Contrast of styles gives Levein a clearer picture

An international manager is always strategising, and Craig Levein's intention is to govern expectations. A rush of optimism is generated by a new appointment, and the prospect of a fresh qualifying campaign. This is a wellspring for Levein, but hubris has soured Scottish hearts too often in the past. He is trying to restrain anticipation, so that it remains an ally.

There was universal praise for the decision to install Levein as the successor to George Burley as Scotland manager, and he benefits from being a contrast. There is no idealism or bewilderment to him; he preaches a form of pragmatism and work ethic that the nation considers a character trait. Visionary notions are banished and the players will be grateful for the feeling of being commanded.

Once the jolt of being drawn in the same European Championship qualifying group as Spain – the holders not only of the trophy but also of the prestige of being the continent's most majestic side – was overcome, Group I began to appear a compassionate assignment. The Czech Republic are in decline, albeit from a height Scotland consider distant, Lithuania are familiar and Liechtenstein meagre.

The opening fixture is months away, but the challenges are immediate. Levein's first match in charge is a long-arranged friendly, at Hampden on Wednesday, against the Czech Republic. The goodwill from supporters at this stage is pronounced, and there will be a congratulatory air to his initial outing.

Scotland's recent record in such non-competitive fixtures is chastening, and victory would provide a source of momentum. All the same, Levein is a novice in the peculiarities of international management and there is a sense of him feeling his way into the job. He wishes to appear both encouraging and rational.

"There is always this danger – and being Scottish we do this all the time – of saying, 'the last campaign was a disaster, but we should win this one easily'," Levein says. "There is a lot of hard work to be done. It will be tough. [The Czechs] beat us in a friendly recently 3-1 and we've only won three matches in two years."

There is a bold authority to Levein, so that even quips are delivered assertively. He can be menacing, when players do not heed his instructions, but then international football is no place for timidity. Burley was too vague a character to inspire devotion; his time in charge became mired in dismay.

In his previous jobs, at Hearts, Dundee United, and even during moments of a doomed spell at Leicester City, Levein has proved to be adept at organising a team and its priorities. Scotland lack the talent to be audacious and so hope lies in combating opponents. The emphasis will be on discipline, concentration, positioning and, crucially, self-responsibility.

The manager has been canny in recognising Darren Fletcher's qualities to be central. The midfielder is playing a prominent role for Manchester United but he was already an exemplary figure to Scotland teammates. Since his appointment last December, Levein has met most of his squad individually, and the discussion with Fletcher was prolonged.

"I tried to reassure him that I will be doing everything I can so that when he goes back to that Man United dressing room after having played for Scotland, his head is held high," Levein says. "Everybody is going to have to buy into the fact that we aren't the best team in the world, [but] we are a gritty group of players who have to work hard for everything they get.

"That type of attitude is going to make us hard to beat. Once [the players] see that works, there is an opportunity to improve, although I'm not making any promises."

Levein has been uncompromising in recalling Kris Boyd and Lee McCulloch, of Rangers, from their self-imposed exile. He sought to include Allan McGregor and Barry Ferguson, who were banned for indiscretions under Burley, but the former was injured in an alleged assault outside a Glasgow nightclub and the latter is still mulling over his possible return. The rest of the squad is familiar.

The job will be onerous at times, but Levein is equipped with the wherewithal to prosper.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones