Michael O’Neill left the Scottish Football Association open to stinging criticism by rejecting the Scotland manager’s job. Yet Stewart Regan and the SFA board could redeem themselves by casting their net further and wider in the search for Gordon Strachan’s successor.
By hunting O’Neill, who led Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championship in 2016, the priority for the next national head coach seemed to be international experience. More specifically, the experience of qualifying for a tournament. The entire country craves an appearance at a major football finals having not had the pleasure since 1998.
O’Neill’s decision to stay with his home country forces the SFA to look for alternatives. Assuming the desire for international nous remains, the SFA must covet the best as the Tartan Army grow increasingly impatient. If necessary, put some of the severance money set aside to compensate Northern Ireland towards a more attractive wage package for the new man.
Scotland remain managerless 99 days since Strachan left office at Hampden Park. Friendlies have been arranged against Costa Rica, Hungary, Peru and Mexico – the last three away from home – but there is no-one in place to take charge of the team.
Fans won’t accept the governing body’s director of football, Malky Mackay, stepping in even as a stop-gap due to his background. It is surely time to be bold and brave.
Slaven Bilic, Jurgen Klinsmann and Laurent Blanc are all experienced international coaches of varying success. They are all unemployed and therefore available. Granted, their wage demands may still be outwith the SFA’s budget or they may prefer to focus on club football, but a phonecall would do no harm whatsoever.
Bilic, 49, below, will forever be remembered for six years in charge of Croatia between 2006 and 2012. He was sacked as West Ham United manager in November and has hinted that he would like to continue working in England. His achievements with his country are the pinnacle of his managerial career to date.
The Balkan nation topped their qualifying group to reach Euro 2008 ahead of England, Russia, Israel, Macedonia, Estonia, and Andorra. Home and away wins over the English sealed the fate of their manager, Steve McClaren.
Bilic was the youngest coach at Euro 2008 but Croatia won all three group games, beating finalists Germany. They were eliminated by Turkey in the quarter-finals. Bilic again led them to Euro 2012 before standing down after they failed to get through the group stage. He is still regarded as something of a national hero for reviving the national team during his tenure.
Klinsmann has managed Germany, and the United States of America at World Cup finals. The Germans reached the semi-finals as hosts in 2006 before defeat by eventual champions Italy, and Klinsmann steered the USA through the group phase in 2014 only to lose to Belgium in the knockout rounds. He is now 53 and would represent a major coup for the SFA if lured to Glasgow.
Blanc exited Paris Saint Germain in summer 2016 with a severance package of 22 million Euros. He has not worked since and won’t be motivated by money at the age of 52. He would be a hugely popular choice with the Tartan Army. He spent two years as national coach of France from 2010 to 2012, leading his country to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals before stepping down, so he also has the necessary background.
If the search must remain closer to home, two British names with international insight are Alex McLeish and Mark Hughes. Again, both are unemployed so there would be no need for the SFA to pay any severance. McLeish can claim the best win ratio of any Scotland manager in history. He won seven out of ten matches in 2007 after succeeding Walter Smith, and is still in the frame after O’Neill’s refusal.
Hughes recently lost his job at Stoke City but spent five years as Wales manager between 1999 and 2004. The country enjoyed a notable upturn in fortunes during that period. They finished second in their Euro 2004 qualifying group – beating Italy in Cardiff in the process – and were denied a place in the finals after losing to Russia in the play-offs.
Another man who straddles both camps of international knowledge and British experience is Dick Advocaat. Three times manager of the Netherlands, he also coached Russia, Belgium, Serbia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. However, he is now 70 and may be winding down at Sparta Rotterdam.
If the SFA are interested in names from left field without international roles on their CV, Roberto Di Matteo is a Champions League-winning manager out of work since being sacked by Aston Villa in 2016. An unlikely candidate to turn up at Hampden, but nonetheless a high-profile figure who has achieved the ultimate accolade in club football with Chelsea in 2012.
Many of the above are high-profile footballing figures who would doubtless take some persuading to manage Scotland. It must be hoped those in office at Hampden are currently doing due diligence in the wake of O’Neill’s decision.
“We now continue our recruitment process from the candidate list established by the selection committee, with a view to giving the new national coach ample time to prepare the squad for the UEFA Nations League,” said Regan in a statement.
Perhaps that selection list needs reviewing.