Craig Levein is a man under pressure. The Scotland national football team sit fifth in Group A’s qualifying table for World Cup 2014 and even the most optimistic Scot would have to admit that any hopes of qualification are pretty much dead after only three games.
After two home draws and an away defeat in Wales, the critical voices within the Tartan Army and the national press have grown louder. It now seems only a matter of time before the inevitable happens and Craig Levein is sacked.
While I do not agree with every decision Levein has made when in charge, I feel genuinely sorry for his plight as at the end of the day he can look back on his Scotland career to date and feel he got unlucky.
Not just slightly unlucky – very unlucky.
Firstly, key refereeing decisions have gone against him at crucial times in important matches.
Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 were all but obliterated when the Czech Republic were incorrectly given a penalty in the final minutes of their crucial tie at Hampden last year. This penalty was converted and Scotland missed a playoff spot as a result.
In the second game of the 2014 qualifying campaign against Macedonia, Macedonia’s opening goal was clearly offside and should never have stood. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Most recently, in last week's 2-1 away defeat in Wales, Scotland had a goal incorrectly disallowed at a pivotal moment in the match. Already 1-0 up and with 15 minutes to play, Steven Fletcher’s header was chopped off when the assistant judged James Morrison’s cross had crossed the byline and gone out of play.
It hadn’t. It wasn’t even close.
Then to add insult to injury, Wales were handed a soft penalty kick which Gareth Bale converted before winning the game with a last minute wonder strike.
Levein can look back at all of these incidents and quite rightly feel hard done by.
My assessment of Levein’s bad luck doesn’t end with refereeing decisions. Many of the fans are of the opinion that Levein is “too negative," however I feel this is a criticism based purely retrospectively on results and using hindsight.
With the exception of the frankly ludicrous and now infamous 4-6-0 formation he deployed in the Czech Republic, the team under Levein has been no more defensively-minded than under his predecessors Alex McLeish and Walter Smith.
McLeish and Smith are both held in high regard by the Scotland fans, yet neither managed qualification for a major tournament.
When analysing the difference between these men and Levein, it comes down to very narrow margins. Smith and McLeish will always be remembered for Scotland’s fantastic results against France, however if you were to be perfectly honest, Scotland rode their luck in both of those games. France had numerous shots on target, hit the woodwork several times and dominated possession in both games. Everything went right for the Scots and twice 1-0 victories were recorded.
The close games, the tight matches that could swing either way had an uncanny knack of falling in McLeish and Smith’s favour. Exactly the opposite is happening to Craig Levein.
In Levein’s post-match interview following the defeat in Wales, he looked like a man beaten into submission by fate. He must feel that this string of bad luck is so consistent, it is inevitable that it will continue.
Unfortunately, whether it does or not, the damage has already been done. Fairly or unfairly, the fans have lost their faith in the manager and many of them are now demanding change.
If the writing is on the wall and Levein’s time in the Scotland hot seat does come to an end soon, he’ll undoubtedly feel that fortune never gave him a chance.
I, for one, would agree with him.
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