NOEL WHELAN spent the early part of his playing career feasting on Gordon Strachan’s vast knowledge of the game and feels the SFA has pulled off a masterstroke in opting to make the Leeds legend take over the Scottish national team.
Whelan, now 38, came through the ranks as a young striker at a time when Strachan, the darling of Elland Road, was leading the Whites to the title in 1992. When Strachan left for Coventry City in 1995 to become player/assistant manager, he convinced boss Ron Atkinson to sign Whelan. The pair went on to have five years together at Highfield Road, which meant Whelan had spent the best part of the first decade of his career learning from the Scot.
As a result, he has no doubt his old mentor is the best man to try and end the Scottish malaise. “I think he’ll be a great appointment,” said Whelan, who had spells at Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Livingston. “I don’t think there’s anyone better than Gordon for Scotland to look to. He’s one of the most inspirational guys you could work with. You look at his playing career and his managerial career, and he’s been successful with both. He’s a man that the players will look up to and respect, without a doubt, and he’ll get the best out of the players at his disposal.
Strachan is known for being something of a joker, but, while acknowledging that he likes a laugh, Whelan is adamant that shouldn’t detract from his burning desire to be successful at everything he does.
“He’s very serious in what he does – he works hard and expects his players to work hard. He has a knack of getting the best out of players both individually and collectively and I think that’s important for any Scotland manager. Gordon’s been around a long time. He knows what he enjoyed as a player in training and what he needed to get out of training as a player so he will make it as enjoyable and light-hearted as possible for the players. It can be difficult for players making the transition from being with their club for so long to going away with their country during an international break, but I think Gordon will help make the transition easier.
“Most importantly, the players will know that they are there to win games. Gordon is a winner and he’ll want winners in his team. He likes people that work hard and he’ll expect results from his players.”
Whelan still recalls with great affection the way Strachan inspired the Leeds team of the early 90s. “I came through as a YTS player at Leeds and Gordon had come in from Manchester United at that time and helped take Leeds to another level,” he said. “He made everything tick, he was the one person who geed us up and gave us that extra spark.”
The possibility that Strachan could be assisted by fellow Leeds legend Gary McAllister merely reaffirms Whelan’s belief that Scotland are taking the right path on their road to redemption. Having also played with McAllister at Leeds and Coventry, he added: “If Gary comes on board, Scotland will have appointed two great, well-respected former Scotland internationalists. They know each other very well, and have been friends for years. You couldn’t pick two more respected professionals to manage Scotland.
“They are both big names who have played for and captained teams at the highest level, and they know what they’re talking about. Never mind being a young boy coming into the squad, even if I was an established international, I’d be licking my lips at the prospect of having Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister as my management team.
“It’s a mouthwatering prospect for the Scotland players and after hearing the news they’ll be desperate to get straight back into the mix.”