Burns can answer the burning question

Berti's sidekick may step out of shadows and pip favourites Smith and Strachan to top role
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The Independent Football

When it came, the departure of Berti Vogts was not a surprise. Only the manner of it. No public appearance, no press conference, unlike his inauguration in 2002, simply an 800-word statement of vitriol blaming everyone else for the whole mess.

The German was back home by the time the news broke on Monday evening. His severance package of around £400,000 was the only flattering number connected with his wretched 33-month reign as Scotland's national football coach.

While Vogts railed against the media, who he said turned the public against him to the extent that one fan spat at him, nothing was said of the record of 31 games that featured just eight wins. Finding a replacement is now the task for the Scottish FA, who have drawn up a shortlist that remains a secret to those outside Hampden Park.

It seems to be a straightforward contest between Walter Smith, the experienced former Rangers and Everton manager, and Gordon Strachan, a younger, bolder manager so confident in his own ability that he took a sabbatical after feeling he had done all he could at Southampton.

Sir Alex Ferguson has tried his hand at being kingmaker from south of the border. The act of succession, said the Manchester United manager, is simple: give it to Smith. Yet people recommending their friends ought not to be the way in modern football. Moreover, Ferguson's own well-documented friction with Strachan - who played for him at Aberdeen and Old Trafford - may impair his judgement.

However, perhaps the answer is under the SFA's own nose. After two-and-a-half years of baffling incompetence from a man who looked like Mr Burns from The Simpsons, the real Mr Burns is waiting in the wings.

The vacancy that Vogts has left behind could yet be filled by his right-hand man. Tommy Burns will take charge of Scotland for their friendly with Sweden at Easter Road on 17 November, but if he gets it right he could put himself in an unassailable position in the race to become the next national coach. Burns admitted on Friday he would be interested in the job. While other areas of the media have championed Smith so fiercely that it has almost stifled debate, Burns has re-emerged to stand up for himself.

Burns got the role as Vogts's assistant because he was available when everyone else - Smith included - wanted nothing to do with the Scotland job. As someone who had been Celtic's youngest-ever manager at the age of 34 a decade ago, Burns says the job he thought would be the peak of his managerial career came too early in life. Now, at 44, he is older, wiser and ready to step out of the shadows.

These days, he combines his Scotland role with his job as head of Celtic's youth development programme. He was so wounded by his sacking from a previous Celtic regime in 1997 that he never wanted to touch the job of manager with a bargepole again - until now. "I am probably in pole position," he said, "but there are other people they [the Scottish FA] would like to speak with. I feel I have a good relationship with the players."

Burns revealed that Vogts is backing him to become his successor on a permanent basis ahead of Smith and Strachan. "I was very touched by that and flattered. This is probably a good time to take on the job. We have got young, talented players who have experience now. We have 20-year-olds with eight, 10 or 12 caps," said Burns, no doubt reflecting on how it took him seven years and two managers (Jock Stein and Andy Roxburgh) to collect his own eight appearances.

Burns said that he watched Vogts make mistakes - especially with the media - and has learned from them. "I think Berti can be very abrasive at times, but beneath that there is a very sensitive man. The press [intrusion] is one of the things I would have to consider. It has been very, very frustrating and very difficult. That's just for me; God knows what it was like for Berti."

It has been suggested that Burns could operate as Smith's No 2. But Burns feels he has earned the right to stand on his own two feet. "It's not about me," he insisted. "This is about the national team and the players and the supporters having something they feel is a worthy cause to turn up and support. I'm not getting into a big ego thing."

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