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Scots rage against Levein but the talent isn't there anymore

A friend has a theory which he applies to Scottish football and I state it here without comment. It goes something like this: certain qualities -- shouting, bullying, drinking -- are more durable than others, whimsical creativity, say, and sporting cunning. The Scottish football man, my friend says, is good at shouting and bullying but no good at things anymore that aren't shouting and bullying.

For this reason, he believes, the great Scottish football manager continues to prosper while the great Scottish player moves closer to extinction.

Scotland and Ireland have many similarities. We are wedded together by a complex relationship with drink and England but Ireland has never managed to produce the great managers that were rolled out in Scotland.

Some say the Scottish accent provides its own authority whereas the Irish accent, to English ears, is associated with the arrival of a fun activity like all-night drinking or even all-day drinking.

The response, "I just love your accent," is all very well and can often be turned to our advantage, but it slightly undermines the point if you've just told the listener they're a worthless piece of shit who will never play for the club again.

Perhaps this is why Michael O'Leary irritates English people so much. As soon as they hear his voice, some involuntary neural reflex has them thinking, "I just love your accent," before they register that he, or one of his proxies, is telling them that they owe him £745 for a packet of Skittles.

O'Leary's genius is that he has made this work for him by appealing to the sadomasochistic strain within people but, while there have been excellent Irish managers, they have not been produced with the same frequency as they have in Scotland.

The weather in Scotland is also conducive to producing the perfectly disgruntled worldview that helps create a certain type of football manager. Of course a man will be argumentative and tetchy if he's out in the cold all day. It may also have accelerated the decline of the Scottish footballer. Once there is an alternative to staying on the street all day, it's hard not to take it.

For a time, many hoped that Craig Levein could straddle the gap between the old world and the new. He had been in the occasional brawl but he also wore glasses.

When he was a player, Levein was banned for 14 matches for punching his team-mate Graeme Hogg on the field. Both players were sent off -- Hogg while on a stretcher -- and many marked Levein down for greatness from that moment.

He was an experimental manager, too, who wasn't afraid to be tactically daring by playing an innovative 4-6-0 formation. He followed through on this adventure by falling out with Scotland's best striker, effectively committing himself to playing without an international forward, no matter how many players were nominally selected to play in that position.

Levein took a stance on Steven Fletcher which was in the finest tradition of the Scottish manager. Some would say that it is in the finest traditions of Craig Levein that he is denying himself a player he needs, misunderstanding the nature of the stance, certainly as the finest managers have always understood it.

Instead he is trapped by abstract concepts like desire (Steven Fletcher doesn't have enough of it apparently) which, like talk of hunger, is rolled out when the speaker can't think of anything meaningful to say.

Levein is not helped by Fletcher taking a counter-stance of refusing to play for Levein. Indeed we may be witnessing the first stance from a great Scottish manager of the future.

Levein has wondered about the fee Sunderland played for Fletcher, not an unreasonable position for a neutral commentator, but not necessarily a position which suggests he is preparing a peace initiative.

It is a most unfortunate convergence of events. Scottish managers have lost their talent and their gifted players while retaining their anger. In fact, their anger has grown as the talent disappears, something which must be connected.

Perhaps they have it too easy now. After all, anyone can be enraged by Alan Hutton and Kenny Miller. It takes a man of genius to be angered by a team containing Jimmy Johnstone, Dave Mackay and Slim Jim Baxter.

Those men had other ways of driving their managers demented and frequently fell back on them late into the night but there was no option but to forgive them.

Those great men provide only memories and some torture now. Even the days of the great eejit Ally MacLeod can be looked back on with fondness. They laughed at MacLeod when he said he was going to the World Cup to win it. Looking back, he was a realist. If he said it today, he would be considered a danger to himself and others.

They still have their managers like Alex Ferguson and David Moyes with their gruff bark of authority, even if others like Alex McLeish and the Scottish-Irish hybrid Owen Coyle have diminished in stature.

Levein insists he is making progress and, like all managers in those situations, he can point to a day when they had to wait until injury-time to beat Liechtenstein as an example of how bad things used to be. Failing to beat Serbia and Macedonia at home doesn't seem so awful after that.

Scotland play Belgium and Wales, who are wrestling with their own problems, next. Belgium are everyone's favourite European team, an indication of the new world order.

Scotland had gifted players once but now they only have the anger. There's no sign of that diminishing any time soon.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport