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Gordon Smith: Rangers and Celtic may hold the key to McLeish’s future tenure

Scotland Manager Alex  (SNS Group)
Scotland Manager Alex (SNS Group)

I NEVER like to see people rushing to judgment on a manager.

Turning an underperforming side into a successful one is never easy – especially when you’ve no access the transfer market.

But the reality is that Alex McLeish’s future as Scotland manager will be judged on his next two games.

The key to him keeping the job could lie with how Celtic and Rangers perform in Europe.

There’s been widespread discontent about the way the national team has been performing since he took over in February.

The criticism reached a crescendo after the dismal display in Israel, and defeat by Portugal did nothing to lessen the pressure on McLeish.

Looking back at the last two games, there’s been an incredible amount of discussion about the tactics adopted by Scotland.

People have been obsessing about McLeish’s decision to play a 3-5-2 formation against Israel.

Let’s be clear, it didn’t work, but that wasn’t the only reason why Scotland lost 2-1.

They adopted that formation against Albania and beat them at Hampden.

Most people were of the view that Israel were of a lesser standard because they’d already lost to Albania.

Can you imagine the outcry if McLeish had adopted a different shape and lost?

People would have said it was crazy to change a winning formula.

The truth is that Israel performed better than expected and Scotland were poorer.

Losing to Portugal in a friendly three days later did nothing for morale, but they are the reigning European champions, even if a number of their top stars were missing at Hampden.

The cumulative effect of Scotland’s failure to make a major tournament since 1998 is making the job of manager more difficult than ever.

Losing matches always leads to criticism. Add on 20 years of disappointment and the grumbling gets louder very quickly.

It’s true that McLeish wasn’t the popular choice for the job, but I find it incredible that some people have been calling for Gordon Strachan to be re-instated.

He had two full campaigns and failed to gain qualification.

It’s generally forgotten that he was actually in charge for three campaigns, albeit the qualifying for World Cup 2014 was already underway when he took over from Craig Levein.

It seems crazy that Alex McLeish’s second spell could be over after just 10 games.

However, winning only twice in his first eight matches means that could happen.

Winning the Nations League group only guarantees a play-off spot for Euro 2020, but that will be seen as a massive thing by the Tartan Army.

They’re desperate for anything that takes us closer to ending the drought of appearances at major finals.

McLeish now has a nervous month ahead, before an away game against Albania on November 17 and a home tie with Israel three days later.

The Israel game will be like a cup final, assuming the Scots can win or draw in Albania.

If they lose, then it could come down to scoring a certain number of goals to top the group.

That’s not something anyone would be looking forward to.

The manager will be hoping there are no more injury problems, and his first picks are on top form.

He’s already one player down after the news that defender John Souttar is facing a lengthy lay-off.

It’s incredible that we now have such a dearth of right-footed players at the back.

Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson, Charlie Mulgrew and Scott McKenna are all left-sided.

A boost for the country could come from club football.

The Scottish game would get some confidence from Rangers and Celtic performing well in the Europa League.

Scotland looked strongest when they had a large number of Celtic players forming the core of the side last season.

But Brendan Rodgers’ men made an uncertain start to this campaign and that hasn’t helped the national side.

Scotland would be a more formidable outfit with a midfield that contained an on-form James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong and John McGinn.

The first two play for Celtic, Armstrong has not long left and they wanted McGinn.

There’s been lots of debate about Leigh Griffiths – his fitness and his attitude – but I believe he can still be a key man for Scotland.

The country needs him and I hope to see him back in dark blue next month.