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Le Guen exit could upset Scots progress

With the departure of Paul Le Guen from the Rangers hot seat, Scotland's national team manager Walter Smith is hotly tipped to become his replacement, accompanied by current Scotland coach and Ibrox legend Ally McCoist.

While the likely return of Smith to Ibrox, where he led to Glasgow side to seven consecutive league titles until 1998, has been met with cautious optimism by Rangers supporters, the majority of Scottish football fans would be dismayed to see Smith and McCoist leave the national side that has experienced a resurgence under their guidance.

Following the shambolic reign of Berti Vogts, that saw Scotland consistently flounder against footballing giants such as the Faroe Islands and Belarus, Smith and McCoist have restored some much-needed stability and confidence to the Scotland squad.

Though replacing Vogts too late in the campaign to qualify for the World Cup, Scotland have enjoyed a fantastic start to their Euro 2008 qualification battle, leading the group of death ahead of World Cup finalists Italy and France, recording a memorable home victory over Les Bleues in the process.

If Smith is to depart, fans fear that Scotland's best chance of qualifying for a major tournament since France 1998 will disappear with him.

Smith still has 18 months to go on his contract with the Scottish Football Association, and they would be looking for compensation from Rangers of at least £250,000.

The suggestion has been floated that Smith could continue in his role with the SFA, while acting as a Director of Football at Rangers for the inexperienced McCoist, who would handle the day-to-day coaching of the squad, until experienced enough to grasp the reins on his own.

McCoist has not had a coaching job other than his part-time position with the national team but has aspirations to be a manager. He turned down the position at Scottish Premiership side Inverness Caledonian Thistle last year, as he did not wish to move too far from his Glasgow home, but a role in management cannot be far away, and as Rangers all time record scorer a trip back to Ibrox would be a dream move.

Ex-Scotland manager Craig Brown believes that Smith could handle both jobs at the same time. He told BBC Radio Five Live: 'There would have to be a compromise if Walter was going there.

'There is a possibility in the short term of him doing both jobs; there's been a precedent for that.

'Guus Hiddink was PSV manager and also managed Australia and Mark Hughes for a time did both jobs for Wales and Blackburn.

Marcello Lippi's not in employment at the moment and he's a world Champion.
Wishful thinking from Craig Brown
'It is far from ideal but you could imagine it being a short-term solution.'

This situation would likely placate the majority of Scottish fans, but it appears unlikely that a club the size of Rangers would entrust their playing future to a coach as inexperienced as McCoist, even with an elder statesman standing behind him.

The direct transplant of Smith and McCoist to Rangers would be more likely, with McCoist continuing to learn his trade under his old mentor until ready to step-up himself.

The debate around a replacement Scottish national team manager has began already, with Alex McLeish taking up the front running.

McLeish, who Paul Le Guen replaced as Rangers manager last year, is undoubtedly a strong contender for the role, but he is certain to receive a mixed reception from fans.

He was a dead man walking for his last months at Rangers, with it widely known that chairman David Murray had lined up Le Guen as his replacement long before it was announced. McLeish's decision to carry on in this untenable role, instead of walking with his dignity intact, lost him respect in certain quarters, as he presided over Rangers worst domestic campaign in over a decade.

However, McLeish has excelled in the past when managing an average side (as Scotland still undoubtedly is) and taking them as far as could reasonably be expected, most notably with Hibernian prior to his stint at Ibrox, and Rangers' Champion League run last season, that saw a poor squad make it all the way to the knock-out stages.

Speaking on Thursday, Craig Brown was willing to indulge in flights of fancy, suggesting Italy's World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi as a contender.

He said: 'Of course Marcello Lippi's not in employment at the moment and he's a world Champion.'

As much as this would placate Scottish fans should Smith leave, it would prove to be one of the biggest shocks in football if it was to come true.

Brown will not rule out his own return to the national team he managed from 1993-2001, if the SFA required an interim manager for the final Euro 2008 qualifying matches.

Brown said: 'I would be flattered but it's very hypothetical at the moment.'

It is indicative of the paucity of plausible candidates that Lippi and Brown's names should even be linked to the Scotland job - though it is the same lack of quality managers available at this stage in the season that sees Rangers considering a knock at Smith's door.

If Smith should leave the Scottish national side, the priority will be to find a stable manager as soon as possible, if Scotland are to have any hope of qualifying for Euro 2008.

With their next match against Georgia less than three months away, any replacement will need to cement the squad as quickly as possible.

The Tartan Army are hoping that it will not be necessary, but their fate lies in Walter Smith's hands.

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