Cautious Brown must give youth its chance

Phil Gordon believes the Scotland manager has won the battle for respect
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The Independent Online

Craig Brown has been around long enough to recall that old adage about a week being a long time in politics. When Harold Wilson was claiming what a capricious business he was working in, Brown was discovering an equally harsh truth of his own in the mid-1960s as he went, via a broken leg, from being part of a Dundee side who won the Scottish League title to a mere bit part at Falkirk.

Craig Brown has been around long enough to recall that old adage about a week being a long time in politics. When Harold Wilson was claiming what a capricious business he was working in, Brown was discovering an equally harsh truth of his own in the mid-1960s as he went, via a broken leg, from being part of a Dundee side who won the Scottish League title to a mere bit part at Falkirk.

However, even Brown must have been taken aback at the speed of the ever-changing world last week. In the era of the quick sound-bite and influence of the electronic media, a day now seems a long time in football. How else is the Scotland manager to judge the rollercoaster events of the past week? Brown has watched his status plummet and rise again: from being in the stocks (after that 2-0 defeat at Hampden) to rising stock (thanks to 90 minutes at Wembley).

While the Scotland manager has not quite suffered a savaging on the scale of his England counterparts, there is no doubt familiarity has bred contempt. The Scottish tabloids had decided, by half-time last Saturday, that those two goals by Paul Scholes were enough to call a halt to Brown's six years in the job.

Wembley, of course, forced a few people to eat humble pie, though the Daily Record , Brown's fiercest critic, is not giving up the fight, even though its own opinion polls prove Harold Wilson might have revised his thoughts about what a tough job he had, if he too had been prisoner to the dreaded phone-in. The Daily Record poll after the first-leg defeat saw 83 per cent say that Brown should quit, with only 17 per cent defending him. On Friday, the swing back to the Scotland manager would have left Peter Snow apoplectic: only 55 per cent now wanted Brown out, while 45 per cent said he should stay.

"There are statistics, statistics and damn lies," Brown said quietly last Monday as he tried to withstand the welter of calls for him to quit. He was not referring to the phone-in vote, although he laughed that off too. ("Seventeen per cent is quite good because the same paper had a poll when I took the Scotland job and only eight per cent wanted me.")

What he meant when he tried to use statistics to back up his case was that he was often scornfully put down as a coaching "anorak". However, there was no disguising the hurt the avuncular man felt as he cast his eyes over the Monday morning headlines at the Scotland hotel in Troon. ("You're a nice guy, Craig, but nice guys finish second!" said The Sun .) Brown was smarting by the time he conducted his press conference.

It was reminiscent of the moment Graham Taylor was captured by documentary cameras before England's vain World Cup tie with Holland in 1993 when he pleaded for the Press to be as up as he was trying to be. Brown, too, begged the journalists to "show some support" but there were few takers. By 10pm on Wednesday, of course, some floating voters had come over to his camp.

The bottom line for Scotland, however, is that one result does not a new era make. Enjoyable though the Wembley victory was, it cannot disguise the fact that Scotland's qualifying campaign, even though it was blighted by a catalogue of injuries, was undistinguished: judged on those games, Scotland got what they deserved. Judged on 180 minutes against England, they did not.

Apart from the second half at Hampden, when England were able to sit back on the lead and Scotland looked incapable of changing the game, most of the tie belonged to Brown's team. Only two fragments of poor luck - Kevin Gallacher's miss after Scholes's first goal and Billy Dodds striking the bar after the England player's second - prevented the Scots going in at half-time at 2-2 rather than 0-2.

A week is a short time in football. England were not bad last Saturday but Scotland truly were, it was said. Now it is England who are being damned. The truth, like the opinion polls, changes from game to game.

With Scotland's best managers, Alex Ferguson and George Graham, otherwise gainfully employed, it has been suggested that Graeme Souness should be given Brown's job. And on television on Wednesday, he seemed to be pitching for it; but on what basis? Certainly not his CV with Torino, Galatasaray, Benfica or Southampton. Even his glory years with Rangers must be tempered by his poor results in Europe - not much help for an international manager.

Brown has made a good job of working with limited resources, though they are better than many people - including possibly himself - give Scotland credit for. He needs, however, to shake off the cautious mentality that dogs his selections. Neil McCann's performance at Wembley proved he must be a permanent part of Brown's thinking, as does the 3-4-3 formation the coach used.

It is no coincidence that Scotland's best displays this year (the 1-0 win in Germany, the 3-2 defeat in Prague and the 1-0 victory over England) have come when Brown nailed his attacking ambitions to the mast. Now he needs to carry on that work with some younger players to avoid a managerial sacrifice.

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