WHEN Walter Smith was appointed head coach of Scotland in 2004, he inherited a team of players from Berti Vogts with confidence at its lowest and the reputation of the national team at one of the highest points. bottom of its long history.
He quickly set out to restore the pride of the Scottish team in trademark fashion, making the team more professional, more organized and harder to beat almost instantly.
Smith’s involvement in the national setup dates back to 1982, when as an Under-18 coach alongside Andy Roxburgh, he helped the Scots triumph at the European Under-18 Championship in UEFA 1982. This is where he may have honed his game plan to bleed the noses of the upper opposition.
“I sent Walter Smith to watch the Netherlands in their second game so we know what we are up against,” said Roxburgh. “When Walter came back he said, ‘We don’t stand a chance.’
“They had Marco van Basten in front and we all know what happened to him.
“We thought there was only one thing for it – the usual Scottish mentality, we’ll just have to fight. We lose a goal but we respond in a positive way, we equalized and in fact we finished very strong.
“We only needed a draw and off we go. “
The duo then took their team to the Youth World Championships, where current Scotland manager Steve Clarke first met Smith.
“First of all, I am shocked and saddened to learn of Walter’s passing and my thoughts are with his family,” Clarke said yesterday.
“He was a great manager and a great man. He always had a strength and a presence that marked him and undoubtedly contributed to the great success he had throughout his career.
“I had my first experience at the World Junior Championship when he was Andy Roxburgh’s assistant in 1983 and even then he was impressive in his training and the way he behaved.
“He has always been a great support and a great company as our paths have crossed over the years. His loss will be deeply felt in Scottish football. “
After a stint in charge of the Under-21 team, Smith will work for the first time under Sir Alex Ferguson as an assistant at the 1986 World Cup, with the duo taking the senior team to the tournament. after the tragic death of Jock Stein. When the Scots were knocked out in the group stage, Smith embarked on his incredibly successful first stint with the Rangers.
Eighteen years old, an abundance of trophies and a stint at Everton later, Smith has answered the call to help unite the nation behind his team again. His first call was a masterstroke, bringing great pal and Celtic legend Tommy Burns to his coaching staff alongside another close friend, former Rangers forward Ally McCoist.
The trio had a mix of chemistry and coaching expertise that galvanized both the national team players and the tartan army behind them.
A home draw against Italy and an away win in Norway raised hopes that the Scots could even attempt an unlikely 2006 World Cup qualifier, but a surprise 1-0 home loss to Belarus shattered that dream and showed that there was still work to be done.
Less than two years after Smith’s appointment, Scotland had climbed 70 places in the world rankings, won silver with the Kirin Cup triumph in Japan and beat a France side with world-class superstars like Lillian Thuram, Claude Makalele, Patrick Viera, Franck Ribéry and Thierry Henri.
“It’s a great result and certainly the best I have ever had as a manager,” Smith said the day after the game at a crazy national stadium.
But alas, the lure of a second opportunity to manage the Rangers was too hard for Smith to resist, and within months he was back at Ibrox.
“I wouldn’t have done it for another club,” he said later.
The final say on how Smith served his country will leave it to James McFadden, another Scottish legend, who was honored to wear dark blue under his leadership.
“It’s a really tough day,” said McFadden. “Walter is a guy who is synonymous with Rangers, but he’s just plain classy. Legend is a term that is used far too often.
“But he was above that, he really was. It wasn’t just for Rangers, it was for all of Scottish football. It’s a really sad day and a really sad loss.
“It was great working with him. When you first met him, you immediately understood why people talk about him the way they do. You see why he stands so high.
“He had that presence in him. For him with Scotland he created a club atmosphere. This is why we were on the road to success under Walter.
“He was a giant man. He was a funny guy and he could bring you down in a few words. It was an honor to play for him. “