Aberdeen’s Derek McInnes has emerged as the favourite to become manager of Scotland following the sacking of Alex McLeish.
The 60-year-old had been coming under increasing pressure following last month’s 3-0 Euro 2020 qualifying loss to Kazakhstan and admitted after an underwhelming follow-up win over San Marino that he no longer had any control over his future.
Following an SFA board meeting on Thursday it was decided that McLeish’s second spell in charge of his country would be brought to an end.
Alex McLeish has been sacked as Scotland boss in light of their recent Euro 2020 qualifiers
The Scotland boss never regrouped after their humiliating 3-0 defeat by Kazakhstan
McLeish said: ‘I am grateful for the opportunity to have managed my country for a second time and leave knowing that I gave my all in the pursuit of success.
‘I am proud that together we finished top of our UEFA Nations League group and qualified for the UEFA Euro 2020 play-offs, which gives us a real opportunity to reach a major tournament for the first time in over 20 years.
‘I am also pleased to have given many younger players a first taste of international football that will stand them – and the country – in good stead for the future.’
In a statement SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: ‘The decision to part company was not an easy one, especially given Alex’s status as a Scotland Hall of Fame member, earning 77 international caps, having played in three World Cups and taken charge of the national team for two spells.
‘It was only taken after full consideration by the Board and after an honest and respectful conversation between myself and Alex earlier in the week.
‘Ultimately, the performances and results as a whole in the past year – and, in particular, the manner of the defeat in Kazakhstan – did not indicate the progress expected with a squad we believe to be capable of achieving more.
‘With that in mind, it was agreed that we would seek to recruit a new management team to take us forward for the remainder of European Qualifying campaign.
‘At this point I would like to pay tribute to Alex for the good grace with which he has accepted the decision and for remaining unstinting in his support of the team for the remainder of the campaign. It befits his status as a Scotland legend and Hall of Fame inductee.’
Scotland players leave the field looking shellshocked after their 3-0 defeat by Kazakhstan
It is unclear who will succeed the former Rangers and Birmingham City manager but ex-Everton and Manchester United boss David Moyes has declared his interest in the job – although his preference would be a return to club management.
The defeat by Kazakhstan has widely been described as the worst result in Scotland’s history and McLeish reacted to the defeat in Kazakhstan by stating that his side ‘started brightly’ – when they were two goals down after 10 minutes.
It was also believed that concerns grew over the course of the qualifying double-header that he was finding it difficult to cope with such a pressurised situation.
McLeish was brought back for a second spell as Scotland manager in February 2018 after almost two years out of football following his sacking at Egyptian club Zamalek – following just 65 days in charge.
David Moyes has said he would be interested in the Scotland job prior to McLeish’s dismissal
He guided Scotland to next year’s Nations League play-offs, which will give the country a shot at qualifying for their first major championship for 20 years, but the campaign was not without its bumps in the road.
A humiliating loss to Israel drew a torrent of criticism but Scotland recovered to win their League C group, which also included Albania.
The SFA had originally been turned down by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill following a protracted period of courtship and had also spoken to previous national coach Walter Smith about coming out of retirement.
McLeish, however, had faced mounting criticism that he was only given the job as a result of his long association with current SFA president Alan McRae and the booing and chanting against the SFA board, in particular, that scarred the Group I victory over San Marino has clearly brought matters to a head.
The 77-times-capped Scotland legend had to deal with huge numbers of call-offs from his squads since taking over and saw goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose late save against Israel in November secured a play-off spot for Euro 2020 through the Nations League, retire from international duty.
McLeish guided Scotland to the Nations League play-offs but recent results ended his reign
‘I can only worry about what is in my control,’ said McLeish last month when quizzed about his future. ‘That is not my decision. I have been in the game a long time and that is not an area I would want to go into.’ It was clear, however, that the majority of supporters had lost all faith in him.
‘The SFA board went for the easy option in appointing McLeish,’ said a statement released by the Edinburgh Tartan Army last month. ‘It was an old pals’ act. Cronyism that is familiar throughout the SFA.
‘We can’t afford to take the risk of having McLeish in charge for the June matches against Cyprus and Belgium. If pundits think the atmosphere against San Marino was toxic, then just imagine a half-full Hampden against Cyprus in June.’
Scotland’s next fixtures are in the summer when they host Cyprus before travelling to Belgium in their Euro 2020 qualifiers on June 8 and June 11.
SEVEN CONTENDERS FOR THE JOB
The former West Brom and Reading boss has impressed since taking over at Kilmarnock in October 2017. The Rugby Park club were languishing at the wrong end of the Ladbrokes Premiership but Clarke – who has also worked alongside the likes of Jose Mourinho, Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit – has transformed them into contenders for a European place over the past two seasons.
McLeish’s predecessor led the national team for almost five years but while a bright start to his time in the job raised hopes that he could end the Tartan Army’s long wait to qualify for a major championships, his side’s form faded badly as the Scots missed out on both Euro 2016 and last year’s World Cup in Russia. However, the former Aberdeen, Manchester United and Leeds winger did win three straight championships while in charge at Celtic and feels he still has unfinished business after arguing he was harshly sacked on the back of a run of seven games without defeat. Could be harmed by being dropped by Sky Sports for recent comments over sex offender Adam Johnson.
Scotland Under-21s’ boss has no first-team coaching experience under his belt but has done a decent job working his way up through the national set-up’s age grades, helping to promote the likes of Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay and Ryan Fraser to the senior squad. Appointing the ex-Everton midfielder might be seen as the cheaper option but the SFA can point to the success of England since Gareth Southgate stepped up from managing their under-21s as proof the move could work.
The former Manchester United boss’ coaching career has gone downhill since leaving Old Trafford, with stints at Real Sociedad, Sunderland and West Ham proving to be short-lived. The 55-year-old admitted in March he was open to the possibility of one day managing his country but for the time being he would prefer a return to the club game.
Another who is currently employed by the SFA having taken up the performance director role at Hampden and would therefore come cheap. The former Watford, Cardiff and Wigan manager had a one-game stint as interim boss against Holland last year after Strachan was axed, only to be told by then chief executive Stewart Regan he was not being considered for the job permanently. The racist text scandal from his time in Wales is once again likely to count against him this time.
The Aberdeen boss, 47, has repeatedly said he believes the Scotland job is best suited to an older manager. But while he has rejected moves to Sunderland and Rangers, perhaps he might believe the Scotland job could help propel him into the thinking of top-flight clubs down south after seeing the Dons again come up short in their hunt to add silverware for the first time since his 2014 League Cup success.
It was the Northern Ireland boss’ decision to turn down the Scotland job last time that forced the SFA to turn to McLeish. But with a new man in charge of the SFA, some believe O’Neill might yet be persuaded to turn his back on the team he successfully guided to Euro 2016. Northern Ireland currently top their current qualifying group after two games but with Holland and Germany for competition, their hopes of reaching next year’s finals look slim.