Belfast Telegraph

Levein's days are numbered but who would replace him?

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

The Scottish Football Association has a decision to make. With Scotland bottom of Group A, and six hard games left, their chances of reaching the 2014 World Cup have gone already. They look unlikely to catch Macedonia or Wales, to say nothing of Belgium and Croatia in the top two spots.

So for how long should they stick with Craig Levein? This is the Scotland manager's second qualifying campaign, after his side missed out on a play-off place for Euro 2012. But after nearly three years in the role, there is a sense that this campaign is Levein's real test, and that any failure would be his to own.

It certainly looks like a failure. When Scotland saw their first three matches as Serbia and Macedonia at Hampden Park before a short trip to Cardiff, they must have hoped to stack up some points before going to Brussels. Instead, two toothless home draws were followed by two away defeats and now the campaign looks to be over.

Levein's players closed ranks on Tuesday night. "I would love him to stay," said midfielder James McArthur. "I think he's a brilliant manager. He has done everything right by the players. The players think he's very good and we are just unfortunate that we've not got the results."

"I feel he has set us up right in both games [against Wales and Belgium] and we've not done it on the park. It's down to us, totally."

However, the issue is that the next campaign will be different when 23 teams will qualify alongside France for Euro 2016. Countries of Scotland's calibre have a far greater chance.

It will be an excellent opportunity to reach their first tournament since 1998, and for whomever is in charge to take the plaudits.

There is a case for removing Levein now, allowing the new manager to impose his style and not waste valuable time 18 months from now.

That case, however, is only as strong as his potential replacement. It would only be worth giving the new man the next six qualifiers if he would make a meaningful improvement for next time. So the lack of candidates – and the potential reputational damage to the new manager of more World Cup qualifying defeats – might just stay the SFA's hand.

Gordon Strachan is available and the favourite. He left Middlesbrough two years ago today and, having been part of successful Scottish teams of the 1980s, would be a fairly popular improvement on Levein.

Beyond him, though, there are very few plausible options. Returns to the role for Alex McLeish or Walter Smith do not inspire enthusiasm. Joe Jordan was a very popular player and has been out of work since leaving Tottenham in the summer but it would be his first managerial role for 15 years.

There are some excellent younger Scottish managers working in England: Dougie Freedman, Derek McInnes and Malky Mackay in the Championship and, of course, David Moyes, Paul Lambert and Steve Clarke in the Premier League. But why would they leave their clubs to work for the SFA? Maybe the likeliest men are those recently let go by English clubs with even Steve Kean, after his tough time at Blackburn, among them.

Grasping the thistle: Leading contenders

Gordon Strachan 8-1

Certainly favourite with the fans, who held aloft a "Strachan SOS" banner on Tuesday.

Walter Smith 10-1

His previous reign as Scotland manager saw their Fifa ranking improve by 70 places

Owen Coyle 11-1

Sacked by Bolton last week just 10 games into the season.

Alex McLeish 14-1

Forced to resign as Blackburn Rovers manager after a poor start to the Championship this season, following relegation last term.

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