Burley's future in the balance

Scotland manager awaits SFA decision after campaign to reach World Cup ends in failure
Click to follow
The Independent Football

George Burley's future as the Scotland manager will remain in the balance until next week after the Scottish FA's chief executive, Gordon Smith, said now was the time for "measured and considered reflection" of the ill-fated 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Scotland gave their most assured, attacking performance of Burley's 18-month tenure on Wednesday at Hampden but still lost 1-0 to the Netherlands, a result that meant they finished third in Group Nine, and missed out on even a play-off place for South Africa.

Burley insists he wants to stay on, and to his advantage is the fact that Smith has limited options for a replacement, a limited budget to fire and hire, and a sense of realism that Scottish football's ills go much deeper than one man.

Working against Burley is that the Scottish press, and especially the influential tabloids, have been calling for his head for months and that any and every minor setback from here on in will be categorised as damning failure by a weak coach with spineless bosses. Unfair, but reality.

Smith's options for a replacement are, realistically, limited to Gordon Strachan and Graeme Souness. Scotland's best managers – Ferguson, Moyes – are busy elsewhere. The stock of Mark McGhee (the flavour of 2008) has fallen with humdrum domestic results while Dundee United's Craig Levein is too maverick.

Both Strachan and Souness are available, and probably interested, but it's easy to see both being quickly pilloried – and becoming irritable– if results did not quickly improve. The SFA has a tough call: a return to the safety-first (and dull, defensive) approach that almost brought success in Euro 2008 qualifying under the tactically dour Walter Smith, then Alex McLeish; or something more devil-may-care, as under Burley, who lacks the personal charisma that some sections of the media demand?

In what was as easy a 2010 qualifying section as Scotland could have wished for – Norway, Iceland and Macedonia are the other nations – the damage was done early. The Scots lost their opener a year ago in Macedonia, then failed to beat Norway at home in a match in which Chris Iwelumo's infamous close-range miss cost them dear.

Burley has been hampered by all the usual drawbacks of a Scotland manager; a relatively small, weak pool of players to choose from, injury crises and call-offs at important times. He has also had to cope with Kris Boyd's unilateral decision never to play under him again, and the all-night players' booze session that led to the end of the Scotland careers of Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor.

As Darren Fletcher added of the campaign as a whole: "All the players have got to take a look at themselves – it wasn't good enough... that [recent] effort is needed in all the games, not just one."

Latterly, Burley has finally got the best from his players. Too little, too late? Or evidence of evolution? Smith is pondering.