As a player, Gordon Strachan hated friendly matches so much he’d plead with Leeds United boss Howard Wilkinson to spare him the ordeal.
Such was his loathing of such fixtures, the Scotland boss revealed that he was sent off five times in challenge matches compared to only once in 867 competitive games.
However, he’ll be on his best behaviour at Easter Road tonight during Scotland’s controversial international match against Qatar, with his mother Catherine watching him take charge of the national side for the first time,
Mrs Strachan, he disclosed, has more or less steered clear of football, having only seen him in action “four or five times” since he was a kid because she got too nervous.
Tonight, though, she’ll make the short journey from her city home to join the 13,500 who have already bought tickets, leaving Strachan to admit: “I don’t want to embarrass my mum at the age of 58.”
As much as he disliked friendlies as a player, Strachan agreed he has to take a different approach as a manager, tonight’s game designed to sharpen his squad’s fitness ahead of the real action, next week’s crucial European Championship qualifying clash with the Republic of Ireland.
He said: “I hated friendlies. I think I got sent off five times and once in 867 competitive games. That was as a player. As a manager it was a wee bit different. You always try to experiment and see things.
“But as a player I just thought everything was wrong about it. There was an edge missing, the referees were usually local referees who got on my nerves. I didn’t like them. I actually said to Howard Wilkinson once, ‘Don’t take me to Italy, I’m just in one of those moods. I’m 36, I’ve played too many games’.
“Howard told me I had to go because the sponsors wanted me and Gary McAllister to be there. Thirty-six minutes I lasted and then I was off.”
So what caused him to be sent off five times and what for?
“I don’t know,” he said, “I just thought a lot of it was false. One sending off was for a kick. Someone was sly and I wasn’t so sly. It ended up with Sir Alex sending me to Nairn for a reserve game the next night for being so tricky.
“I got sent off in a reserve game against Dundee United when I was 15. There were twins called Jose and Sandy White, One played left winger and one played left back. One kicked me and I wasn’t sure which one it was so I just attacked both of them and got sent off.”
Given his dislike of friendlies, Strachan can accept some of his players will share that sentiment, but after a week’s training and the desire to feature in Dublin he believes there will be an edge to tonight’s game although he admitted he’ll be hoping they avoid any unnecessary risks.
He said: “The intensity of training says to me they will be fine. They can’t do any more than what they have been doing.
“But there might be something, a ball in the air in the middle of the park, and they might think, ‘I might go for it, naw maybe today I’ll no’. I’m all right with that. That can happen.
“There is a point where you go, ‘That’s not going to help me, diving into that tackle in the middle of the park.’ It’s different if it’s the 18-yard box. I saw a wee bit of that in the Gibraltar match when I said; ‘Listen, the worst thing to happen to us is to get somebody sent off.’
“What I don’t want is for the boys to think this is a trial match and go careering into tackles just for the sake of showing, ‘I’m trying really hard here’, that can be counterproductive.”
Having said that, Strachan described tonight’s opposition as “a reasonable physical side,” adding: “They played a 4-1-4-1 against Northern Ireland and they were stronger than I thought they were going to be.”
Some have questioned the wisdom of taking on a side well down the world rankings – this will be the first meeting between the nations – given Martin O’Neill’s side will warm-up for the showdown with Scotland by taking on England, but asked if such scenario wouldn’t be his choice, he replied: “I really don’t know.
“If somebody said you had to play Brazil or something like that you would be excited about the prospect. The result might be a problem, but I don’t think it will be, I think Ireland v England will be a close game.”
Although Scotland defeated the Republic at Celtic Park in November and are two points better off than the Irish in Group D, former Hoops winger Aiden McGeady has claimed they have the better players, an opinion with which Strachan has no quibble.
He said: “I don’t have a problem with that, it’s good that you back your players. If you look at the sides there are more from the Premier League in Aiden’s team.
“But I am comfortable with the players we’ve got. You have to remember that the players I’ve had have done incredibly well. After two-and-a-half years this is the best I have had.”