Stewart Regan out as SFA chief executive – so what’s next?

With the dust now settling on Stewart Regan’s resignation as Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association, it’s time to take stock and work out how Scottish football moves forward. Regan did not exactly leave a legacy; more a trail of destruction after an almost eight year spell littered with failure after failure. Since 2010 when he was appointed as chief executive replacing Gordon Smith, Regan bumbled his way through the role eventually replacing the respect he had coming in with utter disdain. Fans, clubs and players alike all failed to warm to him and his inability to get results marked his card from very early on. At a recent scheduled SFA board meeting, Regan’s fate was sealed. He simply had to go.

What went wrong?

The role of Chief Executive of the SFA is never been one that is well liked, according to seasoned journalist Tom English but Regan’s approval levels were so low that it’s surprising he didn’t get the boot sooner. Make no mistake about it, Regan was pushed out by a disappointed board rather than making it his decision. His failure to secure a sponsor beyond the end of this summers deal with Vauxhall was a major issue. As was his failed attempt to bring in Michael O’Neill as new Scotland manager. Throw into that two hastily arranged summer friendly games half way across the world that few are in favour of and you have a melting pot of calamity that sealed his fate.

Regan failed to tempt O’Neill away from Northern Ireland (image from Tumblr)

Was he really that bad and what next for the SFA?

Regan departed with a brief statement stating “While it has been tough, I am proud to leave having overseen a period of significant change and substantial growth”.  Growth is hardly the word that most Scotland fans would use and to be fair they are not wrong. He did have some successes as he implemented many of the recommended changes from the Henry McLeish report into Scottish Football including the introduction of an independent judicial panel and the roll out of a pyramid system  to help lower divisional teams like in the Highland leagues gain access to the leagues. But for everything good he did, there were four or five calamitous mistakes in judgement or avoidable errors. Examples include the referees strike in his first year in charge, the handling of the Rangers EBT tax case and subsequent administration, his appointments both at national team manager level and performance director that failed to deliver on numerous levels or his general approach to things which tended to rub people up the wrong way – case in point why did he not speak to the clubs about the summer friendlies and explain the idea before announcing to the media. Those friendlies aid no-one, especially the development of the national team and the clubs in Scotland who can help raise the nations UEFA co-efficient making things easier in the long run. The SFA board could no longer excuse his ineffectiveness and excused him from the role. Now their hunt begins for his successor and its an appointment of the utmost importance – they must hire the right person who can hit the ground running immediately and start to make amends for the last eight disappointing years.

Who is in the running?

Replacing Regan will however not be easy. Yes the bar has been set remarkably low almost to the point that a cardboard cut out of William Wallace may do a better job but still a difficult one to fill. The SFA needs to get the appointment right. They need someone who has experience as a leader, someone who knows the game but can also create fresh ideas. They need to forget about nonsense notions of appointing someone like Gordon Strachan – great player, good coach but not a Chief Executive by any stretch of the imagination. There are some obvious candidates out there like Neil Doncaster who could be tempted to switch from the league to the FA. But if the SFA is to win back the support of the fans,  they need a fresh approach and in my view a woman’s touch with two fantastic options being Ann Budge and Leann Dempster. The Edinburgh based pair have worked wonders at their respective clubs, Hearts and Hibernian in recent years and although perform different roles have the same attributes needed to be successful. Highly respected in the Scottish game already for the work they have done, both would bring a freshness to an organization that has simply become stale. Whether either would want the job is a different story as many view it as an impossible task especially given the conditions that the job has to operate under and the country it operates within.

Hibernian chief executive Leann Dempster is an early favourite for the job (Image from Tumblr)

What Challenges will the new person face?

Many. Scotland is naturally a very pessimistic country but when it comes to football, that pessimism is magnified by ten. Decades of heart-break and under achievement on the pitch coupled with a sense of distrust in those who run the game in the country have contributed to an overflowing melting point of skepticism and depression. At the very heart of this is the SFA and its eight board members who between them decide the fate of the game. Predominantly each member has their own agenda to enforce tied into the club that they are there in part representing. In the past that has made decision-making at the top-level almost impossible as members were more inclined to side with what worked out best for them and their club than for the betterment of Scottish football. This is slowly changing with the appointment of the boards first female member in Ana Stewart recently but the old school mentality still exists making life for whoever the chief executive is difficult. Added into this some major challenges such as finding a new manager for the men’s national team, making a decision on a national stadium, finding a new sponsor and tackling the issues with Project Brave should make the job as appealing as a root canal without anesthetic

If it’s that bad, will anyone be able to succeed?

In short yes. The challenges are resolvable and some could give the new chief executive some early wins. Appointing a new national manager is the priority before the friendlies in March against Costa Rica and Hungary.  Speed and effective communication are key to this – advising the likes of Malky MacKay and Gary Caldwell that they have no hope in hell of getting the job whilst interviewing more suitable candidates like Alex McLeish, Steve Clarke and Lars Lagerback in the first few weeks should help the new chief executives case. Next is a national sponsor to replace Vauxhall whose existing deal runs out in the summer. Then tackling the stadium issue (moving to Murrayfield the most sensible option here) before the end of the year should result in a positive scorecard for the new person in charge from the fans, clubs and media alike. Oh and also ditching those pointless around the world friendlies in the summer against Peru and Mexico would help too!

