Craig Levein's future in doubt but Scottish players adopt siege mentality

 

Scotland are in a state of unrest. The nation has become impatient with the scuffling performances of Craig Levein's side, and the two opening World Cup qualifiers at Hampden Park ended in the sound of derision. The games against Serbia and FYR Macedonia were drawn, but it was the manner of the displays as much as the points that were dropped that so riled the crowds. Naturally, the manager was the focus of the irritation.

Levein has retreated into a state of denial. After both games, he thanked the Scotland fans for being behind the team, and pointed out that there are still 24 points to play for in Group A. It is a blinkered analysis, since earning any of those points would require a marked improvement in Scotland's performances. Levein's competitive record is now: played 10, won three, lost three, drawn four.

Even then, there is further evidence his instincts are a hindrance. Scotland's displays against the Czech Republic, their main rivals, in the Euro 2012 qualifiers were inhibited, since the manager overestimated their worth and misjudged the competence of his own side. That conservatism was clear in the approach against Serbia, who had not scored in their four previous games. There was more adventure in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Macedonia, but there were too many hapless moments and the visitors ought to have won.

Scotland appear unable to regain their poise. A manager's fate seems irredeemable when the response to his image appearing on the giant screens of Hampden is widespread and sustained booing. Levein is a strong-willed, clever individual, but he is involved now in establishing a siege mentality within his squad. Discontent has spread to the players, who are convinced that they have cause to feel persecuted.

"Maybe you guys chose to jump on a bandwagon and criticise," said Gary Caldwell, the Wigan defender, to the Scottish press. "The negativity which surrounds this group has to change. Who's got a problem with the manager? We haven't – we support him. At times we, as players, haven't been good enough. That's down to us. The media and what they write affects public opinion. You have to take responsibility for that. I don't think his tactics are negative."

Scotland go to Wales then Belgium next month, and the games are pivotal. A loss in Cardiff to a team in disarray under Chris Coleman would leave the manager exposed to a mood of rebellion. Belgium are favourites to top the group, but Scotland must now gather on their travels.

Levein's future is now open to debate, even if the players reject that notion. "I don't even think you should be asking that question," Caldwell said. "If you change the manager, nothing else is going to change. We're going in the right direction, but we need everyone pulling in the right direction and at this moment in time there are too many people pulling in different ways and trying to cause disruption."

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