Scotland manager Alex McLeish has vowed not to walk away from the challenge of trying to end his country’s 22-year absence from a major tournament.
The Scots got their qualification campaign for next summer’s EURO 2020 finals off to the worst possible start with an abysmal 3-0 defeat to lowly Kazakhstan in Nursultan on Thursday, and complete the double header away to San Marino tomorrow.
Although McLeish steered the Scots to victory in their Nations League section, which assures them of a place in the EURO 2020 play-offs, the former Aberdeen defender has failed to inspire during his second stint as national team boss.
McLeish has lost seven of the 11 matches he has taken charge of since returning to the post last February, with Thursday’s defeat proving the last straw for much of the Tartan Army.
When asked if he was tempted to quit, McLeish said: “No, not at all. This is in my genes. Listen, of course it’s hard. But I never feel I’m on a hiding to nothing or anything like that. I still feel it’s a fantastic challenge.
“If we can do it now and qualify from this set-back it will be the greatest ever. Right now everybody is telling me it’s the worst ever, but that’s what I have to believe, that we can turn it around.”
McLeish insists he understands the frustration of the Scots’ supporters, adding: “I’ve been a punter before as well. I’ve had a lot of anger but time’s a healer.
“I’d like the players to be remembered for having the spirit that never gives up, like the rugby guys. This is now a challenge for a lot of these guys who have suffered this defeat like I have.”
McLeish will now aim to lift his squad for tomorrow’s game against San Marino in Serravalle, with the 60-year-old hoping lessons will be learned from the collapse in Kazakhstan.
McLeish will be without Kieran Tierney who has returned to Scotland due to a pelvic problem, however he hopes to welcome back skipper Andy Robertson following a dental procedure.
McLeish added: “I think all the boys are honest enough to be able to look at the footage and stand up to be counted.
“I won’t single out any individuals but it’s good for them to see some of the bad things. We did an hour-long meeting after the Israel game – and you know it can be hard to sit the modern-day player down for ten minutes – but we had a really good open-air discussion.
“They then saw it right in the two next games. We obviously suffered quite a bit in terms of call-offs. Losing key players made it tougher because it’s probably not a time to be blooding new players.
“We don’t really want to be at that stage of our existence, especially when a competition is coming up. But we had no choice.
“It’s a very young squad when you look at the average age of the team. We have a lot of guys still trying to prove themselves as top players in their own leagues.
“So they have those goals as well as coming into the real furore of international football. Obviously that is another step, but their club form was good. We have to get on with it. We have to brush ourselves down and get ready for the next game.”