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Gordon Smith: Alex McLeish left the SFA because he was paid a pittance

James McFadden is tipped to be in Alex McLeish's backroom staff (PA)
James McFadden is tipped to be in Alex McLeish's backroom staff (PA)

AS the SFA’s chief executive at the time, I was more disappointed than anyone when Alex McLeish walked out on Scotland.

I had only been in the post for a few months, and his departure came on the back of our ultimately unsuccessful – yet nevertheless very strong – Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

We beat France home and away, Ukraine at Hampden and only just came up short against Italy in the deciding match in Glasgow.

When Alex flew out to South Africa to attend the draw for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, hopes were high we would also be represented at the Finals themselves in a playing capacity.

Instead, on his return, he resigned his position and was quickly appointed as manager of Birmingham City.

With him went his Scotland assistants, Andy Watson and Roy Aitken.

It didn’t go down well at all with the Tartan Army, who couldn’t understand why he would, in their eyes, be so disloyal to the country.

I knew better.

The simple truth was that at the SFA, we were pretty much paying Alex a pittance compared to what was on offer elsewhere.

His work in the Euro qualifiers helped lift us to 17th in the world rankings.

For a country our size, that was a tremendous effort.

The win in Paris, in which James McFadden scored his brilliant goal, was one of the greatest nights in our history.

So Alex’s stock was sky-high.

It was time for him to cash in – and that is exactly what he did.

A lot of people up here were dismissive of Birmingham City in terms of their attractiveness as an employer.

But they offered Alex everything he was looking for – English Premier League football, high wages, money to spend on players and plenty of potential.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that he had success at Birmingham, leading the Blues to a famous League Cup Final win over Arsenal in 2011.

Things went sour for him when he moved across the city to Aston Villa but he had had ambitions of managing in the English Premier League and he gave it a go.

Now he is back as Scotland manager and, from my own experience of working with him, I have no doubt he will again give the post everything he has got.

In his opening press conference, Alex spoke of the importance of getting the Tartan Army onside and I would hope too that they will get behind him.

Steve Clarke had his supporters to land the job, and it was easy to see why. He has been performing miracles at Kilmarnock over the last weeks and months.

But he did not get the job, Alex did and it is important everyone in the country gets behind him.

James McFadden has been linked with one of the assistant posts and I think that would certainly be a popular move.

The two men know each other well from their time working at club and country.

I have mentioned that wonderful night in Paris.

Less well remembered is that Alex paid Everton £5m to get him to sign for Birmingham City in his first summer transfer window.

James is involved in coaching now and, at 34, with a high profile from his time at Everton, is someone even the youngest Scottish players can easily identify with.

The biggest part of the job, of course, is results and here Alex is fortunate in that we have the friendly matches against Costa Rica and Hungary coming up next month, with the Nations League qualifiers to follow.

They should ease him into the post perfectly and give him the chance to try out some of the exciting young players he has been talking about.

Several of them play for Celtic, and he will need to be diplomatic when dealing with all the clubs, especially when it comes to the controversial trip to South America next summer to play friendlies against Peru and Mexico.

I think he will do fine on that front. His experience of having managed the country before should prove invaluable.

He will need some luck too.

Nothing that has gone before can help him out there.