Griffiths returns + Man U get their man
SFA plays down McLeish future after poor Euro results
Point of order: Alex McLeish is said to be struggling with the pressure (pic: SNS Group)
Football chiefs have played down suggestions that Alex McLeish will pay the price for Scotland’s poor start to the Euro 2020 campaign by being removed from his position as national coach.
The 60-year-old has faced a torrent of criticism following last week’s 3-0 qualifying loss to Kazakhstan and a weak showing against San Marino, ranked the world’s worst team. Boos and jeers met the team following the 2-0 victory and may have brought matters to a head.
McLeish hinted that talks had taken place with the Scottish FA after he admitted that he no longer had any control over his own future.
However, despite newspaper reports of a showdown with SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell there is said to be no plans for a meeting.
Reports suggested McLeish is struggling to cope with the stress of the job. He returned for a second spell as Scotland manager in February last year after almost two years out of football following his sacking at Egyptian club Zamalek where he spent just 65 days in charge. The SFA had been turned down by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill following a protracted period of courtship and had also spoken to previous national coach Walter Smith about coming out of retirement.
McLeish, however, has faced mounting criticism that he was only given the job as a result of his long association with current SFA president Alan McRae.
Sympathisers say the 77-times-capped player has been forced to deal with a large number of first choice players pulling out, leaving the manager to fill key positions. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose late save against Israel in November secured a play-off spot for Euro 2020 through the Nations League, retired from international duty, adding to the earlier retirement of skipper Scott Brown and unavailability of goalscorer Leigh Griffiths.
The Daily Record reported that there was a “deeply troubling episode” ahead of Sunday’s match against San Marino which has helped to convince Maxwell that McLeish’s health is being adversely affected by the ferocious intensity of the job.
Leigh Griffiths thankful (pic: SNS Group)
Griffiths: ‘It will be a long road back’
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has admitted he faces a ‘long road back’ to reclaim his best form for the Scottish champions.
The striker hasn’t played since December as he battled off-field issues but after the club announced he is ready to return to training, the forward said: “I’d like to thank everyone for showing me such support across the past few months. I know it will be a long road back but I am ready to do all I can to get there
“I am so grateful to the club for everything they have given me and the way in which they have supported me so strongly.
“The Celtic supporters, too, have been a huge source of inspiration and strength for me and I want to thank them all sincerely for staying with me.“
Griffiths has netted 104 goals in 202 appearances for Celtic since arriving from Wolves during Neil Lennon’s first spell as manager five years ago.
The interim Celtic boss, whose side take on Rangers at Parkhead on Sunday looking to extend their lead at the top of the table to 13 points, said: “We are really pleased that Leigh will be looking to get things going again at Lennoxtown and be making a phased return to training.
“In no way will we put any timescale on a possible return to the first team. Instead, we will make sure we work with him on the best, most productive way forward.
“He will really be focusing on his own programme at the moment and then we will see what progress we make from there. We will not rush him in any way and we will allow him, of course, to take things slowly and at the pace he is comfortable with.
“As the club has been doing throughout the last period, we’ll continue to give Leigh every support to make sure that his health and well-being are our No. 1 priority.”
Man United boost (pic: SNS Group)
Manchester United appoint Solskjaer
Manchester United have appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjær as the club’s full-time manager on a three-year contract.
Solskjær scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United between 1996 and 2007 and also managed the club’s reserve team until the end of 2010.
The former striker had been caretaker manager since replacing Jose Mourinho in December and said: “From the first day I arrived, I felt at home at this special club.
“It was an honour to be a Manchester United player, and then to start my coaching career here. The last few months have been a fantastic experience and I want to thank all of the coaches, players and staff for the work we’ve done so far.
“This is the job that I always dreamed of doing and I’m beyond excited to have the chance to lead the club long-term and hopefully deliver the continued success that our amazing fans deserve.”
Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman, said: “Since coming in as caretaker manager in December, the results Ole has delivered speak for themselves. More than just performances and results, Ole brings a wealth of experience, both as a player and as a coach, coupled with a desire to give young players their chance and a deep understanding of the culture of the club.
“This all means that he is the right person to take Manchester United forward. I want to thank Ole and the coaching team for everything they have done so far and congratulate him on this richly deserved appointment. The fans and everyone at the club are behind him as he looks to take us where we need to be and build the next stage of our history.”