Last night, Gordon Strachan’s Scotland team came within cold inches of losing to Lithuania at Hampden Park.
But for a very late goal they’d have done just that, and in the aftermath of the game Strachan went out of his way to heap praise on Chris Martin, the man he’d opted to bet the tie, and the qualification prospects of the team, on.
I listened to him in incredulity, because his comments made no sense whatsoever. Martin didn’t have a particularly good game; Martin is not a particularly good player. He hasn’t scored in twenty league matches in England and has scored twice in nine internationals thus far; against Gibraltar and Malta. He’s not exactly dynamic. His decision to field young Oliver Burke is equally baffling; Burke hasn’t done enough yet to prove he can hack it.
Gordon Strachan has always been a bit like this; a bit too “father knows best” for his own good.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy.
That’s why it hurts to see him fumble about like this, making stupid mistakes that seem to have more to do with pride than judgement. There is not a single manager in the game who would choose Chris Martin over Leigh Griffiths; Strachan knows this himself. His refusal to play the Celtic striker is ridiculous.
Whether it’s pride or not, as some have suggested, I don’t know. But Gordon Strachan can’t be unaware that he’s letting it slip away from him here, and from the thousands of Scotland fans who can’t wait for these games to come around. I prefer domestic football every day of the week, but I’m one of those people who watches Scotland games biting my nails and to see such frustrating decision-making makes me crazy.
Chris Martin wasn’t outstanding last night; not even close.
What Gordon means when he says that is that his own decision making wasn’t flawed, that he got it right on, that he was justified in his daft and ultimately failed team selection. But he wasn’t, neither in the decision to leave Griffiths on the bench or the one where he picked Burke over the rejuvenated James Forrest. He got both of those decisions badly, badly wrong but I already know that’s the kind of thing Gordon Strachan won’t even admit to himself far less to other people.
Simply put, Leigh Griffiths is the best striker Scotland has. Is it a personal thing between him and the manager? Or does he genuinely not realise what’s so obvious to the rest of us? Or is it, perhaps, as some have suggested, that he’s not putting our best players into a place where they might get injured? I don’t know, but I would be screaming from the rooftops if players at another club were getting that kind of treatment, to the detriment of the national team.
I like Gordon Strachan. I want to see him succeed.
But he’s blowing it, and he’s blowing it because of the same old faults which have haunted him his entire career; a tendency to make decisions about players based on criteria that has nothing to do with their ability to do the job, that and the stubbornness not to admit when he gets it wrong.
If Griffiths doesn’t play on Tuesday Strachan is making a rod for his own back.
Last night’s result was appalling, and it could have been avoided.
It could also have been worse.