GORDON STRACHAN is fond of pointing out football matches are won not by managers and their tactics, but by players.
That he chose not to repeat it in the wake of Sam Allardyce’s ignominious exit was due to another of the philosophies he lives by – don’t stick your nose in other people’s business.
And in a way that was a shame. It was the right reply to the question he was being asked: ‘What effect will England losing their manager have on Scotland’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup?’.
Realistically, the answer is none.
Their group of players hasn’t changed a jot and is comfortably the strongest in a group which also contains Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta plus Saturday night’s opponents at Hampden, Lithuania.
As cheering as it was to see Scots Keiran Tierney and Craig Gordon advertise their ability against Manchester City in midweek, the most eye-catching talents on show were two Englishmen, Raheem Sterling and Scott Sinclair.
Sinclair, who has been tearing up the Scottish Premiership since his move north, is scoring in every game, yet is unlikely to get a sniff of the England squad. Regardless of who is in charge.
If that doesn’t sound right, a glance at the team line-ups for Allardyce’s only match in charge, the win away against Slovakia, provides illumination.
On the substitutes’ bench in Trnava, Scotland’s destination next week, were Jamie Vardy, Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli.
And blocking the way for a quartet comfortably worth over £100 million were first-team starters Sterling, Harry Kane, Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney.
Managing a country with a population a tenth of the size of England’s and unable to transfer in any players from abroad, Scotland’s national coach has no such headaches about how to keep several marquee talents happy to be a substitute.
Instead, he has to work with what he has got.
Which is summed up by the fact he acknowledges the nation’s hopes for success on Saturday are liable to hinge on Barry Bannan, a 5ft 6in tall Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, who has pushed his way into the team after a long spell out in the cold.
“I think that was maybe because of where he’s been, on the periphery at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace,” said Strachan.
“As a manager, when they’re not getting a full game you sometimes look at that. Alan Hutton is maybe the only one to buck the trend, who has been doing well for us despite not getting a game at club level.
“The rest I’ve noticed tend to wilt after about 60 minutes. Mentally they’re maybe not at their best when they’re not playing for their clubs.
“So if you’re clever enough you realise that to really get in the team you have to be playing more often.
“And that it will be easier for the Scotland manager to pick me if I’m a regular pick at my club.
“Barry asked me last year what he should do and I told him: ‘just go play games of football’. And he went and did that. Getting himself voted into the PFA Team of the Year, which is terrific.”
What Strachan likes about Bannan, what he likes about so many of his players, is the mental strength he allies to his ability.
“People used to think years ago that crashing into tackles and sticking people up in the air was bravery,” said the national coach.
“It is actually nothing like that. It’s being on the receiving end, being able to take those tackles and keep the ball.
“Barry does that and, 95% of the time, he gives you a ball that you can then do something with. You don’t have to tidy up after he gives you the ball.
“He is really good at passing, which you need to be if you’re a small guy.
“You can’t be small and ordinary, you have to have a special talent. If you’re ordinary, you’d be better off being 6ft 6in tall and ordinary.”
The fact some of our players are in the English Championship doesn’t dampen expectation, especially when the opponent is not one of the game’s big names.
What might surprise some of the Tartan Army is Strachan expects Lithuania to attack Scotland from the first whistle at Hampden on Saturday night.
“I saw their 2-2 draw with Slovenia – which was a cracking game of football with chances everywhere for both sides, and Lithuania against Poland as well.
“It wasn’t as you’d expect. Teams of that stature used to come here 10 years ago and sit in.
“No, they’re out and they’re after you. They get at you. They went after Poland and had a good chance after just 15 seconds.
“So football’s changing a wee bit. The two games will be different in terms of the opposition’s mentality because one is away from home and the other is at home.
“But Lithuania will come for us here if they spot a weakness. So we have to be wary of that.
“Of course, though, the fans will expect to beat Lithuania at Hampden. I understand that.”
The manager has the group motivated and organised. Come Saturday night it will be down to the players to deliver.