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World Cup Hangover Hands Hope To Europe’s Smaller Nations

Three games played and maximum points obtained for Northern Ireland and Iceland has placed them in a good position in their quest to end their respective hiatuses from international competitions. Having never qualified for the European Championships and possessing only limited exposure at World Cups (Northern Ireland have qualified three times – 1958, 1982 and 1986 whilst Iceland have never made it) both nations are desperate to qualify for France 2016. The startling improvements in both sides over recent years have given hope to their legions of fans who are praying that this is the time that they will make it. Having suffered heartbreak during the last World Cup qualifying campaign by narrowly missing out thanks to a playoff defeat by Croatia, Iceland have once again stepped up and are showcasing  the talents of what many are describing as a new golden generation. Convincing wins over Turkey and Latvia were swiftly followed by a shock 2-0 win over Holland on Monday past that has left Lars Lagerbeck’s side top of Group A, level on points with the Czech Republic. To suggest Holland were off the pace would be accurate with their World Cup heroic’s still heavy on their legs but credit must be given to Iceland who battled hard and created several good chances throughout the game and deserved the points. Whilst Holland licks their wounds under new coach Guus Hiddink, Iceland can prepare for their next game against the Czech’s safe in the knowledge that significant progress has been made in their bid to qualify for France.

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland (Image from Getty)

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland
(Image from Getty)

In Group F, Northern Ireland gave their chances a dramatic boost with three stunning wins over the Faroe Islands, Hungary and Greece putting them top of the pile. Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been in exceptional form scoring in all three games but it’s at the back that Northern Ireland have looked so impressive. Roy Carroll has rolled back the years with a series of fine performances in goal whilst Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have marshaled the defense against some top opposition. In the last game against Greece in particular, the Northern Irish backline stifled attack after attack by the Greeks who like Holland have failed to spark under a new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The group is far from over for Northern Ireland with a long way still to go including tough matches against Finland, Romania and Greece to come but manager Michael O’Neill will take much optimism from the performances of his team in their opening few games which has left his side with a strong chance of qualification.

Lafferty sinks Greece (Image from Getty)

Lafferty sinks Greece
(Image from Getty)

The World Cup hangover appears to have affected several of Europe’s top nations including its current world champions. Having gone all the way in Brazil, Germany looked odds on favourites to top their group and progress to the European Championships in France for a shot at winning an historic double. But it would appear that the hangover from the party following their World Cup win has not yet subsided after three below par performances. One win, a draw and a shock defeat to Poland has Joachim Low’s team lying in third place in the group on four points with it all to do. After the retirement of the influential defensive pair of Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, Germany have looked less than convincing at the back. Manager Joachim Low has drafted in several potential solutions but none look as convincing as the exiting duo. Germany’s problems are not just limited to the back either with issues upfront as well. With Miroslav Klose finally calling time on his international career and an injury to Chelsea’s Andreas Schurrle, the World champions have struggled to convert the simplest of chances in their last three games. In total Germany created 35 chances in their opening group games against Scotland, Poland and Republic of Ireland converting only three of them. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Max Kruse has been identified as the successor to Klose’s crown but has yet to replicate his goal scoring club form on the international stage.

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany (Image from PA)

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany
(Image from PA)

Scotland’s chances of reaching their first international tournament in over 16 years stayed on track with a well fought 2-2 draw with Poland. After losing to Germany in game one and then beating Georgia at Ibrox on Saturday by a single goal, Gordon Strachan’s team travelled to Warsaw to face a buoyant Poland, who had surprised many with their 2-0 win over Germany. The game was ninety minutes full of end to end action with neither team willing to walk away with nothing. In the end a draw was a fair result and leaves both teams in contention for qualification. Next up for Strachan and Scotland is a home match against Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland with both managers knowing that only three points will do in what is becoming an increasingly open group. Having held Germany to a 1-1 draw in their last match (thanks to a 94th minute equalizer by John O’Shea), the Republic travel to Glasgow next month with seven points from a possible nine. After collecting maximum points against Georgia and Gibraltar in the first two matches, the hard fought point against an arguably tougher foe in Germany will give the Republic of Ireland belief that they can beat Scotland in their own back yard. With all time leading goal scorer Robbie Keane back firing at all cylinders, the Scots will need to be cautious next month if they are to gain any points.

John O'Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany (Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

John O’Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany
(Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

Wales too are playing a cautious game after an impressive start to their qualifying campaign. Wins over Andorra and Cyprus plus a 0-0 draw with Bosnia has put Wales top of the group but with a series of difficult matches ahead against Belgium and Israel, Wales are taking nothing for granted. Led by the talents of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, this youthful looking Welsh side hold strong belief that they can reach France 2016 and end the welsh fans misery. Having only ever reached one World Cup (1958) and one European Championship (1976), the welsh fans have been starved of competitive international tournaments for too long and are now looking towards manager Chris Coleman and his new batch of players to correct this problem. Hope is high in the welsh valleys but like the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is still a long way to go.

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