By Ewan McQueenFollow @JfGpodcasts
After disappointing draws draws at home to Serbia and Macedonia, Craig Levein faces a hugely important match on Friday as his Scotland team take on Wales on Friday in a match from which all three points are needed if they are to keep their hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup alive.
The pressure is mounting on the national team boss after his side’s disastrous start to the campaign and anything less than a victory at the Cardiff City Stadium will see an increase in calls for Levein to go from the Tartan Army.
Scotland fans have regularly voiced their disgust at Levein’s negative tactics, poor results and his stubbornness to not pick the right players in the starting line-up and, most recently, the team were booed off against Macedonia in September after an embarrassing performance in which they came from behind to salvage a 1-1 draw at Hampden, in front of a paltry crowd of 32,430.
Levein could well find himself out of a job if at least one win isn’t garnered from the upcoming double header against Wales and Belgium.
So are Scotland on the up under Craig Levein? The simple answer for many is no and when you look at the stats, it’s hard to argue with that point of view.
Since taking charge of the national side in December 2009, the Scotland coach’s overall record stands at ten wins, five draws and seven losses from 22 games played. At a first glance, that doesn’t look too bad.
Breaking it down though and you find out that only three of those ten wins came in competitive matches, with those victories coming against the footballing minnows of Liechtenstein (twice) and Lithuania during the Euro 2012 campaign.
When Levein was appointed manager almost three years ago, there was a general feeling in Scotland that the right man had been appointed. He had enjoyed a successful time in charge of Dundee United – leading them to two successive fifth place finishes in the SPL – as well as leading them away from relegation in his first season in charge.
The former defender also had a fruitful spell at Hearts some years earlier, where he delivered two consecutive third place finishes, consequently becoming the first Jambos boss to lead the side into Europe for two years running since the 1960s.
However, a lot of that initial optimism has been washed away amid poor results and decision making. Whilst Levein talks constantly of progress, all others see is a side going in one direction – backwards.
The Euro 2012 campaign was Levein’s chance to truly write himself into the history books as a legendary Scotland manager by leading the country to a first major tournament in 14 years. World and European champions Spain were always going to run away with the group, but Scotland should have grabbed that play-off spot ahead of the Czech Republic.
Levein’s harshest critics say he should have been sacked on the spot after playing no strikers against the Czechs in the third group match; a game Scotland ended up losing 1-0. Despite a spirited 3-2 loss to Spain, Scotland were hugely on the back foot in the group due to Levein’s ultra- negative style of play.
Scotland simply didn’t play well enough throughout qualifying and the decision to line up negative against the Czechs in Prague still haunts the ex-Cowdenbeath boss.
Signs of progress have been evident in friendlies, with recent wins over Denmark and Australia. However, it is the competitive games upon which Levein will be judged and, according to Scotland fans, drawing at home to Serbia and Macedonia is simply unacceptable.
He also seems an impossible man to deal with. For almost two years Steven Fletcher was left out of squads whilst he was scoring goals consistently for Wolves and Sunderland in the English Premier League. Whilst Fletcher was immature to notify Levein of his unwillingness to play by a text message in the first place, it became ridiculous that a player who was scoring against some of the world’s best defences wasn’t playing for his national side.
Now Fletcher has finally been recalled after starting the season in blistering form for Sunderland, having scoring five times already. Levein has performed a massive U-turn ahead of the must-win Wales game by bringing Steven Fletcher back into the fold. For his sake, he must hope Fletcher can replicate his club form on the international stage over the next week, if he plays him of course.
Otherwise, it could signal the end of his time as national boss.