and Egypt with Genk and Zamalek, respectively.
It will be some time until McLeish takes charge of the team in a competitive match. The team’s first UEFA Nations League fixtures against Albania (10th September) and Israel (11th October) will be the first genuine look at a new-look Scotland. The team has friendlies with Costa Rica, Hungary, Peru and Mexico in the coming months, as sides use Scotland as a means of preparing to face some of the more battle-hardened European nations at this summer’s World Cup finals.
Unfortunately for McLeish and the Tartan Army, Scotland will have to sit and watch this summer’s finals from home. England are the sole qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup from the UK, and a largely fortuitous draw has cut England’s odds to make it out of the group and proceed into the knockout stage. A battling 2-2 draw in Slovenia put an end to Scotland and Gordon Strachan’s hopes of joining England in Russia. A win in Ljubljana would have earnt Scotland a place in the play-offs, where anything could have happened.
Whether Big Eck is the man for the rebuilding job and to plan for Euro 2020 qualification remains to be seen. There are certainly some promising signs for the nation to be hopeful about. Young Manchester United midfielder, Scott McTominay, has been earning rave reviews from Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho, who believes a call-up to the senior Scotland squad would be richly-deserved. Then there’s Celtic prodigy Jack Aitchison, who has already scored a senior goal, and attacking left back Tony Gallacher, who has already reportedly caught the eye of Catalan giants Barcelona.
The real worry for Scotland fans is how McLeish will handle such promising young talent. His pragmatic, rigid style of play is not known for allowing young players to express themselves with the shackles off. Unless he’s changed during his time in management overseas, we thoroughly expect the Scotland FA to be searching for a successor come the summer of 2020.