2106: Manager profile: Gordon Strach
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Gordon Strachan has been linked with a number of vacant managerial jobs since leaving Southampton but is now back in the game, replacing Martin O’Neill as the man in charge at Celtic and hoping to write the latest chapter in an eventful and mostly successful career.
The winner of 50 caps for Scotland, enough to earn him a place in the SFA Hall of Fame, Strachan started out with Dundee but it was his move to Aberdeen that kickstarted his career.
Under the guidance of Alex Ferguson, Strachan, a right-sided midfielder, was a key part of the Aberdeen side that broke the dominance of the Old Firm domestically and memorably won the European Cup Winners Cup against Real Madrid in 1983.
In 1984 Strachan left Pittodrie to join Manchester United and was reunited with Ferguson when he took over at Old Trafford in 1986 but simmering tensions between the two men were not resolved and three years later Strachan, then in his thirties left to join second division Leeds United.
Amazingly, Strachan not only inspired Leeds to promotion but played a major role in their 1992 League title win and was named Footballer of the Year at the age of 35, the only player to win the award both in Scotland and England.
In March 1995, Strachan took the job as assistant manager at Coventry, stepping up to first team boss when Ron Atkinson was moved upstairs.
Strachan’s early years at Highfield Road showed the kind of promise that later shone through at Southampton but he will ultimately be remembered as the man in charge when relegation finally came, despite spending more money than any manager in the club’s history.
He was sacked just after the start of the 2001/02 season but was handed almost an immediate return to management with Southampton after Stuart Gray’s departure from the club.
The main positive on Strachan’s CV so far is taking Southampton to the FA Cup Final but the Saints were handed a fairly comfortable run to Cardiff and his subsequent departure from St Mary’s means that no-one could say with any conviction whether he would have built on the encouraging signs that did exist.
Since leaving Southampton, however, Strachan has managed to enhance his reputation as a manager without becoming a boss again thanks to his (excellent) media work.
His incisive opinions and disarming manner mean he comes across very well and with a regular role on Match of the Day 2 as well as newspaper columns, it looks to have taken a big job to make him put his head on the line again.
There are a lot of clubs he could take over in a worse position than Celtic who come with home crowds of 60,000 every week and guaranteed European qualification every season, something that very few jobs down south could have offered Strachan (his well-publicised fall-out with Sir Alex Ferguson makes him an unlikely successor at Old Trafford while he is a world away from the kind of European model that Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are pursuing).
Time is not always afforded to new men in charge at either Old Firm club but despite O’Neill’s popularity, there were enough doubts about his tactical knowledge and performance in the transfer market to mean that Strachan does not have an impossible job, especially if there is some money to spend.
O’Neill is still a tough act to follow but Rangers’ title win and the acceptance that the current Celtic team is reaching the end of a very successful period give Strachan a chance to shape a side in his own image without an immediate need to defend the league title.
Strachan’s major strength is getting the best out of some decidedly average players. In his previous jobs he has managed to get previously unseen form out of both Dion Dublin and James Beattie, turning them into England internationals.
That kind of player seems to be the kind that he is most comfortable with and it will be interesting to see whether he looks to build a team without stars or responds to the size and expectations of his new club with a move for some big-name players.
With Rangers looking a season or two ahead in their rebuilding, next season will be tough for the new man in charge but Strachan knows his managerial reputation can go one of two ways at such a big club (compare O’Neill’s employability now with that of John Barnes) and as always with the man, he will be giving it his best shot.