International Men of Mystery

A new dawn, a new period of positivity and a new focus.

That’s what Alex McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager should have brought to the party  and, with a friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary coming up, some of that new hope has been realised.

His newly assembled staff of Peter Grant, James McFadden and Stevie Woods brings a freshness to the dressing room – new voices, new ideas, new fortes etc etc etc.

Six new faces in his first squad also adds to that feeling of evolution from the disappointment and failure of Gordon Strachan’s reign.

But, given the timing of these low profile, low expectation friendlies he could have been even more adventurous with his first squad selection and included boys like John Souttar and Lewis Morgan.

After all, the result of two bounce games in the next fortnight will not be the defining moment of Big Eck’s second coming – that will arrive in the shape of whether or not he can help us qualify for Euro 2020.

He won’t get too many more free throws of the dice to trial players, formations and tactics between now and the real stuff starting in September. End of season games against Peru and Mexico will give him some more time but he should be aware of the players he will be asking to lead the charge by then.

With that in mind is he really going to learn anything about guys like Charlie Mulgrew, Grant Hanley, Russel Martin, Matt Ritchie and Matt Philips that we don’t already know?

Are boys like Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson going to benefit from being part of a squad when they are highly unlikely to start given their game time already this season?

Sure, Alex needs to pick a squad to cover call-offs so the inclusion of additional players is required. I’d have preferred those players to have come from the Under-21s.

If we are truly going to develop a group of players to compete on a regular basis over the next decade then we need to look at getting as many 20 to 24 year-olds into the squad now and drop the older players who have had their chance to deliver and failed.

That might sound harsh but if we are really going to progress we need to act now.

Even if we don’t qualify for 2020 we must learn from the campaign and be in better shape for the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. That is common sense.

Step by step we need to get closer to qualifying for major competitions and once we finally do manage that for the first time since 1998 we want to have created a formula that allows us to do it on a regular basis.

Friendlies like the ones coming up should be in the diary to blood the next crop of emerging talent to the national team and hopefully Alex McLeish will start boys like Scott McKenna, Ryan Christie, Dylan McGeouch, Scott McTominay and Oli McBurnie.

To simply have them along for the ride without significant minutes on the pitch would be a real waste of an opportunity.

The manager should have a real understanding of what those players can offer him and they shouldn’t be an unknown quantity ahead of the Euro 2020 campaign starting.

The Gaffer..

Billy McNeill. Gordon McQueen. Jimmy Bone (twice). David Provan. Michael Oliver. Billy McLaren (twice). Tommy Gemmell. Tom Spence. Rowan Alexander/Mark Shanks. Tommy Bryce. John Lambie. John Connolly. John McVeigh.

14 men with one thing in common – they all managed me during my playing career.

And, the point is, that is probably ALL they had in common.

Football management is not prescribed and there is no magic formula out there that guarantees results for the man in the dugout. There is literally no Sat-Nav to success.

Sure, coaching courses and seminars can provide guidance to budding gaffers but it is ultimately down to the individual to come up with his own route to eminence.

What works for one guy might not work for another and vice-versa. Management is about what works for YOU. End of.

Were all of my managers the same? No. Did they all have the same technical and tactical aptitude? No. And, did they all have the same man-management styles? Definitely not.

Some were more concerned with coaching and camaraderie while others majored on fitness and formations.

The bottom line is that success will always be relative and governed by a number of factors including; the quality of players recruited and the identification of a formation to suit them, the group’s understanding of the shape and strategy, the physical ability for the players to perform, the desire of the squad to execute that strategy, and the belief of those players in the guy who is asking them all to do all of the above.

Get those factors right and you won’t be too far away.

It is not a science – and that applies to any team in any workplace.

On the same night last week that the news of Alex McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager was breaking I was having dinner with a good friend who has been hugely successful in business.

We had chatted about his experiences of building a business, managing employees and putting together a board of directors.

He emphasised about NOT needing to have everyone in your team on board with your vision and views but, to have any chance of success, you MUST have the majority.

Football dressing rooms are no different.

It is impossible for every player in a squad to be happy with the manager because some of them don’t get picked. But, those who are selected can influence them.

They can ultimately change the behaviour of any doubters or dissenters very quickly and, if that happens, everyone at the club can benefit.

Look at what Brendan Rodgers has achieved at Celtic in his 20 months in charge?

You NEVER hear publicly about players being unhappy about being left out of the team. That doesn’t mean that they are not unhappy – they just know that they need to work harder to get back into the side and hold onto the jersey when they get that opportunity.

The one thing that has never changed about managers is that they dictate what standards are acceptable at their football club. That’s their bag.

From the way the players behave at the club and out with it’s confines to the way they apply themselves in training and in games the gaffer alone calls the shots.

He is THE most important person at the football club and everything else derives from how well he does his job.

Attendances, sponsorship deals, media coverage, marketing opportunities and other revenue streams are all affected by how the manager performs.

Quite simply if you get it right on the pitch you should reap the rewards off of it.