Friday, 18 October 2013

The Gordon Strachan Show of old was a real bummer: it should never be reprised

By Andy Ritchie

Those scrambling to join the Hallelujah Chorus regarding Scotland’s football revival should put their diaphragms on pause for a moment.
It’s time for two questions of the 64,000-dollar variety: is the national side really back with us as a serious consideration? And has Gordon Strachan learned from past mistakes?
First up, Strachan. I’ve never been a great lover of the wee man in the past. I found him irritating. Some of his TV performances suggested he’d become a cross between Les Dennis and Les Dawson.
But my bunnet comes off to him here. He’s turned Scotland around like he’s turned things around at other places. On Tuesday, we did what we’re good at. If there was a top ten of international teams who put in a shed-load of effort and make a lot of tackles, Scotland would be in that. So, if you start from that base, everything else is a positive.
A word of warning for Gordon, though: just don’t let it go back to how it was before; let’s not have a reprise of the Gordon Strachan Show, a demonstration of how smart he can be.
I think he should concentrate on what he’s doing, for he’s obviously doing something right. And, if we could see a bit less of him on TV, pontificating about matches all over the world, so much the better.
Has he changed? Well, he looks more moderate, less abrasive and sarcastic - although there was a version of that sarcasm in his pre-match interview with the Beeb's Jonathan Sutherland.
Who knows, maybe he’s realised that all the previous places he’s been at as manager have always ended in people being not particularly unhappy that he’s going out the door.
If I remember correctly, there was no great weeping and wailing at Celtic Park when he left. Coventry, Southampton and Middleborough were the same. Okay, he did well at Celtic but, towards the end, it was becoming like a watered down Kenny Dalglish show.
Maybe age has taught him to be more clever. I hope so. The fact that there are one or two steadying influences around him would have helped. I see Mark McGhee does a couple of the press conferences, Stuart McCall, too..
In a way, they’ve dividing to conquer. But the longer the press boys get someone sitting in front of them, something will tickle their fancy and they’ll ask a question that Gordon doesn’t like and gets a bit bristly with. And then it becomes a personal situation between him and the Press.
My message to him is to leave that behind. Bury the fractious past and concentrate on the future. A hopefully bright future. Maybe the international job will suit him a bit better because there’s a considerable amount of time between games and he finds time to regroup.
Remember if he gets himself right, Scotland can prosper. Unlike the Craig Levein era. In my opinion, that guy sucked the air, the energy and everything else out of the team. I bet he was watching Tuesday’s match through his fingers - aye, and probably behind the couch!
At least Strachan has restored all that oxygen and energy. There’s not a lot different to what was there before. Only really the two big central defenders, Grant Hanley and Russell Martin, and the wee wide boy (if you’ll forgive the terminology) Ikechi Anya.
Hanley and Martin do what it says on the tin. The big guy from Blackburn, I mean, you wouldn’t want to step on his toes, while the other looks as if he’s quite a decent reader of the game. He’s quietly effective. Impressively effective, even.
Getting rid of the Gary Caldwells and Co. has been an additional bonus. I never fancied him at all. He’s made a very healthy living out of football for someone I believe to be less than effective. He’s not a reader of the game like Martin, and he certainly isn’t as robust or unlikely to stand on ceremony as Hanley.
Towards the end of his spell with Scotland, I think someone had told him he could be the reincarnated Alan Hansen. He wanted to step out and try and play a wee bit. It was someone that had never been seen before and you wouldn’t want to see it again, either.
Scotland were well structured on Tuesday. It was back to the 4-4-2 gig, with a couple of people up front and midfield players trying to get into attacking positions. You know, when you see that kind of formation put up on the blackboard 20 minutes before kick-off, it makes a great psychological difference.
Never mind the Levein nonsense about playing without a centre-forward in Czechoslovakia. If ever one moment consigned him to the waste basket as an international manager, it must have been that one. It was all downhill after that.
Up front, Steve Naismith was fantastic. Bright. Alive. Energy plus. So, I would ask the question: will Steven Fletcher be welcomed back with open arms when the wee guy puts in performances like that?
Which brings me to another wee fella. Anya did it in Croatia and he did it again on Tuesday. He’s been a major, major find. When he’s on the ball, people expect - and I don’t mean people on the terracing. I mean other players are expecting things to happen.
Big Snodgrass is also a good player. Even as a youngster, he looked something.. Obviously, over the last few years, he’s got himself tuned in to the hard-working side of the game. He’s useful on the ball and looks a gallus bugger. And if he’s got to do it in a brutish way, he does it.
Scott Brown, meanwhile, was quiet but effective and that’s when he’s at his best. Did you see those dead eyes as Flower of Scotland was being sung? A football person would tell you that was him being focussed.
Now, sadly, we must return to the negative. Croatia are usually a gang rather than a fitba team. And during all the time they had trouble within their country, outwith football, that’s exactly what they were. A gang has solidarity. I mean, if they’d been Poles, Lech Walesa would have been their manager.
But there wasn’t too much evidence of solidarity on the night. Just take in their performance.
The manager offered his resignation after the game: that tells you everything you need to know. They turned up because they had to fulfil a fixture. And it showed.
There were a couple of times the wee boy Modric drew out of things. It was as if he was saying to himself: ‘If I go back to Real Madrid and tell them I got injured in a game like this…’
No, this was a pale shadow exercise on their part. Still, Scotland took up the gang theme, just like in days of old. The 1-0 result over there was fantastic. But Tuesday night was better in the respect that they were doing it in front of their ain folk. It was taking that big first step forward. Long may the progress continue.
I enjoyed the 90 minutes so much that I tuned into the BBC highlights show. Was that not a mistake! What about Craig Gordon and Pat Nevin, eh? Nevin was calling the Croatian players world class. He was doing it in his up and down voice, looking at the camera like a ruptured Frankie Howerd. There were lots of oohs and ahhs and licking of the lips as he made his profound statements.
Craig Gordon, meanwhile, is quite an articulate boy, but he looked as if he’d been dragged through a forest backwards. Was he modelling Guy Fawkes’ new gear for November? He sported a half beard and there were two or three spots on his face. Had he been out all night? Perhaps not. Perhaps this was just a trendy young man on the telly.
The serious point of all this is that they showed the game for about 22 minutes and there was about 20 minutes of them doing their punditry. If you didn't know where you were in time, you’d have thought Scotland had won the World Cup.
Hey, the national team looked as good as it has done for a long, long time and it just shows what a wee bit of spirit can do. But cautions applies here. As Karen Carpenter once sang: ‘We’ve only just begun…’

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