The year 2012 will not be looked back on with fond memories for Scotland. Only two wins from eight games, not a single one in competitive action, and yet another major tournament passing us by with noses pressed up against the window. Only if you’re into football betting and laid on the inevitability of Craig Levein’s eventual sacking can you have taken any satisfaction from the year as a Scotland fan.
It has to be said that Scotland didn’t begin the year in the best of spirits anyway. Having missed out on qualification for UEFA Euro 2012 during 2011 there were the seeds of doubt in Levein’s leadership and a strong start to the FIFA World Cup 2014 qualification campaign was needed in response.
That strong start didn’t materialise, and with every passing failure to win the manager’s departure became more and more inevitable. Eventually, on November 5th, he was relieved of his duties but at least with the comfort of being paid through to the end of his contract. It wouldn’t be an SFA decision if there wasn’t something ridiculous about it.
However, let’s rewind back to the beginning of the year. As other nations prepared for Euro 2012 and we looked on with envious eyes (particularly at the Czech Republic), Scotland went about getting themselves ready for another qualification campaign. There was an inexperienced feel about the team that faced Slovenia in February as Levein tested out new options, notably Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest, who had both been in excellent club form. A 1-1 draw against tough Eastern European opposition was a respectable outcome, particularly given the fact that we would have to face Serbia and Croatia in the World Cup qualifiers.
Scotland fans tend to live in a state of feast or famine, results are either brilliant or disastrous and rarely hit a point in between, so there was optimism building again after the Slovenia match. Perhaps the day when it all began to fall apart for Levein, however, was in the side’s next outing on the 26th May. The squad travelled to Florida for their final friendly of the season and, for once, the appalled reaction of the fans was justified. A strong Scotland side were battered 5-1 by the USA and the murmurs regarding Levein’s future grew louder.
The doubters weren’t quietened much by August’s 3-1 win over Australia at Easter Road, although it was good to see Jordan Rhodes get a start and a goal there was a growing sense of dread about the upcoming qualifiers. With a start against Serbia and Macedonia at home in the first double header, Scotland had to get off to a bright start. They didn’t. Having struggled to a 0-0 against a youthful Serbia side that were there for the taking, and then Scotland were outplayed in a 1-1 draw with Macedonia three days later.
Despite taking just two points from two home games, Levein continued to insist that the trip to face Wales was not a ‘must win’ game. A good job that, as we didn’t win it. Chris Coleman’s outfit had been without a win since he took over, but still they managed to turn over an increasingly poor Scotland side, and left the former Dundee United boss clinging onto his job by his fingernails. His grip finally slipped when he watched his team whimper to defeat in Belgium, leaving Scotland with two points from four games and no chance whatsoever of booking their place in the finals in Brazil in two years time.
The SFA took their time, weighed up all the evidence and eventually came to the staggeringly clear conclusion that it was time for Levein to go. If 2011 had been the warning that he wasn’t up to the job, 2012 had spelled it out as clearly as possible. Many names were mentioned as his replacement, but the Under-21′s boss Billy Stark was put in temporary charge. He oversaw the 2-1 friendly win in Luxembourg, in truth telling us little that we didn’t already know about him or the squad and hardly making a big claim for the job on a permanent basis.
Despite the horrors of 2012, Scotland can once again look forward with optimism. We may have no chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Levein saw to that, but with a new (and hopefully more competent) man in charge, some exciting talents working their way through the youth system and an expanded Euro 2016 we might once again stand a chance of qualifying for a major tournament. It at least lets us dream for a few years, anyway.