Gordon Strachan: Alex McLeish doesn’t need to pick one system to succeed

Former Scotland manager Gordon Strachan assesses on his successor and defends Leigh Griffiths from accusations of sulking…

Some people have suggested that Leigh Griffiths’ decision to pull out of the Scotland squad was some kind of sulk about not being picked in the previous matches.

But the person I dealt with and know? I can’t see it, I really can’t.

Yes, he’s a quirky character, but he was never a problem at any time. Not one problem whatsoever, and I think every manager who has ever worked with Griff will say that.

He can make you laugh, he can make you scratch your head, he can make you question what’s normal – but, whatever was happening in his life, when he was on the training field, he was first class and great company.

Maybe because we’re both from Edinburgh, and a bit wacky, but I got him.

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And what people seem to be forgetting is that, when Alex made that decision, it was the Albania game, which Scotland won.

I’ve got to say, five years ago, I didn’t think he’d get to the standard he is now. I thought he was a good player, but not very good. So, that improvement is a credit to Griff – there’s something in him that makes him want to get better, and this is another example of that.

You have to take people at their word. It’s the same with James McArthur – he now isn’t available for a few months, and it’s better this way, him coming out and saying that.

Rather than Alex naming him in the squad and then James having to pull-out every time.

At least, this way, Alex knows that he isn’t available. If I was Alex, I’d be looking at the reaction of the people coming in, are they good enough to take the places of Griff and James?

It’s up to them, the lads will say ‘aye, you’re better than me, on you go’ – because they know the manager has to be loyal to players who come in and do a good job for us.

Alex will be hurt

Being an older manager, like Alex or myself, is great because you have the experience to get through so-called crises.

I’ll tell you what doesn’t change – the hurt. Even after all these years in football, the hurt meter doesn’t go down much.

Alex will be feeling that at the moment. But, about 12 hours after a defeat, there’s a recovery thing which kicks in in your head, which says you’ve been through this, it’s horrible, but you’ve dealt with it before.

You take a deep breath and you take the world on again. You do that by looking after your players and staff, and standing up to whatever comes at you.

Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say ‘ooh, that was a bad one, we’ll try to move on’.

You have to be honest with your players in-house, that’s for sure, when you’ve had bad results like this.

But your duty as an international manager is to send your players back to their clubs in the same mental state as they came along.

Scotland players don’t get paid, they come along because they want to. It’s different if they’re paid, you can demand something, but when people come for nothing, you can only ask them.

So of course, you don’t hammer the players after a bad result – they’ve turned up for nothing, tried their best, and you’ve got to send them back in a good place.

Difficult to go back

I’ve always said that I think it’s hard to go back to a job for a second time. Especially if you’ve been successful, because it’s very rare you’ll have success again.

I count my time in a job on the number of times I’ve laughed and games that have been enjoyable. It’s the people that make it.

If I went back to Southampton or Coventry now, I’d know literally nobody in there, and I’d have to try and manipulate the fun and excitement. That’s where I have a problem with going back, even as a player.

It’s different now. Managers who go into a club and say they’ve got a plan or a project, within four games, if they’ve not won them, questions are asked – you can throw your project right out the window.

That’s the world we live in, it’s part of the deal – I don’t think managers think ‘how dare you question me?’, because we understand that questions will be asked if performances aren’t right.

But I think every manager should get at least one shot at a qualifying campaign, Alex just needs to take a look at the year, and what we’ve learnt about the team.

There are people shouting that he has to pick one way or another to play, but I don’t think you do.

What’s best for your team is what matters – and having a choice, depending on who you’re playing, is great.

Whether that’s three at the back or four at the back, the philosophy doesn’t change – we need to be brave on the ball, athletic, and mentally courageous.

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