History raises the stakes for McLeish

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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish will be unveiled as the 15th Scotland manager tomorrow at Hampden. On his way out, he might stop at the Scottish Football Museum in the bowels of the stadium to check out what the job did to his predcessors.

Archie Gemmill's celebrated goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup finals is probably the visitors' favourite among the 2,000 items. Lifesize figures freeze the moment in time, while a plethora of screens endlessly replay that darting solo run of Gemmill who seems forever young. Yet, it is the black and white photograph of Ally MacLeod, whose haunted features betray the strain of someone who had to answer to a entire nation after Scotland were eliminated, which underlines that only managers are robbed of what little youth they still had.

MacLeod was 46 when he took over in 1977. The smile that appeared on everything from the carpet adverts to Top of the Pops - "We're On the March With Ally's Army" - evaporated in Argentina a year later and MacLeod suddenly looked like a man in his sixties. Jock Stein paid the ultimate sacrifice: the former Celtic manager was 56 when he took charge after MacLeod's resignation and died of a heart attack in Cardiff in October 1985 at 63 as Scotland drew with Wales to qualify for the 1986 World Cup finals.

International management is not regarded as a young man's arena. Jürgen Klinsmann and Marco van Basten have been the exception to the rule but neither bothered with club management. Usually, countries are looking for a safe, rather wrinkled pair of hands. McLeish turned 48 last Sunday and if he cannot quite squeeze into the dark blue shirt he wore 77 times for Scotland, he is still youthful enough to ponder whether being Scotland manager has come too early.

McLeish will be given a three-year contract to succeed Walter Smith that is likely to include a get-out clause which will allow him to take a lucrative Premier-ship offer if he performs the miracle of guiding Scotland to the Euro 2008 finals. He craves club management but since leaving Rangers has failed to ignite any top-flight interest in England.

If he could maintain Smith's work - Scotland are top of their qualifying group, ahead of France and Italy - Premiership chairmen might throw money at him. Like Smith, he will be taking a huge pay cut and the Scottish FA must fear they could be looking for another replacement in a couple of years, just as they were in 1973 when Tommy Docherty was lured away to Manchester United after 18 months.

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