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Burley quietly going about his business

Nick Harris reports

George Burley's teams have done his talking for him over the years, which is just as well. Because among the qualities he hopes to show as Scotland's manager, explaining himself effectively in public will not be among them.

It is just not his forte. For years at Ipswich he was the quiet leader of the Portman Road family who was given time and space to build an attractive team that got to the Premiership at the fourth time of asking via the play-offs in 2000. Even when fifth place in the top flight was followed by a slump and the sack, he exited quietly.

At Derby, he rapidly transformed a side of relegation no-hopers into play-off hopefuls, and while that job ended in acrimony, it was of the hush-hush variety. He resurfaced at Heart of Midlothian in 2005, and helped them storm to an astonishing start to that SPL campaign, threatening the Old Firm duopoly.

Then it all went spectacularly wrong as the club's autocratic owner, Vladimir Romanov, forced Burley out for reasons never publicly clarified.

Yet Burley went quietly off to Southampton, where he again built a team that reached the Championship play-offs before Scotland came calling.

Look back on any of these achievements, which led to him getting the nod for his country ahead of a field including Mark McGhee, Graeme Souness and the late Tommy Burns, and you will not find too many examples of Burley waxing lyrical.

He is by all accounts a superb coach to play under. Former Hearts players including Paul Hartley (who should start in midfield today), Stephen Pressley (who now is part of Burley's coaching set-up with Scotland), and Scotland's goalkeeper Craig Gordon all readily testify to that.

He is a man who commands respect from his managerial peers. Terry Butcher, formerly of Motherwell but England patriot par excellence, jumped at the chance to work as Burley's No 2.

And the former Scotland manager, Craig Brown, is among those who have leant their expertise for this qualifying campaign. Brown scouted Macedonia for Burley and addressed the players this week.

Burley is also genial company and a generous interviewee in a one-to-one situation, as long as the questions do not seek too many specifics on contemporary matters. He will talk at length and with enthusiasm about his Ipswich playing debut against George Best. But can he be tempted into chewing the fat about Romanov, or something more recent? Can he heck.

So it is not really a surprise that with a nation desperate for qualification for a major tournament for the first time since 1998, and almost as eager for an articulate figurehead to explain how it will be done, that he does not match up.

He was asked yesterday whether he was nervous now that the moment of truth had arrived. Had he had sleepless nights about today's game with Macedonia, his first competitive game in charge since succeeding Alex McLeish in January?

"I have to try and get the best out of the players," he said. "I'm looking at every area of the preparation in the knowledge that I am not able to work with the players every day in training. We are as ready as we can be."

Later he was asked again about the pressure on him specifically. "This is not about George Burley or any one individual," he said. "This is about trying to take Scotland back to the World Cup finals."

But surely, somebody points out, you are the single most important person. If Scotland win, you will deservedly get credit for overseeing that. And if you lose, you will take the flak. To which he responded: "I am not the most important person. I am part of a squad effort."

It was easy enough to see what he was trying to do; highlight a collective responsibility within the squad, exemplified by the players' decision to forgo any future bonuses until they qualify for a major tournament.

But Burley, feeling the pressure already, was simply unable to make his point cleanly.

"I won't win games or lose games out on the pitch," insisted the manager who just a few days ago described one of his right-backs, Kirk Broadfoot, as having "limited talent" in a misguided attempt to illustrate how hard the player had worked to get a call-up.

"It is about the team unit doing the best for Scotland," he continued. "The rule of football dictates that it is a results-driven business but when it comes to the national team I firmly believe you are talking about the collective.

"I've been given the job because the SFA thought I was the right man – Scottish, experienced and ready for this challenge. Smashing. Now, we need everybody working together. Each game we'll be very focused. We'll battle away, right to the end. We'll never give up, show spirit."

On some issues, however, Burley is crystal clear. "This is not just a club now, it's a nation, Scotland," he said. "That makes it different. It is that bit bigger than any league, cup or play-off game with a club because it is in the national interest. There's more weight on the shoulders."

Will his sides be defined by being more attack-minded? "We will be judged on our performances," he said. It was ever thus.

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