With the dust now settling on Stewart Regan’s resignation as Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association, it’s time to take stock and work out how Scottish football moves forward. Regan did not exactly leave a legacy; more a trail of destruction after an almost eight year spell littered with failure after failure. Since 2010 when he was appointed as chief executive replacing Gordon Smith, Regan bumbled his way through the role eventually replacing the respect he had coming in with utter disdain. Fans, clubs and players alike all failed to warm to him and his inability to get results marked his card from very early on. At a recent scheduled SFA board meeting, Regan’s fate was sealed. He simply had to go.
What went wrong?
The role of Chief Executive of the SFA is never been one that is well liked, according to seasoned journalist Tom English but Regan’s approval levels were so low that it’s surprising he didn’t get the boot sooner. Make no mistake about it, Regan was pushed out by a disappointed board rather than making it his decision. His failure to secure a sponsor beyond the end of this summers deal with Vauxhall was a major issue. As was his failed attempt to bring in Michael O’Neill as new Scotland manager. Throw into that two hastily arranged summer friendly games half way across the world that few are in favour of and you have a melting pot of calamity that sealed his fate.
Was he really that bad and what next for the SFA?
Regan departed with a brief statement stating “While it has been tough, I am proud to leave having overseen a period of significant change and substantial growth”. Growth is hardly the word that most Scotland fans would use and to be fair they are not wrong. He did have some successes as he implemented many of the recommended changes from the Henry McLeish report into Scottish Football including the introduction of an independent judicial panel and the roll out of a pyramid system to help lower divisional teams like in the Highland leagues gain access to the leagues. But for everything good he did, there were four or five calamitous mistakes in judgement or avoidable errors. Examples include the referees strike in his first year in charge, the handling of the Rangers EBT tax case and subsequent administration, his appointments both at national team manager level and performance director that failed to deliver on numerous levels or his general approach to things which tended to rub people up the wrong way – case in point why did he not speak to the clubs about the summer friendlies and explain the idea before announcing to the media. Those friendlies aid no-one, especially the development of the national team and the clubs in Scotland who can help raise the nations UEFA co-efficient making things easier in the long run. The SFA board could no longer excuse his ineffectiveness and excused him from the role. Now their hunt begins for his successor and its an appointment of the utmost importance – they must hire the right person who can hit the ground running immediately and start to make amends for the last eight disappointing years.
Who is in the running?
Replacing Regan will however not be easy. Yes the bar has been set remarkably low almost to the point that a cardboard cut out of William Wallace may do a better job but still a difficult one to fill. The SFA needs to get the appointment right. They need someone who has experience as a leader, someone who knows the game but can also create fresh ideas. They need to forget about nonsense notions of appointing someone like Gordon Strachan – great player, good coach but not a Chief Executive by any stretch of the imagination. There are some obvious candidates out there like Neil Doncaster who could be tempted to switch from the league to the FA. But if the SFA is to win back the support of the fans, they need a fresh approach and in my view a woman’s touch with two fantastic options being Ann Budge and Leann Dempster. The Edinburgh based pair have worked wonders at their respective clubs, Hearts and Hibernian in recent years and although perform different roles have the same attributes needed to be successful. Highly respected in the Scottish game already for the work they have done, both would bring a freshness to an organization that has simply become stale. Whether either would want the job is a different story as many view it as an impossible task especially given the conditions that the job has to operate under and the country it operates within.
What Challenges will the new person face?
Many. Scotland is naturally a very pessimistic country but when it comes to football, that pessimism is magnified by ten. Decades of heart-break and under achievement on the pitch coupled with a sense of distrust in those who run the game in the country have contributed to an overflowing melting point of skepticism and depression. At the very heart of this is the SFA and its eight board members who between them decide the fate of the game. Predominantly each member has their own agenda to enforce tied into the club that they are there in part representing. In the past that has made decision-making at the top-level almost impossible as members were more inclined to side with what worked out best for them and their club than for the betterment of Scottish football. This is slowly changing with the appointment of the boards first female member in Ana Stewart recently but the old school mentality still exists making life for whoever the chief executive is difficult. Added into this some major challenges such as finding a new manager for the men’s national team, making a decision on a national stadium, finding a new sponsor and tackling the issues with Project Brave should make the job as appealing as a root canal without anesthetic
If it’s that bad, will anyone be able to succeed?
In short yes. The challenges are resolvable and some could give the new chief executive some early wins. Appointing a new national manager is the priority before the friendlies in March against Costa Rica and Hungary. Speed and effective communication are key to this – advising the likes of Malky MacKay and Gary Caldwell that they have no hope in hell of getting the job whilst interviewing more suitable candidates like Alex McLeish, Steve Clarke and Lars Lagerback in the first few weeks should help the new chief executives case. Next is a national sponsor to replace Vauxhall whose existing deal runs out in the summer. Then tackling the stadium issue (moving to Murrayfield the most sensible option here) before the end of the year should result in a positive scorecard for the new person in charge from the fans, clubs and media alike. Oh and also ditching those pointless around the world friendlies in the summer against Peru and Mexico would help too!