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Dec 10, 2009

Levein favourite to take on Scotland's poisoned chalice

Has the Scotland job become the most poisoned chalice in the world? In the wake of George Burley's inevitable dismissal there has hardly been a queue of recognised coaches desperate to follow in his footsteps.

The Hampden chiefs certainly appear to be no closer to finding a successor to former Ipswich and Hearts boss Burley, who was dismissed in November following a string of dismal performances.

Dark Blues chief executive Gordon Smith has vowed to take his time in the search for a new manager and rightly so given this could well be his most important appointment ever. However, his hunt could be more difficult than expected after big hitters like Graeme Souness, Walter Smith and George Graham were quick to distance themselves from the post.

Maybe they don't want to take the risk of potentially harming their reputations, though former boss Smith prospered from his spell at the Hampden helm. There's little doubt that the impact he made with the national side breathed new life into his career and paved the way for his dramatic Rangers return. And Alex McLeish, Smith's successor as Scotland coach, also enjoyed a largely successful period in charge of the national team which resulted in his appointment as Birmingham boss.

It seems Dundee United's Craig Levein is the obvious front runner although former Celtic midfielder John Collins and the ex-Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood have also expressed an interest. Both Collins and Calderwood are free agents which would save the national association having to pay any club a compensation package but it seems unlikely either man will win the race for the post.

Levein appears to be the overall favourite having shown his worth at Tannadice since accepting the challenge of taking over from Craig Brewster a little more than three years ago. The former Scotland international has not only helped to establish United at the top end of the Scottish Premier League but has also shown his talent to unearth raw gems.

He is also shown real faith in some of the Tangerines' youngsters and could well be expected to nurture more rookie talent if he was given the nod for the national position. Levein has been forced to work on an extremely tight club budget which has impressed the Hampden hierarchy given the fact he would have a limited pool of players to pick from in international football.

The ex-Hearts centre-back has also won the backing of many peers within the game including former Scotland internationals. Joe Jordan, now a coach at Tottenham Hotspur, has made it clear he wants another Scotsman at the helm following the disastrous spell Berti Vogts endured.

The German, Scotland's only ever foreign manager, was sacked after a string of poor results that reduced the national side to their lowest-ever FIFA world ranking. There's also been speculation linking both Dan Petrescu and Marco van Basten with the vacant role but with the SFA likely to err on the side of caution it appears they'll steer of going for another foreign boss.

Petrescu has helped to enhance his reputation by moulding together successful Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni, conquerors of Rangers in the Champions League this season. Van Basten has previously managed the Netherlands national side and one of his former clubs Ajax but is now a free agent having quit the Dutch giants earlier this year.

Former Scotland striker Billy Dodds is also against the idea of another foreign boss and has also supported Jordan's call for a Scottish manager and reckons Levein fits the bill. The 45-year-old has more than a decade of managerial experience behind him having also bossed Cowdenbeath, Hearts, Leicester City and Raith Rovers.

Perhaps he's a little young to move into an international role that many deem to be a part-time position. However, as momentum gathers for his appointment all eyes will again be on Levein when he takes his United side to Tynecastle to face his former club in this weekend's SPL match of the day at the weekend.

The Taysiders are still well in the hunt for the championship crown as they only trail leaders Celtic by four points but have a game in hand. That's another fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by the SFA's selection committee who could wait until February to unveil their new man.

Another United win could see them make up ground on Hibs, Rangers and the Hoops who are above them in the league. And having already claimed the scalp of Celtic this season Levein's troops could complete the Old Firm double next week when they entertain Rangers in a rearranged fixture.

If Levein can add an Old Firm double to his impressive CV then that can only add more weight to the growing argument he's the man for the Scotland job.

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