Scotland – the second toughest job in football?

As Brian Glanville opined in his book on England managers, it is perhaps the toughest job in football. As the founders of the modern day association rules football, the English national team has a prestige and it is the manager’s job to protect this; to ensure that England remains at the top (or at least near to it) of the world game.

So what about the Scotland job? Arguably the co-creators of the game, and certainly the pioneers of a passing, team-centric game as has become the standard today, surely it is the Scotland manager’s job to ensure that they likewise remain as close to the top level of world football as is humanly possible?

It’s for this reason that I suggest it is the second toughest job in football. For all the failures that England experienced under Steve McClaren, most Scotland fans would probably have preferred his short-lived tenure to that of the two years spent under Bertie Vogts. And, calamitous as that time was, Bertie still had a better record in terms of win percentage than George Burley.

Since Craig Brown left the post after eight years, a European Championships appearance in 1996 and a place in the World Cup finals at France 98, Scotland have gone through four managers and appeared at none of the subsequent international tournaments since the 1998 finals. There have been highs, under Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, and the lows of course under Vogts and Burley. But it’s the inconsistency, and the pressure to reach a major finals for the first time in over a decade, which makes the job such a poisoned chalice.

The SFA announced today at their monthly board meeting that the search has now officially begun to find George Burley’s successor. The plan is to have a new man in charge before Euro 2012 qualification draw on February 7th of next year. Many men have been linked to the post since Burley was sacked on the 16th of November, profiled below.

John Collins & Jimmy Calderwood

Currently unemployed after half a season in Belgium with Charleroi, Collins was quick off the mark to announce his interest in the job, despite claiming that “it’s not for me to put my name forward”. Collins was one of Scotland’s best midfielders of the 1990s, enjoying spells at Hibs and Celtic in Scotland before becoming one of the few Scottish players to experience success abroad with Monaco and later played for both Everton and Fulham up until 2003 when he retired. After this he studied for his coaching badges and received his UEFA Pro License and in 2006 he was appointed manager of Hibernian, the club with whom he’d began his career.

Despite experiencing success during his fourteen-month spell at the club, including winning the 2007 CIS Insurance Cup – Hibs’ first piece of silverware in 16 years – his tenure was not without controversy. In fact his players went as far as arranging a meeting with Hibs chairman Rod Petrie in the hope of getting Collins removed from his manager post after a major bust-up between the players and Collins himself.

The coup was ultimately unsuccessful and Collins stayed with the club until December the following season, when he resigned with immediate effect. Following unsuccessful applications for both the Fulham and West Ham United jobs, Collins moved to Belgium in December 2008 and saved Charleroi from relegation before resigning that summer.

John Collins is without a doubt a favourite of many Scotland fans and few will forget his penalty against Brazil in the World Cup’s opening match in ’98 to level the scoring. But his short-lived time at Hibs proved that he still has a lot to learn regarding man management and taking that step up to international management would appear to be a step too far for a man who is still only 41-years-old.  An outsider’s bet but unlikely to be in the final running for the job.

Jimmy Calderwood, a vastly experienced manager also unemployed following his departure from Aberdeen last summer, began his coaching career in Holland before moving home to lead Dunfermline to the Scottish Cup final in 2004 and to a fourth-placed league position in that same season.

That summer Calderwood and his assistant Jimmy Nichol moved to Aberdeen and despite improving the club’s fortunes drastically on the pitch over the next five years, which saw Aberdeen never finish outside the top six and reach the last-32 of the UEFA Cup in 2008, they left the club by mutual consent on the 24th of May this year.

Jimmy Calderwood is a big character and well-respected within the Scottish game, he admits it would be a big honour to manage his national team and his experience of taking teams such as Dunfermline and Aberdeen, struggling when he took over, up the table and seeing them progress in cup competitions would certainly be viewed favourably by the SFA, who will be well aware that the national side is in need of being dragged up by their bootstraps. What he does perhaps lack is the fact that he’s not a ‘big’ name, and has never managed at a particular high level – Aberdeen probably being the biggest club he’s been at. While that shouldn’t necessarily count against him, it seems likely the SFA will prefer someone with experience of the Old Firm and/or management in England.

