Craig Brown believes that the patriotic pull of managing Scotland could just tempt Sir Alex Ferguson into succeeding him in what Brown described as "this wonderful, impossible job".
Brown, who resigned after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Latvia confirmed that Scotland would not be going to next year's World Cup finals, said it was "obvious" that the Scottish Football Association should sound out the Manchester United manager in the search for his replacement.
Ferguson has already intimated he will remain at Old Trafford when he retires at the end of this season. But Brown, with whom he has a friendship dating back to Ferguson's 10-match spell in charge of Scotland in 1986, when he appointed the former as an assistant during the Mexico World Cup, feels an approach would not be rejected out of hand by such a proud Scot.
"I don't want to put words into Alex's mouth, but I see a lot of him and he realises the complexity of this job," said Brown. "It's obvious that the SFA should at least speak to him. In England a lot of chairmen ring him up and ask about managers they are thinking of appointing. If he doesn't want the job himself, he'd be a very good reference point."
With wry amusement amid what was an emotional time for him, Brown recalled that when he was promoted from assistant manager to succeed Andy Roxburgh, eight years ago next month, one newspaper had polled the fans for their choice. Ferguson came first, followed by Kenny Dalglish, Gordon Strachan and then Brown. "Alex got 29 per cent," he said, "so that meant 71 per cent of the public didn't want the best manager in Europe.
"What country wouldn't want him, particularly his home country? I'm not telling the executive committee to go for him – that would be presumptuous – but there's no doubt that everyone would applaud the appointment."
The Scots' next scheduled fixture is not until March, against France in a friendly. Qualifying for the European Championships in 2004, for which the draw takes place in January, does not begin for another 11 months, by which time Ferguson will have vacated the United hot seat.
Brown, 61, who will remain as technical director to the SFA, would prefer his replacement to be a Scot. If the lure were not strong enough for Ferguson, whom he hailed as "the Godfather of Largs" (the Ayrshire resort which stages coaching courses and examinations), other candidates may include Alex McLeish (the Hibernian manager), Walter Smith (Everton), George Burley (Ipswich) plus the out-of-work Strachan and George Graham.
While Brown and the SFA's chief executive, David Taylor, declared "an open mind" about bringing in a foreign coach, each was adamant that the example of Sven Goran Eriksson with England should not sway the executive committee. "Sven was a Beckham free-kick away from an embarrassment against Greece," argued Brown. "He inherited a tremendously talented squad, and I envy him that.
"But it hasn't put any pressure on me at all. Obviously we like to compete with England, but we do what we can within our resources. Whoever my successor is, I hope he's hugely successful. There will be no jealousy from me, just terrific support."
Whether the appointee is a Scot or from overseas – and Taylor refused to rule out an Englishman "if he was the best candidate" – the SFA will have to find a salary several times higher than the £200,000 Brown is reputedly paid for both roles. First, though, it needs to convince possible applicants the job is worth having.
The team is at a low ebb, having failed to qualify for successive tournaments. Brown, loyal to the last, praised his players, though he did allude to a lack of quality that might deter someone, like Ferguson, accustomed to working with world-class players. "Not one of our team [against Latvia] plays in the Champions' League, compared with virtually everyone in the England side."
Taylor, who denied Brown's resignation had pre-empted any decision his 10-man board might have taken before the manager's contract ended on 31 December, claimed it was "one of the key international jobs in football".
"Our record of qualifying for World Cups has been very good and that gives you visibility. We also have tremendous supporters here and a real appetite for football in this country. I can't say we have a superb crop of youngsters coming through, but the structure is in place to support the development of talent."
Explaining the "wonderful/ impossible" dichotomy, Brown said that the first part stemmed from "working for your country, for fantastic supporters"; the second from the withdrawals by injured players, which hampered the best-laid plans. Even so, he would miss it. "It'll be strange waking up and realising I'm not manager. But it's not a spur-of-the-moment thing. It isn't as if I've been asked to leave without warning."
Brown said he decided even before the World Cup campaign started that it would be his last; he just hoped it would end in Japan or Korea rather than at a half-full Hampden Park. He can look back on leading Scotland to Euro 96 and France 98, pride tinged with frustration at not having made the historic breakthrough to the second phase; and at a record which shows he won more matches than any predecessor.
"Results over my time never went to extremes," he said before adding, in an unwitting epitaph to his reign: "We played solidly within our capabilities."
THE CRAIG BROWN STORY
Born: Hamilton, 1 July 1940.
Playing career: Scotland schoolboy and youth international. Played for Rangers, Dundee (won Scottish League championship medal 1961-62) and Falkirk.
Club management: Four years as assistant manager of Motherwell and 10 as manager of Clyde (two divisional championships), combined with career as a teacher.
International coach: Coach at 1986 World Cup finals. In August the same year became assistant technical director and assistant national coach to Andy Roxburgh. In charge of Under-17 team that lost World Youth Cup final on penalties to Saudi Arabia in 1989; managed Under-21 team who were third in Europe in 1992.
Scotland manager: Appointed on 17 November 1993. Qualified for Euro 96 and France 98. Lost play-off to England for place in Euro 2000. Failed to reach 2002 World Cup finals.
Overall record: Played 71, Won 32, Drew 18, Lost 21, For 86, Against 63.
Competitive record: P48, W26, D12, L10, F68, A35
Figures include 3-1 World Cup qualifying defeat by Italy when Brown was caretaker manager.Reuse content