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Friday, 25 March 2011

Levein The Past Behind

Wonderful experience as it will be to see Scotland play Brazil at the Emirates, there are other subtexts within the national side that are masked somewhat by the occasion. The game itself will be the culmination – the final big lobotomy – of a therapeutic process that has been ongoing since Scotland failed to attack from a 4-6-0 in the Czech Republic and almost failed to win against Liechtenstein at Hampden, preceded, lest we forget, by a failure to convince in Lithuania in the very first game of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

As the campaign looked set to crumble and expectations fell, Scotland (and their manager) began to show flashes of inspiration. The rousing, heady second half against Spain – the sort of glorious defeat so prevalent in recent Scottish football history – and the encouraging passing displays against the Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland have been offered as evidence that Levein’s selection policies are finally paying off, rather than the fact that with qualification no longer in Scotland’s hands, pressure was alleviated. Every manager takes time to impose his personality on a side, after all. At international level, it’s even more difficult.

It was no surprise then, that the normally belligerent Levein is bullish as ever ahead of the game against Brazil. Scotland will probably give a good account of themselves, as they often do with nothing to lose. But these games are fruitless if form cannot be translated. Levein’s overall tenure, his vision, of which the last five months (since the nadir of the game in Prague) are only a part, cannot be said to have come to successful fruition behind the mask of excitement as another green shoot appears.

Perhaps a more significant development is the SFA’s recent signing over to UEFA of the rights to negotiate broadcasting deals from 2014-2018 (as Europe’s governing body centralises the commercial rights of all its 53 member associations), earning the Scottish governing body a figure estimated at £50m, or £12.5m a season. It is thought that the current deal with IMG, who have negotiated deals with the BBC and Sky on the SFA’s behalf since last year, will have generated £45m when it expires in 2014.

Needless to say, Levein is desperate for some of this money – of which the UEFA mandate represents a second increase in commercial terms on the bounce for the SFA – to be invested in coordinating the passage of Scottish national players through the system. The Scotland manager’s relative recent success since October, particularly the introduction of young players such as Barry Bannan and Grant Hanley, has given him the leeway in recent months to offer such grandiose opinions such as: “Getting all our teams to play the one system is something that works at clubs and countries. This is the start of something important.”

Needless to say, too, the SFA has been far from effusive in identifying the intended recipients of this sizeable income. Partly that’s because they haven’t even disclosed the figures yet, although Chief Executive Stewart Regan has stated that, “if the deal is activated in 2014 as expected it will give us flexibility to continue to provide services to all our stakeholders”.

Ironically enough, such cold pragmatism from the SFA would probably see Levein assessed on Scotland’s competitive performances, which a generous person might describe as ‘mixed’ and would leave him unlikely to have sufficient clout or longevity to see any funds redirected the way he wishes. But another good performance against Brazil (Brazil!) and a close-run campaign to get to Euro 2012 may get the SFA suits believing some of the hype – in turn some investment in Scotland’s grass roots may mean future managers never again have to resort to a 4-6-0 in the scrabble for ‘a good away point’. While Levein’s recovery as Scotland manager might remain totally intangible away from the business of qualifiers, its continuing trumpeting could yet be a uniting factor for Scottish football.

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