Levein front-runner as Scots sack Burley

Dundee United manager hotly tipped as 22-month reign comes to an end

The Scottish Football Association's third managerial search in less than three years was underway last night after George Burley's ill-starred 22-month stint in charge came to an end. The straw that broke the camel's back was Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff but Burley's overall record of three wins in 14 matches tells its own story.

Craig Levein of Dundee United has many of the credentials to succeed Burley. He commands respect, is innovative, and improves players. And though he is seen as a maverick unafraid of speaking his mind, he should be high on a short-list.

Another intriguing option could be Walter Smith, 61, in charge of Scotland from 2004 to early 2007, when he returned to Rangers and was replaced by Alex McLeish. Smith's contract at Rangers, worth around £1m a year, ends in January, and with Rangers in financial meltdown there is no guarantee it will be renewed, not at that price. Whether Smith has the appetite for another stint is unknown.

Graeme Souness was interviewed last time around but has already ruled himself out this time, saying Scotland are so bad that nobody could get good results with them. "I wouldn't be applying," he said. "I don't want the job. You could have Arsène Wenger or Alex Ferguson managing that group of players, but the outcome wouldn't be different. It is a difficult job simply because they don't have the quality."

Gordon Strachan was the bookmakers' favourite for the post just a few months ago when Burley was last perceived to be in danger. But his immediate future is at Middlesbrough. The SFA would also have been concerned about Strachan's bad relationship with the Scottish media.

Other names on the bookies' lists include Kilmarnock's Jim Jefferies, the former Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood, the former Leeds manager Gary McAllister, Nottingham Forest's Billy Davies, and Aberdeen's Mark McGhee. Jefferies, Calderwood, McAllister and McGhee would probably want the job because it offers more kudos and money (£350,000 per year) than what they do now. But it's hard to see what any of them would offer in breadth or depth of experience at the required level. Davies probably feels better off in club football.

Video: George Burley sacked

Ally McCoist (too inexperienced), Joe Jordan (an outsider) and Darren Ferguson (rank outsider but the only Ferguson available) will also be considered. The SFA does not intend to rush its process but wants the new man in place by 7 February, when the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifying groups take place. A cheap manager (one with no current employment and therefore no compensation payable) would be best at hard-up Hampden, but the SFA wants the best man and will try to find cash if necessary. Scotland's next game is a home friendly against the Czech Republic on 3 March.

Burley, 53, could argue that he has been unlucky at the helm. Virtually every squad was hit by multiple injuries. Controversy dogged him when Rangers' prolific striker Kris Boyd publicly criticised him then said he would never play for him again. The "Boozegate" affair that cost Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor their international careers also undermined him.

Burley was also damaged by trying to play attractive football. It rarely worked because he lacked the personnel, and it was dangerous, as results showed. Smith and McLeish both showed that winning points with average players came via good organisation and defence-minded tactics. It was dull but it worked for them.

Scotland did not become terrible under Burley: they were more than the sum of their parts before him. They overachieved, or rather achieved at the peak of their potential when their best young players were all available and in form. Yet those and others still have potential. The trick is finding the right managerial key to unlock it.