Some things in football defy satisfactory explanation. Top of that list is Alex McLeish’s Rangers winning a treble against Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in 2002-03. I know they were financially doped, as Michel Platini would put it, and I know we had the whole Seville thing going on that season, but Celtic were clearly the stronger side.
A gulf between the sides opened the following season, wider-still than the enormous talent of The Swede, but we were left to ponder what went wrong in the final weeks of season 2004-05 as Celtic an unfit looking Celtic were pipped, again, by McLeish.
During that period, he won everything he got close to.
Subsequent years have not been kind to the reputation of either McLeish or O’Neill. But whereas Martin got Ireland to Euro 2016, McLeish bumped around from one Birmingham failure to another. He had to go to Egypt to get a job, but was sacked after two months of dismal failure. Surely a gig in the amateur game would follow?
Exactly! Where else is more amateur than the SFA. What was not good enough for Zamalek SC was perfect for the Scotland national team. We all knew McLeish was a busted flush, but the sheer level of amateurism at the SFA led to Michael O’Neill being courted, then publicly rebuffing the SFA due to their (cough) amateurism.
The problem with all of this is when people at the top stop caring, the apathy percolates down to you and me. We are no longer engaged with international football as fans. That ship has sailed and may never return. I love the World Cup and the Euros, but I don’t support anyone. I plan things to do during the autumn and spring international breaks, they are a welcome space in the calendar.
None of this is Alex McLeish’ fault. He’s just a coach caught miles out of his depth, who built a career on figuring out that playing three up against Celtic’s tanker-ship back three was the way to go.
I would shutter the SFA and Hampden in a minute. They played an important role for a century but neither is fit for the purposes of the game in Scotland. The SFA only came into being because of geography. Rail travel was not good enough for Queens Park to fulfil fixtures. If the transport routes between Glasgow and the East Midlands were better, Queens would never have taken the initiative to form a local association.
Football is now a pan-national sport and business. If you were to re-imagine appropriate structures from scratch, they would not look anything like the SFA. We have jets and the M74. Admit we have moved on and join the FA.