Walter Smith was in optimistic mood yesterday as he was confirmed as Scotland's national team coach. The former Rangers and Everton manager signed a four-year contract and immediately set about lifting the gloom that has smothered the Scotland team of late.
"I'm delighted," Smith said. "I'm really looking forward to getting started. I think Scotland have a chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals [in Germany in 2006]. I certainly have not given up hope [but] it's going to be tough. You go in and hope you can get results and if we do get results, it is not impossible."
Scotland have two points from three qualifying games and are fifth in Group Five, a record that forced the previous manager Berti Vogts to resign on 1 November.
"I am slightly old fashioned in that I still think the national manager's job is one that anyone in football would like," Smith said, "and I am no different from that. Scotland may not have the individual talent that we used to have. But I still think there are a lot of good players in the set-up and a lot who would respond well to being involved in a more solid team. If you can get a togetherness in the group then you can have a lot that respond well and then you can achieve success."
A fraction of the success Smith achieved at Rangers would be welcomed by Scotland fans, as the 56-year-old won 13 trophies during his reign at Hampden. But he was unable to repeat the trick at Everton, who sacked him in 2002.
Smith has been involved previously in the Scotland coaching set-up at youth and Under-21 level and worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson when he was Scotland manager briefly in 1986.
However, Smith faces a difficult task reversing the decline in the current Scotland team's fortunes. He inherits an inexperienced squad and a disillusioned set of supporters. Vogts left citing "disgraceful abuse", including being spat at by supporters, as the reason for his departure.
Scotland, under their caretaker manager Tommy Burns, whom Smith would like to keep on as assistant manager, were also thumped 4-1 at home by Sweden in a friendly last month. In their World Cup group they trail the leaders Italy by seven points and their next qualifier is away to the Italians on 26 March.
Smith will also take steps to limit the number of friendly matches his team play in the future. Vogts was accused of devaluing the honour of playing for Scotland by capping too many players in meaningless friendlies, but Smith will take a different attitude. "The Future team is a very good idea to look at prospective players, but I think the number of friendlies in the past has resulted in too many withdrawals.
"You have to question the benefit of playing them unless you are certain you have a group of players who are going to be playing in the next competitive game. Recent history suggests that that hasn't been the case so it may be more advantageous if we have group meetings where we can lay down the future of the international team."
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