McLeish ready to take over Scotland reins

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The Independent Football

The Scottish Football Association will formally unveil Alex McLeish as Walter Smith's successor as the Scotland manager on Monday morning, having concluded contract talks on Wednesday evening.

The SFA has declined to confirm McLeish will be taking over, but his appointment has been inevitable since he was first interviewed last week. Gary McAllister was the only other man in serious contention and it is possible he will also be involved in McLeish's coaching set-up.

The SFA was keen to make a quick appointment after Smith resigned in order to return to Rangers earlier this month. Scotland face crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers in March, against Georgia at Hampden, and against Italy in Bari.

The length of McLeish's contract was one sticking point in negotiations. He wanted a deal up to and including the World Cup finals of 2010, while the SFA is understood to have offered a guaranteed package only as far as the end of 2010 qualifying, in autumn 2009. The absence from SFA headquarters of David Taylor, the chief executive - who is at Uefa's congress in Germany - has also delayed matters.

McLeish's deal and the make-up of his staff will be detailed on Monday. He is expected to be joined by his long-time assistant, Andy Watson.

The Kilmarnock manager, Jim Jefferies, believes McLeish is the "obvious choice" to be the new Scotland manager. But he admits he still has no idea whether he was in the running for the job himself.

Jefferies was one of the names reported to be on a four-man shortlist to replace Smith. But, like Tommy Burns, Jefferies never received the call from the SFA.

That left McLeish and the former Scotland captain and Liverpool and Coventry City player McAllister as the only real candidates.

Jefferies said: "I understand Alex has got it and I'm sure he will do a good job. He played many times for his country and he's been involved in the Under-21 set-up as well.

"It was an obvious choice with him, especially with him being out of work. I wish him all the best."

Jefferies was always seen as the rank outsider but insists he has no idea whether he was ever part of the SFA's thinking or not. "I keep hearing of this magic shortlist but I might not have been on it," he said. "It's the press who said that, nobody ever told me I was on it so I just get on with life. I said at the time that it was pure speculation.

"I was flattered to be linked with it but if I was on any shortlist nobody has told me. Maybe I was, I have no idea. If I was, I'm sure someone would have said 'you've got an opportunity' but nobody came to me direct so I just get on with my life and work here. If, some day, I'm back in the frame again then so be it. If I get asked then I will make a comment about it then."

Elsewhere, Hearts' assistant head coach, Stephen Frail, has responded angrily to claims that his players are cheats following Falkirk defender Darren Barr's controversial red card at Tynecastle.

Barr was sent off during his side's 1-0 defeat in the Premier League on Saturday after confronting Andrius Velicka when he was fouled by the Jambos striker. The Lithuanian fell over theatrically and the referee, Steve Conroy, later told Bairns' coach, John Hughes, he thought the 21-year-old had head-butted Velicka.

Falkirk have appealed against the decision and the Scottish Football Association will rule on the matter today. "I read that we're a team with a lot of cheats in it and we've been doing it for several seasons," Frail said. "We're just looking to do our job here. Other people should just look at their own club and just focus on their players and nobody else."

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