CRAIG BROWN has been talking a good game for what seems like an eternity. It has been almost 20 years, in fact, and now, against Italy in Rome on Wednesday and Malta five weeks later, he has the opportunity to back up the hot air.
The 52-year-old, asked to complete Scotland's ill-fated World Cup qualifying campaign as caretaker-manager when Andy Roxburgh resigned as coach last month, is well aware of the implications. The job would be his on a more permanent basis if he could select a team capable of beating the Italians, but failure could return him to the background - perhaps forever.
'I am perfectly capable of doing this job,' he said. 'The game's top tier holds no fears. I've worked with top players before and I know what to do.'
For someone who believes deeply in his own ability, Brown knows his fate can be determined by managers whose patriotism does not measure up to his own. The national cause is not prominent among their priorities, and he is not so naive to expect all of the 22 players listed last week to report this afternoon.
In Roxburgh's 61 matches as coach, he could field the same side only twice; Brown will suffer withdrawals also, and perhaps not all will be for legitimate reasons. This practice has always disgusted him, but he has never been in a position to complain too loudly. That would change, though, if he were to be confirmed as the new manager.
Scotland's international committee will meet in Rome on Tuesday, when a successor to Roxburgh will be discussed. The supporters, who became accustomed to mediocrity during Roxburgh's reign, have already found Brown guilty by association, and he must convince everyone he can restore international pride.
Meanwhile, Italy, who must win their last two ties to be sure of qualification, have their own anxieties because of a long casualty list. Arrigo Sacchi has had to name a 20-strong squad without Mancini, Albertini, Signori, Lentini, Maldini, Fuser, and Evani, but their coach should worry. His squad still contains Baresi, both Roberto and Dino Baggio, Stroppa, Melli, Simone, and Donadoni.
Somehow, Brown's squad does not have the same ring to it. 'But, the Italian names are not as good as they sound,' he insists. Maybe so, but more significantly, are you as good as you sound, Craig?
James Traynor writes for the Glasgow Herald.
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