For more than two years now I have been an outspoken critic of current Scotland manager Craig Levein.
I do not believe that he is up to the job and I do not believe that Scotland stand any chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil while he remains in charge.
Levein first alienated me following the goalless draw with Lithuania in Kaunas in a Euro 2012 qualifying match in September 2010.
Having spent a large amount of time and money travelling to Kaunas for the game, I was in the stadium to watch Scotland put in a depressingly cagey performance during which they never looked like scoring against a side who offered absolutely nothing and who must have been delighted that the visitors’ negativity allowed them to plunder one of the easiest points they will ever pick up.
Levein reacted to dropping two priceless points by saying that he was “delighted with the players”, hinting that a draw at venues like these was a good result and defending his decision to leave out James McFadden by saying that his inclusion would have “opened the game up completely”, which he was “not prepared to do”.
The stage was now set for the most infamous and defining moment of Levein’s career to date.
Scotland’s 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague will forever be remembered as the day that the national side went on to the field of play without a single striker on the pitch. A 4-6-0 formation that Levein himself described as a ‘game plan not to lose a goal’ outraged fans and pundits alike.
Levein now appears to have decided that the best way to win football matches is by moving our best defender, Gary Caldwell, into a midfield berth that the player himself has openly admitted he doesn’t like occupying.
When asked by reporters after the game to explain the bizarre decision that resulted in such a pathetic showing, Levein responded by saying: “I was happy with it.”
Since then, he has continued to alienate fans with various inexplicable decisions. The main one, his stubborn refusal to pick £14 million striker Steven Fletcher, could yet prove to be his downfall.
While Fletcher sits at home, League One defender Gary MacKenzie makes the squad, despite the huge majority of Scotland having never heard of him.
The squad is slowly filling up with players who have the most tenuous links to Scotland: James Morrison, Matty Phillips, Matt Gilks, Jordan Rhodes, Kris Commons, Jamie Mackie, Russell Martin, Phil Bardsley, Craig Mackail-Smith and Danny Fox, to name but a few, are about as Scottish as Morris Dancing.
Levein’s persistent obsession with using the grandparent rule would be slightly more tolerable if any of these players actually added any genuine quality to the squad.
But with the possible exception of Rhodes, most Scotland fans are left asking why the likes of Sunderland front man Fletcher, Lee Wallace, Johnny Russell, James McArthur, Gary MacKay-Steven, Russell Anderson, McFadden and, until recently, Charlie Mulgrew are regularly overlooked in favour of mediocre players who weren’t good enough to get a game for the country of their birth.
And to top it all off, Levein now appears to have decided that the best way to win football matches is by moving our best defender, Gary Caldwell, into a midfield berth that the player himself has openly admitted he doesn’t like occupying.
Over the last three years, as he has consistently harped on about the progress being made, Scotland have slipped to 47th place in the world rankings – one spot lower than when he took over.
This is thanks, in part, to horrifying defeats like the 5-1 thrashing by USA and a 3-0 humbling against Sweden.
With Darren Fletcher a long-term absentee, McFadden and Craig Gordon currently without clubs, injuries to key players like Scott Brown, Mulgrew’s late withdrawal and doubts over the fitness of Christophe Berra, Scotland’s chances of starting the group with a win look slim at best.
But, if we are to take heart from anything, it is that Saturday’s opponents Serbia are on a run of form that is even worse than our own. They have lost six of their last nine international matches, winning only once.
They failed to reach the play-offs in the Euro 2012 qualifiers after finishing behind the same Estonia side that were thrashed 5-1 on aggregate by Republic of Ireland.
This, then, really could be a race to the bottom. Two poor sides lacking the confidence to attack and lacking the ability to make it count on the odd occasion that they do.
For this reason, I think a draw here is almost inevitable and this is the route I will be taking, rather than backing the Scots (3/2) or Serbia (9/5). At a price of 11/5, new customers to bwin who use their free £20 bet after registering to back this outcome stand to win £64 if successful.
This would not only represent a fantastic return for your wallet, it would represent a fantastic result for Scotland.
Under the current tutelage, it is as good as we can hope for.
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