Taking on the world

Alex McLeish
Alex McLeish

As the World Cup kicks off tomorrow (Thursday) former Motherwell manager Alex McLeish has been sharing his memories of the competition.

The defender appeared at three tournaments - Espana 82, Mexico 86 and Italia 90 - during his legendary career which saw him win 77 caps for his country.

McLeish would only make a cameo in Spain coming on as a substitute in the 4-1 defeat to Brazil.

He said: “I got injured before the tournament and Allan Evans had just won the European Cup with Aston Villa and he was given the start.

“I came on against Brazil, but by that stage it was 3-1 and the game was gone.

“Four of my team mates decided to man-mark Zico in the hopes of getting his shirt and I was left exposed as they scored another, but it was still a great experience.”

Following the death of Jock Stein, McLeish’s club manager at Aberdeen Alex Ferguson took the squad to Mexico.

This time McLeish was in the side as they took on Denmark for the first match, but it would be his only appearance.

He said: “We played very well against Denmark, but we just couldn’t get a goal and they won 1-0.

“However, before the West Germany game I got a bit of Mexican belly, probably from drinking the water and after failing a fitness test was replaced with David Narey.

“I fully expected to be back for the Uruguay game, but David kept his place, perhaps Alex felt as that as my club manager he couldn’t just put me back in, you’d have to ask him that.

“Probably more likely he’d Walter Smith, who coached David at Dundee United, in his ear, saying he’d done nothing wrong and couldn’t be dropped.

“That probably was the case, but footballers are selfish and it’s all ‘me, me, me’, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t best pleased.”

Although he lost his place in both 82 and 86, McLeish says 1990 was the most disappointing, despite appearing in all three of Scotland’s games.

He said: “I was at my peak in 1990 and expected we’d do well, but then of course came Costa Rica.

“I don’t want to say we got complacent, but perhaps we underestimated them as the Central and South American sides usually have skill and ability and they were no different.

“We then got a great win over the Swedes and thought we were back on track, only for the Costa Ricans to beat them too.

“That suggests either Sweden were a very poor team or the Costa Ricans weren’t as bad as they were made out, and I felt it was probably the latter.”

Scotland went into their final game against Brazil needing a win to progress, but after Jim Leighton’s fumble allowed Muller to score, they were out.

McLeish said: “It was a horrible goal to lose, it wasn’t just Jim, none of us did our job, myself and Maurice Malpas should have followed it in better, but as is so often the case the striker got there first.

“Actually, when I became Motherwell manager a few years later, that scenario was one of the first drills I made the boys do so it stayed with me throughout my career.”

McLeish thinks Scotland would have gone further, but lacked real belief.

He said: “You look at Scotland now and Gordon Strachan has a mental coach, which is something I was looking to bring in when I managed the national team.

“I think if we’d had that in Italy it wouldn been a great help because we had a good squad, but it just seems we didn’t truly believe in ourselves enough.

“My tip to win this year is the hosts Brazil, and you know if they have one quality it is certainly having belief in themselves.”