Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Burley confidence trick does Scotland no favours

By KEVIN HATCHARD. My colleague from Sportsmedia. A superb radio and text journalist. Kev explains why George Burley should've walked as Scotland boss.
The superb illusionist Derren Brown has set tongues wagging this month with his prediction of the National Lottery numbers, but I would argue there’s been an even slicker piece of misdirection recently.
Somehow George Burley has hypnotised the Scottish Football Association, and convinced them he’s the man to spearhead Scotland’s bid to qualify for Euro 2012. He’s conjured images of pride, passion, and a narrow failure to make the World Cup qualification playoffs.

Time to shatter some illusions. This failure was not as agonisingly heroic as Burley would have everyone believe. Even if Scotland had won their final qualifier against Holland, there’s no guarantee it would have been enough to make the playoffs. Indeed, Norway finished second with a meagre return of ten points, and look set to miss out on the playoffs as the runner-up with the worst record.

Scotland’s results in arguably the weakest qualification group were frankly pitiful. The campaign started with defeat in Skopje to a pedestrian Macedonia side ranked more than twenty places below them, and it says a lot that the laboured 2-0 win over the same opponents at Hampden was seen as one of Scotland’s best performances of the campaign. James McFadden’s superb solo goal was the tasty icing on a somewhat bland, crumbling cake.

Burley’s men took just one point from two games against a Norway side that are outside the world’s top forty and haven’t qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000. The furore surrounding Chris Iwelumo’s astonishing close-range miss in the home match diverted attention away from a dire performance, a game in which keeper Craig Gordon rescued his country on several occasions.

Burley’s team selection for the 4-0 defeat in Oslo baffled most observers, and the subsequent performance was alarmingly poor. The sending off of defender Gary Caldwell was unfortunate, but the resultant collapse was inexcusable.

The two victories over Iceland were the least that could be expected against a team that finished bottom of the group with just one win.

Despite a litany of errors and tactical misjudgements, Scotland could still have given themselves a chance with victory at home to the Dutch. It seems appropriately depressing that a misdirected header from David Weir, parachuted back into the international set-up by Burley at the age of 39, should lead to the late Dutch goal that ended Scotland’s World Cup dream. Another Burley gamble had backfired, and the qualification campaign lay in ruins.

Burley was quick to praise his defeated troops, using words like pride and passion. I would have thought that pride in playing for your country and passion for the game are surely the minimum requirements, not qualities to be given high praise.

The SFA used the same language of losers when justifying the decision to retain Burley’s services. They too spoke of passion and commitment, describing Burley as a man who deeply cares about his country. No mention of tactical nous, no reference to levels of performance. There is talk of heading in the right direction, but no evidence to back that up.

Normally I would be the first to advocate managerial stability, but in this case I would make an exception. I fear the SFA and Burley are using sleight of hand to sell the loyal Tartan Army a qualification dream that cannot come true, and the rabbit’s set to stay rooted to the bottom of the Euro 2012 hat.

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