Csaba Laszlo

The current Hearts manager told the press that “if somebody comes to the club and asks for permission to discuss with me, we can discuss, definitely.” A massively popular character since he arrived at Hearts at the start of the 2008 season, Laszlo seems to be the most likely of all the foreign candidates to possibly get the nod, given his experience both at International level (with Uganda as team boss and as part of Lothar Matthaus’ backroom staff during the German’s tenure as Hungary coach) and in Scotland. Laszlo led Hearts to third place last season and won the manager of the year award, an impressive feat considering the general lack of success of foreign managers in Scotland, and at Hearts in particular.

Laszlo has said that he understands the necessity for the Scotland manager to understand Scottish mentality and his 18 months in Scotland should go a long way to his present understanding. He has also worked with a number of the quality youngsters coming through at Hearts and could help convince Andrew Driver, currently of Hearts, to switch his allegiance from England to Scotland. A popular figure with the Scottish media, Laszlo again seems to be the most qualified of all the foreigners putting their names forward, putting him ahead the likes of Dan Petrescu and Marco Van Basten, also rumoured to be interested. But there is a keeness to avoid a repeat of the Vogts-era and that could end any chances of seeing another foreign manager in charge of Scotland, at least this time around, despite the present successes witnessed both with England and the Republic of Ireland.

Craig Levein

The bookies’ favourite, the fans’ favourite (unless you’re a Dundee United fan), everybody’s favourite in fact. Craig Levein represents exactly what the SFA should be looking for; a young, enthusiastic and talented manager with a real pedigree of surpassing all expectations. Levein started out his coaching career at Cowdenbeath before moving to Hearts, where his talents started to become clear. He uncovered rough diamonds such as Craig Gordon and Andy Webster, and provided a real Scottish backbone to his Hearts side, in both Paul Hartley and Steven Pressley.

During his time at Hearts he led them to two successive third placed finishes and had perhaps his finest hour in the UEFA Cup when his side won 1-0 in Bordeaux in the second round of the 2003/04 UEFA Cup, despite losing 2-0 in the subsequent home leg. In October 2004 Levein joined Championship side Leicester City, where he once again formed a nucleus of Scottish players including Rab Douglas and Stephen Hughes. His time at Leicester didn’t last long however, and after a poor start to the 2005/06 season he was sacked.

Levein returned to Scotland and had a short spell at Raith Rovers before he was appointed Dundee United manager in October 2006. So valued to the club he was made director of football as well as manager in 2008. This season he has already lead his Dundee United side to fourth in the league, just four points off of Celtic with a game in hand and inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the current league leaders just over one week ago. This feat helped him achieve the Manager of The Month award for November 2009.

Levein seems to be the obvious choice for the job, but it’s far from an easy decision for Levein himself. He’s reluctant to talk about the job, or any links he may have to it, out of respect for Dundee United, and it would be a massive wrench for him to leave in a season where it seems conceivable that the Old Firm could be toppled for the first time in more than two decades. If a compromise could be reached to allow Levein to stay on at United until the season’s end then perhaps a deal could be reached, but it depends just how much the SFA may or may not want him.


More people seem to have ruled themselves out of the job compared to those interested. Graeme Souness, Walter Smith, Gordon Strachan, John Hughes and Jim Jefferies have all effectively said no, but at least twenty applicants have reportedly put their name forward for the job. Whoever the successful applicant will end up being, whether it be Collins or Calderwood, Laszlo or Levein, the job facing them is monumental. A proud, yet small, footballing nation with past pedigree at World Cup level (even if they never have made it past the first round) and a side that as little as two years ago were ranked as the 13th best in the world (and have now fallen to 46th). Scotland are a side in turmoil and are in need of a serious kick up the arse among other things.

Would anyone disagree that it may very well be the second toughest job in football?

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  1. Gary 4 December, 2009
  2. Richard 4 December, 2009
  3. Alan Worrall 5 December, 2009