In the end, it came as a relief, like an act of mercy. The dismissal of George Burley last Monday left Scotland without a manager and lost to a deep and sincere introspection. The 3-0 defeat by a young Wales side in Cardiff eight days ago was the final indignity for Burley, but it also prompted a heartfelt appraisal of the nature of the sport in a country where the old game is still so much a part of the nation's self-esteem. These are the questions that have gathered around Scottish football.
What state is the game really in?
By most measures, not a particularly healthy one. It is 11 years since Scotland last contributed to the finals of a major international tournament and having slipped down the Fifa rankings, they are likely to be in the third seeds when the Euro 2012 qualifiers are drawn in February. Rangers face a crucial game against Stuttgart on Tuesday to try to avoid finishing bottom of their Champions' League group. Celtic have not won in the Europa League, while Aberdeen, Motherwell and Falkirk did not even survive the qualifying rounds. With most SPL clubs laden with debt, and Lloyds Bank placing a representative on the Rangers board, finances are also stricken.
So where does Scottish football go from here?
With the likelihood that Rangers and Celtic will be out of Europe by the end of the year, and both teams so inconsistent that the title race has come to resemble nothing more than a series of lapses in self-control, the next significant development will be the appointment of Burley's replacement. Only a high profile or deeply respected manager would bring a surge of optimism. "You need the national side doing well so kids take an interest," says Kevin Gallacher, the former Dundee United and Blackburn Rovers striker.
Who is the best man for the job?
In an ideal world, Sir Alex Ferguson. But then, he could have taken the job on his own terms the last time it was vacant, when the SFA chief executive Gordon Smith sought his opinion on potential candidates, and he turned it down. The leading contenders are Craig Levein, Jim Jefferies, John Collins and Jimmy Calderwood, and due to budget constraints, the only way the SFA could appoint a more globally recognised figure would be to follow Ireland, who allow a sponsor to pay much of Giovanni Trapattoni's salary. "We might have to look at that," adds Smith. "But getting sponsors is more difficult than ever."
What about the SPL, would it flourish if the Old Firm departed?
Although the English Premier League categorically said they will not invite Rangers and Celtic down, both clubs still believe they would maximise their income by leaving Scottish football, with an Atlantic League another possibility. It is 24 years since a non-Old Firm team – Aberdeen – won the League, but the two Glasgow clubs attract much of the game's sponsorship, advertising and media revenue. A League without them would be more competitive, but less relevant to the wider world.
Where is the next Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness coming from?
A handful of Scots play in the English Premier League, but not with the same authority of the likes of Billy Bremner and Dave Mackay, so youth development needs reconsideration. "In Eastern Europe, some people are still fighting to get out of difficult situations, which means working on your game without other distractions," says the former Chelsea, Everton and Scotland winger Pat Nevin. "Should we go back to that? Can we somehow?"
What about a radical shake-up?
Former Aberdeen chief executive Keith Wyness said Scotland should become world football's youth league. This is extreme, but what of other innovations, such as a bigger SPL or summer football? "With summer football, there's the difficulty of World Cup and European Championship years, but that's not a concern for Scotland at the moment," says Nevin. "A bigger SPL has a negative impact on the amount of money each club receives, and there'd be many meaningless games. There are no easy answers."