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Opinion: Questions MUST be asked of Craig Levein as Scotland Manager

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After today’s match I was left with MANY unanswered questions relating to Craig Levein’s performance as Manager of the Scotland National side.

I have my own opinions on his performance, and I have to state first of all that I did not think he was up for the job when he was appointed, but first I will list the questions that need answered.

  1. Why play a defensive 4-5-1 formation against a Czech side that were not a serious threat – as clearly evident from our first game against them?
  2. Why play two players in – Alan Hutton, Steven Naismith – who had no match fitness or were carrying known injuries?
  3. Why make changes only when injury forced your hand?
  4. Why was Steven Naismith not taken off earlier in the Second Half – it was plain to see by many in the stadium that he could not turn on the spot, that he lacked pace and shirked out of challenges afraid to get hurt?
  5. Alan Hutton was two or three yards off the pace why play him at all when he had no game time?
  6. Why play Phil Bardsley out of position when you had dedicated a left back in Stephen Crainey and could have called up Lee Wallace at Left Back. Even Charlie Mulgrew?
  7. Why play one up front – Miller – when the height of the Czech defenders nullified any threat from long balls and punts up field?
  8. Why can you not change your tactics/formation as the game goes? Why do you have to be so rigid in its structure?
  9. Why make substitutions far too late in the game and when the Czechs were on the ascendancy?
  10.  Why let the Czechs dictate play in the Second Half and allow them to play their game?
  11. Where is your man management skills? The players looked a bag of nerves and out of sorts in the first half. Only two or three looked fired up for the game – why not the whole team?
  12. Why do you continue to play Gary Caldwell in defence when he is clearly a liability?
  13. Will you now use the remaining games in these qualifiers to blood the youngsters coming through in time for the World Cup qualifiers?
  14. Will you walk away from Scotland at the end of these qualifiers to give a manager with more fire, more desire and more top-level experience not only in Scotland, but in England the job?

Why play defensive against a poor Czech side?

In the first game against the Czechs we played a ludicrous 4-6-0 formation, which Levein still defends to this day as a good decision. That in itself cannot be defended, but after seeing how poor the Czechs were, why did we go defensive once more and at home?

The game was crying out for TWO strikers to take on the Czech defence, which had more holes in it than a sieve. Did Levein take any notes in the later stages of the game in Prague when we actually attacked the Czechs with strikers on the field? Why not play Goodwillie instead of an unfit Naismith and Miller up front. Their pace, their determination would cause the Czech defence huge problems.

He should stop letting his personal conflicts with players, such as Steven Fletcher, get in the way of selecting Scotland’s best players and one of Scotland’s in-form strikers of the moment. His petty fall-out has cost us a player that could trouble EVERY nation in our group.

Why select players who have no match fitness or are carrying an injury?

Alan Hutton has played NO games this season competitively and you can tell. He was knackered after half an hour of play. Compare Alan Hutton of today to the Alan Hutton he terrorised defences during our World Cup 2010 campaign. Then he had speed, drive, desire and determination. Today he had none of them, he was at least two or three yards off the pace, his touch was atrocious and he was constantly caught out of position and allowed the Czechs to exploit the right flank time and again.

Darren Fletcher was the exception to the rule. He was one of the better players on the field today along with Scott Brown, and he showed all of the attributes needed for an international midfielder. Sadly he had to pick up the pieces – along with Brown – left behind by those who were not pulling their weight, either through performance, due to injury or a lack of match practice.

Steven Naismith, always a threat to sides domestically and at international level also. However he was not fit. He was struggling in the first half, and Levein gave him 80 minutes! He could not turn on the spot when he was in possession of the ball. He rarely took on players, rarely attacked the Czech box while in possession and resorted to two yard passes to players close by. If the player was struggling due to a hip injury, why not put him on the bench as an impact player and select the likes of Barry Robson, Don Cowie or James Forrest ahead of him who are match fit and have been in good form for their respective club’s this season. This is not an attack on Naismith, it is another considered opinion on Levein’s decision-making. Was Levein trying to help out his right hand man Peter Houston, by trying to run down Naismith with an injury, ahead of Dundee United’s game against Rangers next week? Aye okay maybe a wee bit far fetched.

Why make changes only when injury forced your hand?

