Alex McLeish has never taken a backward step in his life.
And the former Gothenburg Great and international stalwart wasn’t about to change his tune when he returned to Aberdeen this week.
One moment, the Scotland manager was posing for selfies with the staff at the Tivoli Theatre, where he was helping promote the launch of Vodafone’s new broadband revolution in the Granite City.
The next, he was getting involved in an impromptu Q & A with the company’s officials and letting the audience in on a big secret when he was asked which question he dreaded the most.
“Hmm, that’s a difficult one….” he deadpanned to the crowd. “I guess that it must be: ‘So who’s going to score our goals, big man?”
McLeish recognises this is a pressing issue for the Scots, given recent events, with Hearts star Stephen Naismith ruled out through injury from his country’s crucial Nations League matches against Israel and Albania later this month.
But although the obvious replacement – Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths – controversially withdrew from the squad a few weeks ago, McLeish refused to become embroiled in negative thoughts on his whistle-stop jaunt to the north east.
Instead, he was positively upbeat about the fashion in which Aberdeen booked their place in the Betfred Cup final – against Celtic – with a resilient 1-0 victory over Rangers through a late goal from Lewis Ferguson at Hampden Park.
McLeish said: “It was a marvellous achievement by Aberdeen and the way Derek McInnes and his team went about their job was nothing short of brilliant.
“Rangers had a lot of the ball and the territory, but Derek’s side put in a lot of hard work, they were very solid at the back, they took their chance when it came, and it was really impressive to see them step up in what was a big test for them.
“I know what success means to the Aberdeen fans and I’ve seen the smiles on people’s faces today. And, although I have to be neutral, it is encouraging there is so much healthy competition in the SPFL and the League Cup this season so far.”
McLeish has always revelled in the monicker “Big Eck”. But he has a towering personality as well. He may have faced criticism from sections of the Tartan Army after recent defeats to Israel and Portugal.
But he has no magic wand or stars such as Messi, Mbappe or Neymar at his disposal. He has to focus on accentuating the positives. And that’s what he’s doing
He said: “I’m pleased with the level of competition there is in the SPFL and it has turned out differently from how most people would have predicted at the start of the season.
“Celtic are still the team to beat – they are still the yardstick – but you can see the progress which has been made by Hearts and Hibs and then you look at how well Livingston have done on returning to the top flight.
“It’s not just been about one or two clubs, there have been six or seven who have stepped up their game. Even the teams in the bottom half have shown their ability – we saw St Mirren draw with Celtic – and I think it is good for Scottish football.”
Even as we spoke, McLeish looked at the posters around him at the Tivoli and marvelled at how this “iconic” Aberdeen theatre had once hosted such vaudeville luminaries as Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.
Yet he knows there will be no room for comic-cut displays when he picks his squad for this month’s fixtures.
He added: “We’ve blooded a few youngsters in recent games and it’s always good to watch new players come into the ranks.
“But we know there are important matches coming up. And what I’m looking at is a settled formula.”
Life is never easy for Scotland bosses these days. But Alex McLeish doesn’t act as if he has the weight of the World Cup on his shoulders.