McRae hails new manager Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish
Alex McLeish

New Scotland manager Alex McLeish was today hailed as a “true Scotland legend and natural leader” by SFA president Alan McRae.

Gothenburg Great McLeish was today unveiled at Hampden as Scotland’s new boss on a deal until 2020.

It marks a dramatic return to the position McLeish left in 2007 to manage Birmingham City in the English top flight.

McRae said: “Alex McLeish is a true Scotland legend and a natural leader who has enjoyed success at club level in Scotland and England and at international level.

“It is a rarity to be in a position to appoint someone who has experience of successfully managing their country and we are delighted to reach an agreement with Alex.”

The SFA initially targeted Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill as successor to Gordon Strachan who was not given a new contract following the failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia this year.

O’Neill snubbed the SFA’s disastrous advances and a potential move for Walter Smith, also a former Scotland boss, also stalled

McRae said: “During the recruitment process he (McLeish) received resounding endorsements from several influential figures in the game which helped establish him as an outstanding choice from a strong list of possible candidates.

“Alex has demonstrated a desire and ability to get results with the national team and we believe that he is best placed to inspire our talented group of players to glory.”

McLeish has agreed a two-year deal after the Dons legend made a personal pitch to the SFA for the job on Wednesday evening.

The 59-year-old will be tasked with taking the national side to the Euro 2020 finals to end a 22-year qualification nightmare for Scotland.

McRae said: “With Hampden Park hosting matches at UEFA Euro 2020 it is more important than ever before for Scotland to qualify for a tournament finals and we believe that Alex is the exemplary candidate to guide us there.”

McLeish will get a second crack at the Scotland job – four months after he told the Evening Express he was willing to discuss the position with the Scottish FA.

During a distinguished playing career, Alex was capped 77 times – becoming Scotland’s fourth most decorated internationalist – and represented his country at three FIFA World Cups, Spain 82, Mexico 86 and Italia 90.

At club level he made nearly 700 appearances for Aberdeen, winning 13 trophies, including the European Cup Winners’ Cup and European Super Cup.His first match in charge of Scotland will be at Hampden Park on Friday, 23 March against Costa Rica, followed by a trip to Hungary four days later

In McLeish’s previous stint as Scotland manager he came agonisingly close to securing qualification to Euro 2008.

During that campaign Scotland beat world giants France 1-0 in Paris.

McLeish boasts the best win percentage of any Scottish boss in history, winning seven of his 10 games.

Former Rangers. Motherwell and Aston Villa boss McLeish had been championed by vice-president Rod Petrie within the seven-strong SFA board.Former Scotland boss Craig Brown believes the SFA have landed a manager who is “perfect for the job” in McLeish.

Brown remains the last Scotland manager to lead the team to a major tournament having engineered qualification to the World Cup in 1998.

Former Aberdeen boss Brown, now a non-executive director at Pittodrie, said: “Alex is an excellent appointment.

“He could have been the first appointment.

“As a manager he has great presence, good discipline and added to that he has a sense of humour.

“Alex is perfect for the job.

“When he walks into the room people know there is a figurehead with real authority.

“Alex’s win rate (as Scotland boss) is 70% but it’s even more impressive when you consider the quality of opposition he was up against.

“He only had 10 games and most of those were competitive including that famous win against France in Paris thanks to James McFadden’s wonder goal.

“No one can argue with his credentials as a manager or his passion and pride at representing his country.”

McLeish won the domestic treble as manager of Rangers and also led Birmingham City to League Cup glory.

His first competitive game will come against Albania in the new UEFA Nations League on September 10.

Back in October last year when Strachan left the Scotland job by “mutual consent” McLeish confirmed to the Evening Express he would be interested in the post.

He said then: “If you get the phone call to manage your country it is a hard one to turn down.”

McLeish’s high point as Scotland manager came in September 2007 when a sensational long-range volley from McFadden stunned 1998 World Cup winner France 1-0 in Paris.

Former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith worked with McLeish during his first spell in charge of the national side.

More than a decade on he has backed Big Eck’s return.

Smith said: “I’m not surprised that Alex got the job because he was the main candidate for it.

“Scotland were in their highest position ever in the Fifa rankings in 2007 when he left the job. What is success now is qualification for a major tournament.

“If Alex does that, he’ll get a new contract and Scotland will feel the same way about him as Northern Ireland did about Michael O’Neill.

“I don’t think he’ll move out of the international management scene.”