Football: Why Brown must finish job quickly

Phil Gordon feels Scotland's coach will heed a famous warning
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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN, unlike Kevin Keegan, is more accustomed to the language of disappointment. That background prevents him from becoming too suicidal about last Wednesday's frustrating afternoon in Estonia.

Equally, Brown is too experienced to be lured into the double-Dutch of working out just who will be involved in the play-offs for the European Championships, should Scotland confirm their place by beating Bosnia at Ibrox next month. Instead, the one-time teacher is offering a French lesson to prevent his players taking the future for granted.

Scotland may have the luxury of two home games in four days (Lithuania follow Bosnia into Glasgow on 9 October) to procure the three points needed to guarantee second place in Group Nine, but Brown wants the job finished in one go.

The memory of how Gerard Houllier's career in international management went up in flames in a similar scenario six years ago is what forces Brown to take nothing for granted. Houllier's France were coasting towards the 1994 World Cup finals, requiring just one point from two fixtures in Paris: what they got was two defeats, both inflicted in the dying minutes by Israel and Bulgaria - the latter of which was David Ginola's international denouement - and failed to qualify. "I will use France as a warning to the players," said Brown on Thursday as he raked over the coals of Tallin.

"Houllier is a good manager and he had great players such as Deschamps and Ginola at his disposal, but even they were not immune to failure.We will not be thinking of the fact that we have two games to secure a play- off spot. I want to do it at the first time of asking."

The very idea that Scotland could be accompanied by some kind of psychological sloth when they meet Bosnia at Ibrox because they have two bites at the cherry is anathema: Scotland's football history underlines that they perform worst when the threat is least (Costa Rica) and best when their backs are against the wall (Germany last April and Holland in the 1978 World Cup).

That Jekyll and Hyde nature prevents the Scots suffering the delusions of adequacy which swamped England before the Poland match. Brown knows there are no easy touches any more. "France had to come from behind to beat Armenia, and Portugal, one of the best teams around, drew with Azerbaijan last Saturday. A lot of teams now struggle against so-called minnows."

That myopic attitude, which sees the tabloids damn improving nations (or "diddies" as the Daily Record describes them in pure Glaswegian) yet at the same time ask Brown which team he wants in the play-off, is counter-productive. "That's hypothetical. My job is to get us to the play- offs," he insisted.

Brown wore his disappointment of the goalless day in Tallin visibly on his face. "It was a poor performance, but every team has a poor game. I said before the trip I would accept four points from two games." Brown's only concession to looking ahead further than the next game was a promise that if Scotland do sneak into Euro 2000, they will go with a much younger squad.

"I've been involved in three World Cups and two European Championships finals with Scotland and we have always gone there stacked with experienced players on the bench. I will not have older guys if we reach the finals who are not first pick. I want to give our younger players a chance, the way Houllier did with France after they failed, and in essence use Euro 2000 to build a team that for once will take us to the second phase of the World Cup finals."