Comment: It feels like it may be the end for Gordon Strachan
Listening to him in the aftermath of the 2-2 draw in Ljubljana brought a wearying sense of familiarity. He rightly lauded the players’ efforts and said he was proud to be their manager. But it jarred when he reverted to a couple of Strachan tropes.
“We can’t change genetics,” he said, seemingly blaming biology for the concession of two Slovenia goals from set-pieces.
Those with a passing knowledge of his press conferences will be aware this is a favourite topic of Strachan’s, who went on to claim that our technique was fine, it was simply a case not being able to match Slovenia physically.
His flip comment that “maybe we need to get big women and men together and see what we can do” seemed a little off kilter. We are hardly a nation of pygmies and near neighbours Northern Ireland (pop: 1.8 million) seem to do pretty well with their squad.
There was also classic Strachan deflection tactics when asked about his own future. “I’m the last person I’m thinking about right now,” he said, before pointing out it was the players, their families and the backroom staff who were his priority at a time like this. Fair enough; he said similar when the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign fizzled out with a convincing but futile victory over Gibraltar in Faro.
But he rather laboured the point when he stressed that it should be noted that his squad were “doing it for nothing”. These players are all handsomely rewarded by their clubs to a degree that would have seemed unthinkable even ten years ago. Playing for Scotland should be an honour and a privilege and it hardly seems unfair that they are being denied even more financial reward.
So what happens now? We seem to have been stuck in this biennial autumn routine for decades now. The leaves turn brown and the Scotland national side have nothing to play for for the remainder of the season.
It’s worse this time because of the format changes to the next major tournament.
Qualifying proper for the next European Championship won’t begin until March 2019, 17 months from now. Uefa’s new Nations League will kick in before that, an unwieldy and complicated addition to the international calendar that will ultimately produce four of the qualifiers for Euro 2020. Will Strachan stick around for that? Will he be given the option?
Two years ago the SFA were anxious to keep him on board, despite the failure to qualify for the biggest ever, 24-team European Championship finals in France. It is hard to see them being as enthusiastic this time around.
With Hampden Park scheduled to host four Euro 2020 matches in a tournament that is to be spread across 13 countries the need to qualify would seem even more pressing. It would be unthinkable for us not to be there when some of the jamboree is taking place on our own doorstep.
The long period of inactivity might help make up Strachan’s mind. It looks an unappealing prospect, particularly given the rousing way he resuscitated Scotland’s qualifying prospects in the second half of this campaign. All that momentum seemed to disappear in the second half in Slovenia but it should be remembered that the squad finished strongly, picking up 14 points from a possible 18 from the final half dozen games.
But Strachan was fatally undone by the weak start – four points from the first 12 available – and in particular in the insipid 1-1 draw at home against Lithuania.
Much will be made in the coming days of his team selections and the bandwagon for Callum McGregor and John McGinn will continue to roll.
Ultimately, though, the SFA must find someone who can break this wretched cycle of failing to qualify for major tournaments.