Scots must axe Levein and embrace power of positive thinking

Posted by Iain Macintosh

Scotland manager Craig Levein has broken the will of the nationGettyImagesScotland manager Craig Levein has broken the will of the nation

Craig Levein is surely doomed. Scotland's 2-0 defeat to Belgium -- and let's be honest, it should have been five or six -- has almost certainly ended their World Cup qualifying bid.

Though a number of players have defended their beleaguered manager in interviews, this is just what sensible players do in the face of sluggish bureaucracy. When Levein finally goes and the new man arrives, expect a flood of "The mood has changed, we're so much more positive now!" quotes from those same faces.

Almost everyone who has had the misfortune of watching Scotland play recently has pointed Levein to the exit. With a long break until the next competitive game, it's the perfect time to bring the axe down on this inglorious reign.

- Rae: Levein backed by players but not by nation

Levein has complained bitterly about the refereeing decisions that led to Scotland's 2-1 defeat to Wales last week, but with the greatest respect, a win over Chris Coleman's disintegrating Welsh side was never going to prove anything. Before their meeting with Scotland, Wales had lost to Costa Rica, Mexico, Bosnia, Belgium and, with startling incompetence, Serbia. Even if Levein had masterminded his men to a 1-0 victory over this deeply troubled minnow, it would have changed nothing.

For Scottish fans (a point: I may have the Scottish name and ancestry, but I was born and raised in Essex, so count myself English), it's not the results that are causing consternation as much as the performances. Scotland are so defensive that they're actually quite depressing to watch. If you're going to lose, argue some supporters, you may as well go down fighting.

Levein will be forever damned by that 4-6-0 formation he used against the Czech Republic in 2010, a shape that worked perfectly well for Spain during last summer's European championship, but there's more to it than numbers. Scotland don't play with brave hearts, they hide away like wee sleek, cowering, timorous beasties.

It's perfectly acceptable to sit deep and try to hold out against Belgium, but if you're going to do that against everyone, you have to win occasionally. Levein's caution has brought only three competitive victories, one against Lithuania and two against Lichtenstein. And one of those Lichtenstein games required a 97th-minute winner. Granted, the standard of players available to the Scottish manager has dropped dramatically since their run of five consecutive World Cup qualifications from 1974 to 1990, but crikey.

Mind you, the list of potential replacements isn't exactly weighed down with stardust either. When you remove the candidates who have already had the job in the past, like Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, you get a shortlist that mixes the mediocre with the wild long shots. Gordon Strachan leads the way, in spite of his disappointing failure at Middlesbrough and his apparent reluctance to chase any other vacancies since.

Joe Jordan, a man so hard that he once shrugged off a headbutt from Gennaro Gattuso, is up there after he lost his job at Tottenham with Harry Redknapp. Even former Blackburn boss Steve Kean is 25-1 with some bookmakers, which would be amusing if nothing else.

One outside option is Kenny Dalglish. For all the criticism of his second spell at Liverpool, he won one trophy and only narrowly missed out on a second. At international level, he won't be able to spend any money, so there's no chance of Andy Carroll or Stewart Downing rocking up in exchange for North Sea oil rights and the Stone of Scone. He's respected by the players, he plays a better standard of football than Levein and he's a good figurehead for a floundering team to get behind.

Sadly, even Sir Alex Ferguson himself would struggle to take Scotland to a World Cup. The problems in the national game are just too ingrained to be resolved quickly. Some players blame the standard of coaching. Some coaches blame the standard of players. Some blame the way the dominance of the Old Firm has strangled interest in the domestic league. Others think that kids are too busy playing computer games instead of going outside to play proper ones.

Whoever the next Scottish manager is, he won't win many games. But all the Scottish fans want is someone who will try.

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