“It’s all very well having a great pianist playing but it’s no good if you haven’t got anyone to get the piano on the stage in the first place, otherwise the pianist would be standing there with no bloody piano to play.”
These words were uttered by Ian Holloway in defence of his likening for robust, defensive minded midfielders. But they also strike a cord with me in respect to international football. At club level the great pianist may well be the flair player that provides the key to unlock the opposition’s defence. At international level however, where most teams possess players of sufficient calibre, the pianist sits in the dugout.
The drastic improvements evident in Scotland’s performances since Gordon Strachan replaced the hapless Craig Levein offer a perfect example of the impact a manager can have on a side’s, even at international level, fortunes. Scotland, with the likes of Maloney, Fletcher and Brown at their disposal, have always possessed the men required to get the piano on to the stage. Now with Strachan at the helm we have the talented pianist required to play it.
It has been obvious for some time having watched an abundance of Scottish talent flourish south of the border that their are enough good players to form a cohesive unit capable of producing results. We may not be good enough to challenge your Belgium’s and Germany’s of this world but the current ranking of 63rd with FIFA is surely a false position. With Levein in charge Scotland were like a boxer with one hand tied behind their back, or like Ricky Burns on Saturday night were forced to battle on with a broken jaw. Since Levein was removed though the players have picked themselves up off the canvas and can now swing freely, safe in the knowledge that 4-6-0 is a thing of the past.
Fixing systemic flaws at grass-roots level, imposing quotas to stop the foreign invasion, or in Scotland’s case finding a novel way to create six-foot-six monsters may well offer the Home Nations long-term improvements in performance. They cannot guarantee success however as other countries, with Belgium a prime example, always seem to progress at a faster rate of knots through more innovative approaches.
Short-term solutions, be that a passionate manager with a clear ideology of how he wants his side to play, can reap dividends though for a country like ours.