Walter Smith regrets nature of his departure from Scotland job

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Former Scotland manager Walter Smith
Former Scotland manager Walter Smith

Walter Smith admits that he still regrets the timing of his decision to leave the Scotland job.

He stepped down from the national team in January 2007 to return for a second spell at Rangers, only months into the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Smith would have preferred to complete the campaign, but could not resist the emotional pull of Ibrox.

"I hope people can understand that it wouldn't have happened [with] any other club other than Rangers," Smith said.

He spent 25 months in charge of Scotland, lifting the team up the Fifa rankings and recording a memorable victory over France at Hampden, a win Smith describes as one of the best of his career.

Although he missed the day-to-day involvement of club management, Smith would not have left the position at Hampden if it had been any other club that offered him a job in the midst of a qualifying campaign.

Sir David Murray, the Rangers chairman, approached Smith to rebuild the team following Paul le Guen's brief and unsuccessful spell in charge, an invite that he ultimately felt unable to turn down.

"That was probably as awkward a decision as I've had to make in my career," Smith told BBC Scotland. "I would love to have finished off the section, [and[ if it had been any other club I wouldn't have gone at that stage.

"We were doing really well and I didn't want to make it feel as though I was letting people down. I'll always have regrets; not for the reasons I was leaving to go back to Rangers, but that I was leaving at a time when I would have liked to have fulfilled the qualifying [campaign] before making a career decision.

"I appreciated that you were letting down a lot of people, but at least I hope they would consider what the team was like when I took over and what the team was over when I left, and I would hope they would appreciate that I brought back a bit of pride to the country football-wise.

"They would just have to believe that I supported Rangers as a wee boy and they will always have a huge pull for me. But then again one of the north east [Tartan Army] groups gave me a presentation kilt, and the boy wrote to me asking for it back. I don't blame him for doing [that]."

Smith also refutes the notion that he only retained Tommy Burns as Scotland assistant manager to provide an Old Firm balance to his backroom staff, after his appointment of former Rangers striker Ally McCoist as coach.

Former Rangers manager Walter Smith and former owner Sir David Murray
Walter Smith accepted an offer to return to Rangers in January 2007 from Sir David Murray because of his long-held emotional attachment to the club

The late Burns was Celtic manager for a spell during Smith's first spell in charge at Ibrox, and he admired the work that Burns did at Parkhead and the way he handled the challenges of being an Old Firm manager.

"A lot of people said that to me, that you're getting the balance, but it was nothing to do with that," explained Smith.

"The respect I had for him, and the manner in which he set out his teams and played, I thought would be a good mix with myself. It was nothing to do with the Rangers and Celtic thing.

"I didn't really know him as a person. You're never close as [Old Firm] managers, you have to keep looking at the other manager to see what he's doing and how he's managing his team.

"I'm maybe a bit more pragmatic, whereas Tommy had this philosophy of attack and play. He was that type of player. There was a call for everyone to say that Scotland needed fresh faces after Berti Vogts. I didn't agree with that.

"The first thing I did [was] ask if he would continue as assistant and he said he'd be delighted.

"What I didn't know at the time - McCoist has a bit of chaos around him in terms of time-keeping, he's not the most organised person - Tommy was exactly the same.

"I used to say to them, right, we'll have a meeting at Hampden at three o'clock, and it started at four. They'd bring in cream cakes and cups of tea, but we got on really well.

"Tommy and Alastair created a terrific environment in terms of making sure that when players come on international duty, they thoroughly enjoy it.

"I only got to know him during that time and while I still feel fortunate that happened, I'd like that to have lasted a lot longer. He was a terrific man."

Managing Scotland, Saturday 5 July, 15:00 BST, BBC Radio Scotland.