Saturday interview with Steven Pressley: Scotland job doesn't mean I've hung up boots, insists Pressley

THE irony isn't lost on Steven Pressley, an important component in Scotland's backroom team, that the qualities of leadership, intelligence and professionalism which single him out as exceptionally well equipped for a future career in coaching may be viewed by some potential club managers as a deterrent to recruiting his services as a player.

A proud Scot, the former Rangers, Dundee United, Coventry, Hearts and Celtic defender could never have rejected a call from George Burley to help his country. Yet, as the 35-year-old centre-back seeks a new challenge when the transfer window opens next month, Pressley understands his involvement with the national team may not be considered a plus point by everyone. That's why this honourable footballer is anxious to re-assure any potential suitors he knows his place and would never presume to challenge any manager's authority.

After regaining match fitness during a sojourn with Randers in Denmark this autumn, Pressley is back home in Edinburgh considering his options. He's keen to emulate David Weir's example and play for as long as he can. "Getting the opportunity to take on the coaching position with Scotland, maybe in some people's minds that suggested I was looking to my future as a coach rather than as a player," he observed. "But I think for me to leave my family for four months and play abroad demonstrates to everyone just how much I want to keep on playing. It's been said to me many times over the years that you should play for as long as you possibly can. As long as I still feel I have something to offer as a professional, that's what I intend to do. After all, you're a long time retired."

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Enough of a pragmatist to understand there's no defined career pattern in professional sport, Pressley knows the road he wants to follow but is malleable enough not to rule out a divergent route. "In football it's very difficult to plan your future," he conceded. "For me to say to you I'm not going to go into coaching in the near future would not be entirely true. Right now, I'm unsure of what may happen next in my career. And it would be foolish to close any doors. What I can say is my priority is to continue playing. Anyone who doubted if my heart was still in it, then going to Denmark showed how I feel. Of course, I also have to consider what will motivate me. I don't want to take on a challenge which won't do that. All I can do is consider the options and what's best for me and my family.

"It's 100 per cent true that I've turned down offers (which combined playing and coaching] because I'm not sure I could do both to the best of my ability. One of the other problems I've had to confront, to be honest, stems from my involvement with Scotland. When I was offered a coaching position with the national team, it was something I couldn't turn down. For one so young, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about that aspect of the game.

"On the other hand, it's maybe been a slight hindrance in the respect that some managers could feel threatened by a senior player coming in who is currently involved in coaching Scotland. Anyone who knows the type of character I am would appreciate that I could never threaten a manager's position. It would be the furthest thing from my thoughts. I'll be going to a club solely to play football and nothing beyond that. I pride myself on my professionalism and know where the boundaries lie. I certainly won't cross those lines."

Of course, it's true Pressley did once deliver a notorious public challenge to the authority of Vladimir Romanov, the owner of Hearts, during his time at Tynecastle and paid for his concern with a terminated contract. Two years on from that fractious parting and the man who served the Gorgie club as captain for longer than anyone in its history apart from Bobby Parker has found a measure of resolution.

"I still have a huge emotional pull towards Hearts," he said. "It was an enormous part of my life at a great club where I had some fantastic times as a player. It was a big wrench when I left the club and a very emotional time. I was there for eight and a half years, many of them as captain.

"In my life as a footballer, many people would have seen my progression working out from player to coach to manager of Hearts. So it just goes to show you never know what's around the corner in football. The past will always be the past and I can only look to the future."

Understandably, Pressley was grateful to Gordon Strachan and Celtic, where he became the first player to win three Scottish Cup medals with three different clubs, for providing him with a safe haven after those turbulent times at Tynecastle. Still enjoying the use of the Glasgow club's training facilities, the defender will take a keen interest in today's meeting between his former employers at Celtic Park and the performances of the Scots who fill his former role at both clubs.

"I've always been an admirer of Christophe Berra ," Pressley recalled. "As a young lad coming through the ranks at Tynecastle, he was very raw, as you would expect. For me, he had all the attributes required to be a modern day centre-back. He's got pace in abundance, is aggressive in the air and is a decent reader of the game. I also like his attitude. Yes, there are some parts of his game which still need to improve. But he's progressed enormously and I'm delighted for him. He's grown into the role of Hearts' captain and handled that responsibility extremely well.

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"At Celtic, I always liked Gary Caldwell as a player and a great character in the respect that he's always there for the team. I felt he took a lot of unjust criticism at Celtic but no way did he hide. He was determined to prove the doubters wrong. He's versatile enough to play in front of the defence in midfield, but for me his best position is at centre-half.

"As for Stephen McManus, he's been in the side for three years and they've won the title three times. He's shouldered not only the pressure of being a Celtic player but also of being the club captain. That's an enormous burden and he's handled it brilliantly."

Born in Elgin but raised at Dalgety Bay in Fife, Pressley was spotted by Rangers at an early age and contended for a first team place at Ibrox in the early Nineties when Rangers were jousting with giants in the Champions League. He twice came off the bench in group matches but failed to persuade Walter Smith to pick him every week. He flitted to Coventry, returned to Dundee United and joined Hearts in 1998. A back injury eventually curtailed his involvement with Celtic and after his contract ended Pressley accepted a short term deal with Randers to hone his fitness. "I enjoyed my time in Denmark in terms of playing and taking on a new challenge, the freshness of facing different players. What made it difficult was that I have a young family and being away from them for four months wasn't ideal. But I always knew it was going to be for a short period. Randers had already signed a Swedish centre-half who couldn't join them until January. They required a stop-gap, shall we say, and that suited me because I needed an opportunity to regain a level of fitness."

As a player, Pressley maximised his own potential, so it's unsurprising he rejects complaints about declining standards. "I've always thought it was impossible to make comparisons when it comes to different eras in the game. A lot of people talk about the lack of quality today and hark back to the days of Jimmy Johnstone and Jim Baxter. It's not an argument I accept because the game is now played in a completely different manner. Football is so much quicker now, so many more countries around the world participate at a high level and there's a far greater emphasis on athleticism and power.

"As a nation, genetically, we don't really produce that many big, strong athletes. Not for a second does that mean we can't become a great footballing nation. But there's no doubt the game has moved in that direction."

With a World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands looming in March – the Dutch have won all their ties to date and lead the Scots by five points – Pressley is reflective about the rumblings surrounding the national team.

"There's been a degree of negativity and we're well aware the only way to bring the positivity back is to win games.

"We have a reasonably deep squad with some fine up and coming players and some good experienced ones. As a nation, I sometimes think we underestimate the level of talent we have. The future is positive and if we can get the right result in Holland we have every chance. Make no mistake, it's not beyond us to do that."