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Gordon Strachan's genetic excuse more pathetic than Scotland's dismal collapse in Slovenia

Strachan's genetic excuse more pathetic than Scotland's dismal collapse in Slovenia

09/10/2017 at 21:55Updated 10/10/2017 at 01:16

Gordon Strachan's poor decision-making rather than genetics cost Scotland dearly as they blew up when a World Cup play-off place was there for the taking, writes Desmond Kane.

It will be recalled years from now as one of professional sport's greatest tall stories.

In poring over the ruins of another desperate failure for Scotland in a 2-2 World Cup-ending draw in Slovenia, Strachan tried to paint a picture that a plucky, Pictish Scotland squad are somehow at a major disadvantage due to the genetics of a nation.

"Genetically we are behind," he said. "In the last campaign we were the second smallest, apart from Spain.

"We had to pick a team to combat the height and strength at set-plays. Genetically we have to work at things, maybe we get big women and men together and see what we can do. But it is a problem for us because we have to fight harder for every ball and jump higher than anyone else."

Genetically speaking, Strachan has suggested Scotland came up short in Slovenia because they don’t produce taller footballers. It is a nonsensical and embarrassing excuse when the truth is that Scotland need a bigger man as manager to make the right team selection at the right time.

It is not the hope that hurts, but bad calls that cut the deepest: Strachan’s dismal choice of players was the real reason why Scotland failed.

When confronted by the heat for which he was hired, Strachan wilted as much as the one-paced bunch of players he chose for a match in Ljubljana the national side had to win to keep alive hopes of qualifying for next year’s finals in Russia.

Gordon Strachan in Slovenia.

Gordon Strachan in Slovenia.Eurosport

That Scotland initially led undeservedly at half-time courtesy of a goal from the outstanding Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, a player Strachan disgracefully shunned at the start of this qualifying campaign, is further illustration that he is not the right man for the job.

Rather than buttress Scotland’s midfield with an extra midfielder in the second half as Scotland were led a merry dance by Slovenia, he opted to maintain faith in a side who looked jaded, and were moving as quickly as rust.

When Scotland, with Christophe Berra and Charlie Mulgrew sitting deeper than your average submariner, saw their advantage shredded by Roman Bezjak, he opted to replace a striker Chris Martin with a midfielder in Ikechi Anya as Scotland weirdly went with only one up front.

When Scotland needed another goal, he opted to take off a 6ft striker in the shape of Martin. That he decided to start with Martin is another moot point. This is a forward who has not scored a goal for Derby this season. His last goal at any level was his winner against Slovenia at Hampden Park in March.

Hardly reasons to hand him a start for Scotland’s biggest match since they lost a win-or-bust Euro 2008 qualifier with Italy a decade ago.

Bezjak added another after more farcical marking at a set-piece on 72 minutes and it was clear the game was up for Scotland. When a visionary and reactionary coach was needed to catapult Scotland into the World Cup play-offs for the first time since 2003, Strachan resorted to type.

It is perhaps Strachan's unwillingness to heed the warnings of the past that are the biggest indictment on his unsuccessful tenure as manager that has saw Scotland fail to qualify for Euro 2016 and the World Cup in Russia.

Players of national football team of Scotland look dejected after the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Slovenia and Scotland at stadium Stozice on October 08, 2017 in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Players of national football team of Scotland look dejected after the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Slovenia and Scotland at stadium Stozice on October 08, 2017 in Ljubljana, SloveniaGetty Images

It was clear Scotland needed pace and purpose in the second half, not least to take the strain off a retreating defence.

But there is nothing you can do when you have a coach who appears to place misplaced value on the English Championship, and who is blinded by his lack of foresight in failing to see the trees for the (James) Forrest.

Midfielder Callum McGregor is the second top goalscorer in the Scottish Premiership with five goals and two assists, and his Celtic companion James Forrest has been a key winger in helping them qualify for the Champions League. A week ago, the young Hibernian midfielder John McGinn scored twice at Celtic Park in a 2-2 draw. With legs like a Clydesdale horse, it was an evening built for McGinn.

It was shameful that only Forrest saw 61 minutes of the 1-0 win over Slovakia on Thursday and none of the three appeared in Slovenia. There was never any intention to play them despite supporters crying out for them.

Without the energy to square up to the home side, 4-4-2 was a disastrous choice, but he could have altered matters at half-time.

Strachan went back to the tried and trusted who failed in the previous campaign as the night ended with Craig Gordon and Griffiths as the only two Celtic players on the pitch.

One of the main reasons why Scotland managed to recover from an appalling start to the campaign was the influence of Celtic on this Scotland side, but without the injured Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong, he had options to maintain a strong, youthful Scottish Premiership influence.

Barry Bannan, James McArthur, the leggy Matt Phillips and Ikechi Anya are not better than Forrest, McGregor and McGinn because they play in England, but Strachan has his favourites.

"Guys go overboard about the home players and forget what’s happening elsewhere. Only because they see the home players. I get about and see them all. Barry was picked in the Championship team of the year last year. He is playing even better this year."

Bannan lacked pace to help Scotland counter in key moments. Weirdly enough, Strachan is a former Celtic manager who disrespected Celtic when he needed his old club most.

A modern coach willing to play men in form would have achieved a result. Scotland left it all out in the pitch in Ljubljana, but they left plenty more on the bench. While it is fashionable to make the manager the scapegoat for failings in football, it is fair to see Strachan as the merchant of Scotland’s doom.

His belief that Scotland's struggles are somehow linked to genetics will be recalled as one of the most lame excuses in the history of sport when you consider the success little big nations such as Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Argentina have enjoyed.

If Scotland are as Strachan claims technically sound, size does not matter. The most galling aspect of all this is that Scotland were more than good enough to finish second, and even challenge England for first when you consider how they needed Harry Kane's equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Hampden Park in June before limping home to top Group F.

Strachan has generally been the latest mediocre Scotland manager since the millennium. Probably better than Berti Vogts, George Burley and Craig Levein, but worse than Walter Smith and Craig Brown, the last man to lead Scotland to a major tournament.

Scotland again need to move forward here with good-natured fans suffering as much as the players Strachan fails to berate.

It is simply garbage to claim nobody is out there who can do the job better. Even if Davie Moyes is available for work.

Desmond Kane

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