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Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Levein's great challenge

Craig Levein was pleased with his talks with the Scottish FA

By Keir Murray

When Craig Levein settles down behind his desk on his first day in the job as Scotland manager, he will have before him a list of objectives.

Chief among those will be to lead Scotland to their first major finals of the millennium.

John Collins' gallus wink to the camera as it panned the Scotland team lining up to face Brazil in the 1998 World Cup opener seems an awful long time ago.

A generation of fans - say, anyone born after 1992 - will have no recollection of the type of national fervour created by Scotland's participation in the finals of a tournament.

That has to be rectified. And no, the 2006 Kirin Cup triumph over Bulgaria and Japan does not count.

Craig Brown, as assistant to Andy Roxburgh and as manager in his own right, reached the finals of five major championships in 12 years.

As he told BBC Scotland on Monday, the effect of qualification lifts the game as a whole in the country: suddenly, going to games seems a more attractive proposition; children want to wear the replica Scotland strip; and the Scottish Football Association will have many uses for the additional broadcasting and commercial revenue that comes its way.

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Second, Scotland are 46th in the Fifa rankings, just ahead of Mali, Gabon and Burkina Faso.

Unless Levein can produce a winning team, the country is in danger of dropping further down the rankings and associated qualification pots, making progress to World Cup finals and European Championships an ever more arduous task.

Next, Levein will don the much-lampooned navy SFA blazer to attend the draw in Warsaw on 7 February for the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

In previous draws, Brown did a fine job of negotiating a sequence of fixtures that suited the team, based on the opposition's climate and the likely position of his team's situation in the qualifying group.

But George Burley's first competitive match will be remembered for the soaring temperature in Skopje when Scotland wilted to a 1-0 defeat in Macedonia.

In Warsaw, if Levein and SFA chief executive Gordon Smith can quickly get a handle on their prospective opponents, they will be thanked by the players if they can work out a deal to face the weaker teams first and countries from warmer climates in the colder months.

And, when the group of players at Levein's disposal aren't among Europe's finest, the competitive advantage to be gained from arranging decent hotels and training facilities for his team could be vital.

Fourth, Levein has to get the best from the players available to him. The players responded intermittently under Burley's guidance, too often failing horribly, as in the 4-0 defeat in Oslo by Norway and the 3-0 reverse by the Welsh in Cardiff.

Dundee United manager Craig Levein
Will Levein welcome Ferguson and McGregor back with open arms?

Yet, under the same manager, they showed on occasion that they could produce a rousing performance, such as the 2-0 defeat of Macedonia at Hampden in September.

Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor's misdemeanours on international duty have been well documented. With Levein's arrival an opportunity is there to bring these two players back into the squad.

Ferguson, a former Scotland captain, is playing close to his peak again at Birmingham City, and McGregor looks like a formidable obstacle in the Rangers goal.

Rangers striker Kris Boyd's exile from the Scotland team differs from that of the aforementioned duo in that his is self-imposed: he refused to play for George Burley after being snubbed too often.

Looking sharper than previous seasons and having added a work ethic to his prodigious scoring talent, Boyd's return would give Levein a natural goalscorer.

But having turned his back on the national team, it remains to be seen how accepting the Scotland fans would be of the player.

Levein has a presence, with a stare that borders on menacing. His fall-outs with team-mates and referees, and his outspokenness on TV and radio, have cemented his reputation as a no-nonsense character.

Though he might fall short of a Kenny Dalglish or a Graeme Souness in any "show us your medals" dressing-room revolt, Levein's sense of conviction, eloquence, passion and his own achievements in the game - which include playing in the 1990 World Cup finals - will surely result in a squad that listens to, and follows, his instructions.

One suspects that if any player fails to adhere to the new manager's vision, he will be ejected from the Scotland set-up without a moment's pause for reflection by Levein.

In his early days, the Tartan Army will represent not a challenge to Levein but an immense resource. After the dismay they felt in the doomed 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, the goodwill for the Scotland manager will return under Levein.

It took Burley five matches before the team registered their first win; the former United boss will want to create a momentum and belief immediately.

Levein may have been marooned in his Fife home by the wintry weather when the final touches were being added to the deal to appoint him as Scotland manager, but a positive result against the Czech Republic in the March home friendly could soon snowball, with players and fans alike buying into his vision of how the team should play.

Of course, there are other major challenges; among them, the ability of his employers to shoot themselves in the foot, the limited pool of talented players, and the threat to SFA resources if Scotland matches are free to air.

But, unlike Burley, if media-savvy Levein can keep the tabloids on his side and continue to handle himself confidently when under the glare of a room full of reporters, he will help to buy himself the time it will take to restore Scotland's footballing fortunes.

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see also
Dundee Utd begin manager search
23 Dec 09 |  Dundee Utd
Brown scoffs Levein boredom fears
21 Dec 09 |  Football
Who is Craig Levein?
17 Dec 09 |  Dundee Utd
Dundee Utd want 500k for Levein
18 Dec 09 |  Football
Levein fears boredom in Scots job
19 Dec 09 |  Scottish Premier
Smith warns of Scots frustration
18 Dec 09 |  Internationals
SPL managers applaud Levein move
17 Dec 09 |  Scottish Premier
Scotland draw big names - Smith
14 Dec 09 |  Internationals
Give Dalglish Scots job - Brown
12 Dec 09 |  Internationals
Capello backs Scala's Scots bid
11 Dec 09 |  Internationals
Scots FA cancels Petrescu meeting
09 Dec 09 |  Internationals
SFA to sound out Gers boss Smith
04 Dec 09 |  Internationals
Levein plans a youth revolution
20 Jun 09 |  Dundee Utd
Peat demands Scots drinks probe
03 Apr 09 |  Internationals
The rise and fall of Burley
16 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Macedonia 1-0 Scotland
06 Sep 08 |  Internationals

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