Into the New World

Article excerpt

Byline: STEPHEN MCGOWAN Chief Football Writer

How Scots fare on road to Brazil 'will gauge progress' BEFORE Henry McLeish opened his mouth yesterday, the measure of progress was all there in black and white.

Line by line, a six-page missive from the SFA carefully logged the recommendations made by the First Minister to fix Scottish football. By their side was a colour-coded guide to the steps taken already. So far, so good, was the message.

The appointment of a performance director came with a tick. A new Under-20s league is in the offing. A pyramid promotion structure for Highland and Junior clubs is almost there. And the SPL and SFL will soon be one body under the same roof, singing from the same hymn sheet.

Perhaps McLeish's claim that 'more progress has been made in the last six months than in the last 60 years' was a little excessive. On paper, Scottish football's future looks promising. As McLeish himself points out, however, games are never played on paper.

Performance targets do not interest anybody. It is on the pitch that the effectiveness of the proposals will be truly gauged.

How clubs perform in Europe, how many players come through the youth academies. And, most important of all, claimed the former East Fife player, how Scotland's national team perform.

'How do we measure progress at the moment?' asked McLeish, the author of last year's exhaustive independent review. 'I think a lot of Scots will take the World Cup and the qualifying rounds as a measure of the progress we're making across the board.

'I do think that more than all of that, the Scottish fans, the Scottish public, need a boost.

'So that's why I think there are great expectations about the next World Cup.

'Now, it's not the most important thing you can have, but if you're looking for progress, looking for benchmarks -- that's one of them.' In citing the 2014 World Cup finals as the ultimate benchmark of where the game is headed, McLeish unwittingly piled the pressure on to national manager Craig Levein.

Yet the basic point is inarguable. At a time of stark finances and creeping gloom, Scotland's return to the greatest stage of all would do more to invigorate the national game and stimulate attendances than all the strategic guidelines on the planet.

'The second aspect will be to get the reconstruction proposals -- in whatever form -- done and dusted so we can get on with our competitive football,' added McLeish. 'The public will recognise that.

AND I constantly stress this issue. It's no good for us to be getting to a core fan base for many of our clubs -- excluding Rangers and Celtic -- of 4,000-5,000. You can't have a game without fans.' Right now, it feels as if we are headed that way. A gnarled old war horse with a neat line in crowd-pleasing quips, McLeish believes he can change that.

His headline recommendation was that a total of [pounds sterling]500million be found from somewhere to fund improvement to facilities he compares to the worst in Europe. A revamped SFA, a larger SPL and a strong First Division were also high in the list of priorities.

The appointment of a national performance director and the coming together of the SPL and SFL were other key proposals, together with discussions on a new national academy moving along tentatively. …