Levein stated in his post-match comments that injuries forced his hand to make substitutions. Which means that he was reluctant or was not going to make any substitutions in the game. Which again highlights the failure to make important decisions. As stated earlier Hutton and Naismith were showing clear-cut signs of fatigue, yet both played the majority of the game – Hutton playing a full 90 minutes.

On top of that we had scored at the end of the first half, but sat back in the second inviting the Czechs onto us – was Levein playing for a draw? When we scored to go 2-1 in front once again we sat back and invited the Czechs onto us and look what happened. Yes the Czech player dived, however if the important decisions had been made in terms of a change of personnel and tactics then that would have prevented the Czechs from getting back into the game.

The changes were enforced, they should have been made when the game was turning against us, when our players were tired and struggling, not at the 11th hour when any changes were pointless.

Why play players out of position?

Phil Bardsley is NOT a right back. He is not a Danny McGrain who can play left and right back. With an unfit Alan Hutton, Bardsley would have been better off at right back to cover for the dodgy defending of Gary Caldwell. Why call up Stephen Crainey and then not select him as the out-and-out left back that he is? Again shows a distinct lack of decision-making and selection skills.

Why can you not change your tactics/formation as the game goes on?

The Czech manager changed his tactics and formation as he sensed a change in his side’s fortunes. He made tactical decisions that Levein failed to do, he made tactical substitutions again which Levein failed to do. Smicer took the game by the balls and secured a point. Levein stuck rigidly to his 4-5-1 formation sat back defensively and lost two points and with that blew Scotland’s chances of securing a play-off place.

Why let the Czechs dictate play in the Second Half and allow them to play their game?

Why sit back and let the Czechs attack us throughout the game? They are not Spain. They may be higher in the FIFA rankings than us, but they were nothing special. In fact their side today were not fit to lace the boots of the Czech side who reached the finals of EURO 96.

At Hampden against opposition that are of a lesser quality to the likes of Spain and Holland for example, why are we letting our opponents dictate the play. At home WE should be dictating play. We should be dictating the pace of the game, we should be the ones in control not the away side. Allowing the Czechs to play their game gave them the impetus to meet their goals in the pre-match game plan – which was to play for a draw.

Do you have any man management skills?

The players looked a bag of nerves from the kick off to the final whistle. Only four players from the looks of it were fired up for the game – Brown, Fletcher, Adam and Miller. However they are of a certain mould, meaning that they can fire themselves up for such games. There was no outpouring of fight or tenacity from the majority of the players, again pointing to Levein who should be doing his all to get said players fired up for a do-or-die game like today.

Why do you continue to play Gary Caldwell in defence when he is clearly a liability?

Yes, he is an experienced defender and has played in some big games for club and country. But time and time again he shows that he is a liability, the weakest link. Today his heading of the ball proved that he has a square head – he rarely heads the ball forward and when he does it usually ends up in the possession of the other side. He cannot control the ball, as it clearly showed when he tried to control a long punt up the field with his thigh resulting in the ball falling into the path of the Czech striker nearly through on goal one-on-one, but Christophe Berra was there to clean up after Caldwell. AND on top of all that he continues to fire long balls up to Kenny Miller all match, how many headers did Miller win against the height of the Czech defence?

With this qualifying campaign over with now – put in Danny Wilson to gain valuable first team action at international level. Yes the youngster made a mistake in sticking out his foot for the penalty that the Czechs won, which invited them to dive, but he should during his short stint in the Rangers side for their Champions League campaign that he had quality. Partner Wilson and Berra together, ditch Caldwell now.

Blood the youngsters

With the play-off place out of our grasp – not mathematically though – why not blood the youngsters now. Bring through Jamie Murphy, play Goodwillie, Forrest, Wilson, Bannan and Snodgrass. Back them up with the experienced heads of Berra, Bardsley, Fletcher, Brown and Adam to produce a side that will have first team action at international level under their belt for when we kick off our World Cup qualifiers for Brazil 2014.

Will you walk away from Scotland at the end of these qualifiers?

Once the qualifying campaign is over and done with, and once again we fail to reach a major competition will you walk away and let a new man take the reins. Possibly a Graeme Souness or a Gordon Strachan – two men who have experience of playing at the top in Scotland and England, as well as at international level. Not to mention their management careers. Something which Levein is lacking in.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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