At the time of writing, it is almost 3 months since Gordon Strachan left his post as Scotland Manager after another failed attempt to qualify for a Major Tournament in October 2017. Since that point a small number of names and candidates have been mentioned with regard to potentially filling the vacant post, without very much progress being made.
Michael O’Neill has emerged as the favoured candidate of many and of the SFA after his work in taking Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 and the recent World Cup Playoffs. However, despite courting O’Neill for a few months and seeking formal talks, limited progress appears to have been made in securing his signature. An improved contract offer from the Northern Irish FA has also been tabled it is understood, perhaps at an attempt to fully prove that the grass is not greener elsewhere than the Emerald Isle.
Very few other candidates have emerged in the past few months, the main names mentioned represent good, solid club managers or unemployed managers keen to tout themselves for any employment opportunity. Of course, detailed interviews and discussions may highlight a master plan to take Scotland to qualification and prove that O’Neill or some of the other candidates are indeed the ideal choice, but from a fan’s perspective at the moment things seem bereft of inspiration.
One approach not yet mentioned is one that is potentially out of the box, or “progressive” – this would be hiring a female coach – namely Shelley Kerr (current Scotland Woman’s Team Coach) or indeed her predecessor Anna Signeul (the last Scotland Manager to take a team to a Major Finals).
Kerr in particular has a very impressive recent CV, taking charge of Youth Teams, Woman’s club sides (with some success) and most headline-grabbingly Stirling University Men’s Team in the Scottish lowland League – again with a fair degree of success. Signeul was in charge of Scotland for 12 years before leaving to take charge of Finland, culminating with the qualification for the Euro 2017 Finals in the Netherlands, with some other near misses along the way – but what is notable is the improvement and progression of the team over these years, evolving into a force to be reckoned with on the European and World stage.
Now, the above is not to suggest for a minute that either candidate would see the Scottish men’s side as a step up from their current roles (indeed, given the chances of success in their current jobs it may appear like the opposite), nor is it an indication of any divine right of the Men’s side to simply poach a successful manager from elsewhere. But it is a concept and option worth exploring.
Both coaches have spoken in the past about building competitive sides, before following this up with on field evidence. Innovative tactical structures have been employed to try and get the best out of the squads available and tailor tactical approaches to opponents and maximise the chances of success. This may all sound like general manager speak, rolled out by all football coaches and it may well be that, but there is substance to the hyperbole in this instance where issues have been apparent before.
Many pundits have dissected Scotland’s recent failings, citing the lack of quality players, the selection of the wrong players, the wrong tactics or overly pessimistic approaches to some games. The hiring of Kerr or Signeul would offer a refreshing change to this.
From a starting point, neither has been in and around the top level of the Men’s game for any length of time in order to build up a book of “favourites” or become overly reliant on certain players or tactical systems when things become more difficult. Similarly neither has any predetermined mentality for approaching certain games, for example against higher quality opponents where the tendency would be to start with a big lump of a striker rather than a more mobile and direct forward player.
Yes this lack of experience can be seen as a negative, but it could also be seen as a positive, a clean slate. Squads would be picked based purely on merit while tactics and formations would be selected to maximise success for those players. The successful track record of both managers (in both Women and Men’s games) would also breed a successful mindset within the National set up and inject some much needed positivity, as well as serving as a rocket up the backside to some players or squad members happy to turn up and float through in the knowledge that they have been a manager’s favourite.
If you look back through the history of football, success often follows innovation. Scotland at the moment are in a rut, reliant on trusted 4-5-1 formations with stereotypical players in defined positions. It is perhaps difficult to attract a top level manager from the Men’s game who could inject some innovation into this set up, pick different players to suit a different system.
But it may well be possible to pick a top quality manager from the Woman’s game to do just this. Tactical knowledge, ability to organise and motivate teams as well as game management skills and abilities are wholly evident in the track records of both Kerr and Signeul (as well as a whole list of other female coaches) so why not try to innovate and move in a different direction.
Yes, there will be detractors to this approach citing lack of top level experience in the Men’s game as above, outlining that the Men’s and Women’s games are different and non-transferable and of course a fair pinch of good old fashioned misogyny – if foreign coaches would be derided it is fair to say a female coach would face even more issues.
However, what the Scotland Men’s Team needs is a fresh start, a refreshing approach to team selection, tactics and the overall mentality of the side. With Kerr in charge of the Women’s team at present and Signeul recently departed from that role, the contact details of the most promising managerial candidates may already be in the SFA’s Rolodex.