Scotland and Celtic captain Scott Brown called it a ‘sad sad sad day’ in an Instagram tribute to his boss, but after five years in the Scotland dugout, Gordon Strachan had to go.
He couldn’t salvage a place in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, he couldn’t manufacture a successful Euro 2016 campaign, and the 2018 World Cup will be watched by Scotland on TV after throwing a play-off place away in Slovenia.
Few could say that the former Coventry City, Southampton, Celtic and Middlesbrough boss did not warn of testing times when he took over from Craig Levein in January 2013.
After five years with Scotland, Gordon Strachan had to go following his most recent failure
‘There'll be rough times but I hope there'll be good times too,’ he said, holding aloft a Scotland shirt with his name on the back.
Capped 50 times, Strachan featured in Scotland's 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals campaigns. He had the experience of major tournaments from his playing days but as a manager it went wrong time and time again.
Defeat to Wales in his first competitive game in charge was followed by a 2-0 defeat to Serbia in Novi Sad as the Scots became the first European side to be ruled out of a place in Brazil.
Since taking over in January 2013, Strachan has overseen three failed qualification attempts
Scotland needed a win in Slovenia to reach the 2018 World Cup play-offs, but only drew 2-2
For context, even San Marino and Andorra were still mathematically in with a chance of qualifying for the tournament when Strachan’s side were ruled out - but with qualification in tatters the results picked up.
When it mattered least there were impressive wins over Croatia, Norway and Poland as Strachan looked to imprint his own identity on the team.
In came players like Derby County’s Ikechi Anya and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, and with the 2016 European Championships extended from 16 teams to 24, there was a sense in the stands that a place at a major tournament was not far away.
They’d been in France for the World Cup in 1998 and with momentum building, a return to Paris for Euro 2016 seemed tantalisingly close.
Strachan blooded several players including Ikechi Anya but was often wedded to experience
‘Some groups you might call mundane,’ he said. ‘We’re definitely in an exciting group. It’s a terrific, terrific draw.’
Despite starting with a defeat in Dortmund to a Germany side buoyed by World Cup victory, the Scots sat third in their group after six games, three points off group rivals Poland for that second automatic qualification spot.
For once, this was no disaster. Strachan appeared to have made his side resilient, well-drilled and they were grinding out results in a tricky group.
Then, as it tends to do with Scotland, history came back to repeat itself and all the positives washed away with a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Scotland came closest to reaching Euro 2016, but a loss in Georgia paved the way to failure
Defeat in 2007 ended any hope of reaching Euro 2008 and a 1-0 defeat at the same venue eight years later was the nail in the Euro 2016 coffin.
With England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all part of Euro 2016 missing out on that particular party was tough to take for the Tartan Army.
‘Sometimes it's a bumpy ride to get where you want to go - we had a bump tonight and we have to deal with that,’ Strachan said in defeat.
Events in Tbilisi were a car crash rather than a bump. If failure to reach Brazil 2014 was strike one then failure to reach Euro 2016 was certainly strike two. Strachan’s third and final swing came with Russia 2018.
Early defeats to Slovakia and England suggested Strachan was not the man for the job before a misery compiling 1-1 home draw with Lithuania.
A five-hour crisis meeting with the SFA saw Strachan spared but with the benefit of hindsight, some may think today’s decision comes far too late. Fans had lost faith after that Lithuania draw. The early disadvantage was surely irreversible?
Scotland's 2018 campaign started badly, including a 2-2 draw at home to minnows Lithuania
Yet in typical ‘hard-luck story’ fashion, new life was breathed into the Scots with wins over Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia left them in second place, one win away from a World Cup play-off spot. Maybe Strachan would be the first manager in 20 years to lead them into a major international tournament after all.
Injuries to captain Brown and Celtic team-mate Stuart Armstrong had fans pleading to see young players given a chance to make an impact.
Experience trumped youthfulness in Strachan’s final selections and if a play-off place was lost that decision was always going to be front and centre - but when Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths struck the opening goal past Atletico Madrid and Slovenia ‘keeper Jan Oblak, the optimism among Scotland supporters was close to overflowing.
Almost nervous to allow excitement to take hold, the familiar feeling of disappointment soon returned as events in Slovenia ended in a 2-2 draw.
It wasn’t enough. Slovakia beat Malta to take the runner’s up spot behind Gareth Southgate’s England side and Scotland’s hopes were ended. Height was to blame it seemed as Strachan’s bizarre post-match genetics comments became the headline of the piece.
After the Slovenia draw, Strachan bizarrely blamed genetics for his side falling short again
What if Griffiths had started the first three qualifiers? What if Armstrong had not given the ball away seconds before Harry Kane equalised at Hampden? What if Strachan had placed faith in exciting young midfielders John McGinn and Callum McGregor? The fact is that Strachan’s reigns always end in bitterly disappointing fashion.
It ended sourly at Coventry City when supporter unrest saw him sacked five matches into the 2001–02 season. It petered out at Celtic after failing to lead them to another league title in the 2008–09 season, he resigned as manager on 25 May 2009. It was a disaster at Middlesbrough as he voluntarily tore up his contract and left without compensation after a poor run of results.
With Scotland, Strachan steered the ship – rather than rebuilt it - for just under five years and he will be remembered as yet another failed manager. Three strikes and there was no argument that Strachan was well and truly out.