Strachan Takes Charge, but Will a New Era Signal a New Approach?
A new era starts for Scotland tonight.
How many times have we said that in the past decade or so?
Scotland face Estonia in a friendly at Pittodrie which sees Gordon Strachan begin his tenure as manager of the national side.
Having been out of the game since a less than impressive spell in charge at Middlesborough ended unceremoniously in 2010, Strachan was the man most people wanted to take charge and there was little surprise when he was appointed just under a month ago.
The introductions and niceties are out of the way and while tonight's game is only a friendly, it marks an occasion for Strachan to start to win fans over who have become increasingly disillusioned with the national team in recent years.
Ultimately he'll be judged as a manager on his results but it's well known that if you can establish a winning mentality in friendly games, it's easy to transfer it over once the competitive games start coming. By the same token, if you're unable to get goals and unable to win friendly matches then the chances are you'll struggle with the same problems in competitive games.
There are no points on offer and nothing is at stake in that sense in terms of qualification, but a victory and a good performance in Aberdeen, where he himself was so successful as a player, would help get some belief back into a side who were so lacklustre and directionless under previous manager Craig Levein.
Yet while we'll be hoping the approach and attitude is somewhat different to his predecessor, largely he's chosen to go with the same players. The squad he selected features no new faces and for the most part is made up of the same players as under Craig Levein, with the exception being the recall of Chris Burke.
It's a squad that doesn't suggest much in the way of imagination.
As a nation we're aware that we have limited options at our disposal, but the decision to pick Lee Wallace, currently playing Third Division football with the newly-formed Rangers has sparked much debate.
Can you really justify overlooking a player like Paul Dixon who looked assured and composed at left-back when making his debut last year for someone who's playing week-in, week-out in the lowest tier of Scottish football and who looked out of his depth against Premier League Dundee United at the weekend?
It's not the only decision which might raise one or two question marks.
Kenny Miller has been one of Scotland's most relied upon players over the past decade but does he really still deserve a place in the side? He hasn't played a competitive match since the MLS finished back at the end of November and there are better options out there.
Even if Leigh Griffiths's off-field behaviour might have been reason enough to exclude him from the squad, surely Johnny Russell merits inclusion?
Strachan might be reluctant to make too many changes after less than a month in charge but there's a tendency to feel that if this really is to be the start of a new era, sacrifices have to be made. If we really want to make progress as a side then you start to think that we have to integrate exciting young talents like Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven as soon as possible. Players can't afford to be given an endless number of chances before it's time to look elsewhere.
Of course, it would be daft to make too many rash judgments based on his first squad.
As we've said, with a group already established it's not always the best solution to start making wholesale changes straight away, even if we're far from where we want to be in international football. It's the style of playing and the level of performance which have to change, regardless of the personnel, and we'll have to wait to see the team in action before we can get an idea if we're making any progress.
But if this is indicative of Strachan's long term approach to management of the national side—a reluctance to know when to phase older players out and to avoid taking risks in terms of selection—then this might not really be the start of a new era at all. It could well be that we'll see more of what we've seen all too much of in recent years, just with a different face looking bemused and disappointed on the touchline and in post-match press conferences.
Strachan was criticised by some as being an unimaginative choice for the job and while we're still in the very early stages of his time in charge, it could well be that he'll need to show a bit more imagination if he's to turn the doubters around.
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