Gordy shore: Strachan can stabilise Scotland

GORDON STRACHAN always insisted that he was not paid to manage Celtic; the salary was to deal with all the hassle that goes with the position.

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Gordon Strachan
Gordon Strachan

Whatever remuneration he will receive from the SFA after agreeing to be Craig Levein's successor, the same opinion will carry.

Verbal jousting with the media, interacting with supporters as well as managing expectation. In Strachan's opinion, it all just gets in the way of him doing what he is paid to do – coach players.

Despite the ability with which he can engage, either one-to-one, with a room full of journalists, or with a worldwide TV audience – he has kept busy since stepping down at Middlesbrough in 2010 by delivering his analytical and entertaining take on football as a pundit on ITV – it's not what gives him the biggest buzz.

That comes from improving players, which he believes he has done, admittedly, with differing degrees of success, wherever he has worked as a coach and manager.

Now comes the hard part – achieving this as national team boss where, by definition, you are working with already-proven players who belong to other managers and who you will have under your charge for only a few days at a time perhaps six times a year.

A club role, with the daily interaction with players you have selected, remains much more suited to Strachan's talents.

But he has never been a man with a plan. He has never attempted to plot the career path he will follow.

What happens next is always as much of a surprise to him as it is to those looking on. He has tried forward planning, and found his life does not work that way.

When he pitched up at Parkhead as Martin O'Neill's replacement in 2005, it was after 18 months out of the game following his decision to leave the hot seat at Southampton to enjoy a break from the life which had absorbed him for the previous 30 years as player then manager.

Out of courtesy and respect, Strachan had informed his employers he would stay in situ until the end of the season before honouring the promise he had made to wife Lesley to divorce himself from the game, travel the world with her, and take time to smell the flowers along the way.

However, that was not allowed to happen as news of his delayed departure leaked.

Strachan felt it was best for all concerned if he stepped down immediately, and his belief that you can't plan was further reinforced.

He had declined several opportunities to return to management before the offer to come to Glasgow arrived, explaining he wanted a different kind of challenge from the survival remit at Coventry and Southampton.

Strachan acknowledged that the challenge to replace the idolised O'Neill, manage a team that had to keep winning trophies despite slashing its budget, and win over a support which associated him most with an Aberdeen team which frequently got the better of Celtic, was certainly a bit different.

By the time he left Parkhead four years later, he had ticked most of the boxes, becoming the first manager since Jock Stein to win three consecutive titles and surpassed O'Neill's achievements in Europe by leading his rebuilt side to the last 16 of the Champions League.

As if to prove it was no fluke, he pulled off this particular feat two years running, only coming to the end of the Euro route when confronted by the formidable obstacles of AC Milan then Barcelona.

The fact it all ended on a low note in 2009 with the championship regained by Rangers and the European excursion cut painfully short by Aalborg is a regret, but it should not be allowed to cast a shadow.

Indeed, he was only there for that final season out of a sense of respect and duty.

His intention had been to depart at the end of his third season – he recognises the shelf life which exists in such a high-profile position.

But the untimely death of coach and close friend Tommy Burns convinced him he needed to hang around and avoid adding any more instability to a club in a state of mourning and flux.

It was a defining period in the career, and life, of a man who has experienced so much since first travelling as a callow youth from his parents' home in the tough Muirhouse area of Edinburgh to join the equally-tough environment of professional football in a Dundee dressing room filled with hardened journeymen.

Strachan has picked up so much knowledge along the way and insists having been boss of Celtic handed him the skill set to become anything he wanted – including Prime Minister.

How accurate he is with that self assessment will be put to the test now he has accepted what many perceive to be the poisoned chalice which is the Scotland manager's job.

He was damaged, but not permanently, by the experience of trying to bring Middlesbrough back from the Championship.

Strachan admits he underestimated how bad the situation actually was, years of over- paying under-achieving players having ingrained a greedy culture which proved impossible to dismantle while also achieving positive results.

Indeed, soon after taking the job, Strachan admitted getting promotion for Boro would be a bigger achievement than taking Celtic to the last 16.

Eventually, he did the honourable thing and resigned, waiving his right to the hefty pay-off his contract entitled him to claim.

Welcome confirmation that he had kept everything in perspective, and that during the difficult period he had lost his job but not his sense of humour, came a few months later in the most unlikely of settings.

His much-loved father, Jim, had lost his long fight against illness, and at the funeral service in Edinburgh, Strachan found the courage to get up and deliver a highly-personal tribute to a room full of friends and family.

The sombre mood was lifted when he turned to the minister conducting the service and said: "You are right, you know, when you say God works in mysterious ways. If I had not made so many bad decisions at Middlesbrough, I would not have lost my job and would not have had so much time to spend with my dad in his final few months."

That sense of humour and perspective will serve him well as he embarks on his mission to make Scotland proud once again.

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