How Craig Levein got the Scotland job has always been something of a mystery. He’s been alright as a manager in domestic Scottish football, but flopped badly when he ventured down south to take over at Leicester (he made the mistake of bringing far too many players with him from Scotland, which was always a bad idea). He took over as Scotland boss after the horrendous George Burley era, which had been littered with mistakes, on and off the pitch. Burley didn’t do well at press conferences, and his team selections were even worse, so it was no surprise when he was punted.
Levein took over to general apathy, and although he won first his first game in charge, 1-0 over the Czech Republic, his second was a heavy defeat to Sweden in Stockholm. His first two competitive matches were hardly convincing either, as Scotland drew 0-0 with Lithuania before an embarrassing 2-1 victory over minnows Liechtenstein, which was only won in the 97th minute thanks to a last-gasp Stephen McManus header. He then came under fire for starting a match against the Czechs in Prague with a 4-6-0 formation, seemingly not interested in trying to win a game that would ultimately have a crucial impact on where Scotland would finish in their European Championships qualifying group.
Scotland lost that game 1-0, and Levein faced a hostile response from the press. Scotland were much better as they almost stunned reigning champions Spain at Hampden, coming back from 2-0 down to equalise before losing a late goal. The qualifying campaign would end up being a dismal failure, with Scotland picking up just 11 points, after winning just three games (the home tie against Lithuania, and both matches against Liechtenstein, with the away game being another thoroughly mediocre 1-0 victory).
But Levein seemed to get away with this failure lightly, with the media believing he needed more time to rebuild Scotland’s national team. In fairness this was probably true, as he had started to bring through younger players, but Scotland’s last game of the 2011/12 season was a horrifying 5-1 defeat against the USA in Jacksonville in May.
Scotland face a tough qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup, and a friendly against Australia was Levein’s last chance to work with his players ahead of the campaign starting in September. After selecting his squad last week, he refused to rule out picking Rangers players such as Lee Wallace and Ian Black, despite the club now playing in Division 3, the fourth tier of Scottish football. Speaking about Wallace he said, “It is very difficult for anyone playing in the Third Division in Scotland to be up to the speed of an international match. No way am I closing the door at all, I just think it is more difficult for Lee to get in now than it was previously.”
That sounds fair enough, but on Sunday, after several players withdrew, Levein called up Rangers midfielder Ian Black to the squad. Black has yet to play for Scotland, but was suddenly in the squad despite Levein’s words earlier in the week. On Monday, Levein’s assistant Peter Houston said “Ian Black had a tremendous season last year and he’s a quality football player. He has merited the call-up.”
On Tuesday Levein attempted to explain his decision to call up Black by stating he was there as back up only, but how did he suddenly get into the squad for the first time as a Division 3 player? Levein has claimed that “the standard in the Third Division isn’t akin to international football”, but it’s not like the SPL is of a high standard either, and it’s noticeable that of the players in the squad to face Australia only Black, Charlie Mulgrew and Andy Webster actually play in Scotland.
Craig Levein has backed himself into a corner here. While he says Lee Wallace and Ian Black aren’t first choices, what happens if they are the most in-form Scottish players in their position? The standard in Division 3 is obviously not high, but will he choose not to watch the Scottish players at Rangers in action and only call them up in an emergency?
The call up of Ian Black so soon after claiming it would be difficult for Rangers players to make the Scotland squad again seem to point towards Levein being out of his depth as Scotland manager. They have a tough qualifying campaign just around the corner, and anything other than a victory over Australia will put Levein under even more pressure to get off to a strong start next month.
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