Who replaces Shelley Kerr as Scotland manager?
After the departure of Shelley Kerr, a look at what went wrong and who could, or should, replace her.
In an October evening in Helsinki, Scotland trailed 1-0 in Finland in a Women's European Championship qualifier. The campaign wasn't yet at the critical "must-win" stage, but defeat was going to hurt.
For 14 second half minutes as they searched for an equaliser, Scotland played without a recognised striker. Instead Christie Murray, a midfielder and the shortest player on the pitch, played as a centre forward.
Finland were playing two banks of four and deploying a one-to-one marking system. Murray, unsurprisingly, got nowhere near any of the crosses into the box. It wasn't until the 77th minute that Jane Ross - who has scored 60 times for her country - entered the fray. In her 13 minutes she twice went close, even flicking a header off the bar.
But why the delay? Why play 14 minutes without a forward when trailing 1-0? It was one of numerous tactical decisions that frustrated fans and, it seems, players, as Scotland's qualifying campaign eventually failed and led to manager Shelley Kerr standing down on Christmas Eve.
After Scotland again lost to Finland earlier last month, this time to a stoppage-time goal at Easter Road, Arsenal winger Lisa Evans did not hold back.
She said: "We've got such a good squad. I don't think we've got the full potential out of the squad. Professionalism day in, day out. There is professionalism. We need more of it.
"We need game management, we need to manage situations better. Quality needs to be better across the board. We need to push more, get more out of each other. Staff need to get more out of us."
There had been frictions between Kerr and the players for some time. There were dissenting voices within the squad at the preparation for the World Cup. Then, in the aftermath of Scotland blowing a 3-0 lead to Argentina and being knocked out in the group stage, Kerr infamously let rip at the squad in a team meeting, leaving players in tears and some questioning their Scotland future.
Now, I like Shelley. I've known her for many years - long before she got the Scotland job - and have always found her warm and engaging. And, in her, Scotland had someone who was a bit more media savvy than her predecessor Anna Signeul and able to help grow and promote the women's side to a larger audience.
But I've never played in one of her football teams. And since she has stood down - we're well over a week since then now - it's notable that not one single Scotland player has posted on social media wishing her well or offering any sort of tribute. The silence is deafening.
Who replaces her?
The job itself is one to covet. In the short term, Scotland have an excellent squad, one that shouldn't have been finishing third in Euros qualifying. The chances of taking them to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand should be high, though the qualifying draw isn't yet known.
In midfield they boast players who can be considered some of the best in the women's game. Kim Little, Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert could command a place in most, if not all, teams in Europe.
Their weak point is defence. Outwith the first choice pairing of Rachel Corsie and Jennifer Beattie they had trouble with the others who stepped up. Up front they have plenty of options and it was a surprise that Scotland couldn't even score once in their previous three games.
There should be many names looking at that squad and thinking what they would change and improve on. But picking the right candidate will be tricky.
Since 1998, Scotland have had three managers. Vera Pauw of the Netherlands, Sweden's Anna Signeul, and Shelley Kerr. All female coaches. Ideally, they would want to stick with a female coach. Pauline Hamill currently coaches the under-19s and may throw her hat in the ring to make the step up. Debbi McCulloch manages Spartans in the Scottish Women's Premier League and is arguably the most high-profile women's coach in Scotland. Amy McDonald was recently the head coach at Rangers before stepping aside to work in the academy.
They could again go to a foreign manager, their third appointment out of four. England appointed a high profile male coach in Phil Neville and are now moving towards Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman. But you imagine that will come with criticism, when there are many Scottish coaches capable of filling the role and the only obstacle would appear to be their sex.
Scott Booth has recently completed 150 games in charge of Glasgow City and has won league titles, cups, and taken them into the last eight of the Champions League. The idea is that he would jump at the Scotland job, but currently he is committed to City where he has been given money to spend in order to fight off the threat being posed by the Old Firm. It's one he's revelling in and prizing him away might prove trickier than expected.
Willie Kirk is doing a power of work at Everton, recently leading them into the FA Cup final. His assistant Chris Roberts, who like Kirk enjoyed success as Hibernian head coach, may also be prepared to listen to what Scotland have to say.
Eddie Wolecki Black was the first manager in Scotland to win a quadruple treble while at Glasgow City. Since then he has suffered a brain haemorrhage and it's a minor miracle he's still with us, but on his return to management he got Motherwell promoted, and in his short stint at Celtic there were improvements.
Perhaps, though, the most obvious candidate is Kevin Murphy. Vastly experienced, he was most recently appointed Hearts manager and head of their girls academy before switching across the M8 to become Rangers Womens' assistant and head of their academy. He is a big reason for their current SWPL progress where they sit top of the league, and he's also previously been Scotland under-19s coach and knows the international set-up. He's well known and liked by the players and is comfortable in front of the media.
Scotland complete their already doomed Euro campaign in February away to Cyprus and at home to Portugal, and it's likely the SFA will have their new name appointed before then so we shouldn't have long to wait to learn who it will be.
We've been assured 2021 will be better than last year. Hopefully that extends to the women's national side too as a new era gets underway.
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