BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
PAUL HARTLEY is adamant Gordon Strachan remains the right man to lead Scotland – but insists he would not be surprised to see the veteran coach walk away of his own volition.
Strachan’s position is under scrutiny following a second successive failed qualifying campaign, with a heartbreaking 2-2 draw in Slovenia on Sunday insufficient to secure a playoff berth in Group F on the road to Russia 2018.
Hartley, capped 25 times for Scotland, firmly believes Strachan remains the stand-out choice for the job and reckons the haul of 11 points from a possible 15 to end the campaign is ample reason to be positive heading ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying.
“There has definitely been an improvement over the past five games,” said Hartley. “I think the start of the campaign has killed us – that was slow and Gordon was still trying to find the right balance, the right team.
“However, we’ve seen the improvement, we are stronger and he now knows his best team. There should be a lot of hope around the national team because of the last few results.
“Gordon has progressed the team, especially in bringing the younger players on and I think we’ve got to continue with that with that.
“The Scotland job is not an easy gig and, going to Slovenia, of course we didn’t play as well as we could have played, but I think he’s the right man for the next campaign.
“Who are you going to bring in, if you decide to replace the manager? Is there somebody better out there? I don’t think so, but that’s a matter of opinion.”
Hartley, who won four major honours during his two years playing under Strachan at Parkhead, has no doubt the players will also be united in their desire to see him remain at the helm.
“I know the players love him because I speak to some of them,” continued Hartley. “Why do they love him? Coaching, coaching, coaching! That’s his strength.
“You see him on the training pitch and you’ll see what an outstanding coach he is. You need to work with him to understand how he works; what makes him different.
“I know people might have a different view of him but he is great company too, someone you can chat with for hours.”
Hartley, however, insists there could also be a question mark regarding whether Strachan, who will be 61 years of age when the Euro 2020 qualifying cycle commences, still wants the job.
“I think he’s the type of person who might just say ‘I’ve been here for the last couple of campaigns, we’ve not managed to qualify so maybe it’s time for somebody else to take over the mantle’”, he continued.
“Gordon will be pretty honest with them. He’ll make his own mind up and he’s a very honest man. Maybe at this time of his life now, he doesn’t need this pressure of another campaign.”
While Strachan’s future is the key talking point in the post-mortem of another miserable night for Scotland, Hartley reckons plenty of positives have come from an ultimately failed campaign and can see the gradual emergence of a new generation of young talent.
Leigh Griffiths has cemented his position as Scotland’s top striker, Kieran Tierney’s reputation continues to soar, the likes of John McGinn, Ryan Fraser and Callum McGregor have received call-ups and the nation’s under-21 side are a promising group progressing under the watchful eye of Scot Gemmill.
“I like Callum McGregor, I like John McGinn,” he added. “Then you look at Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney – they’re both still pretty young. Tierney is only 20. I honestly think there are some good young players who have come through.
“Some of them have staked a claim during the campaign, players like Ryan Fraser at Bournemouth, who we’ll see much more of. The more experienced these young players get, the better we’ll become.”