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Gordon Strachan - the Biography
by Leo Moynihan; Virgin Books; 240 pages hardback (including 8 pages of b/w photographs); £16.99

On the subject of what makes people tick, I read this hoping to glean some insight into the psyche of our new manager. There has to be more to him than his famous media soundbites, amusing as they are, I thought.

There obviously is, but there wasn't much to be found in Moynihan's book beyond the popular conceptions of WGS.

Without the cooperation of his subject, Moynihan has cobbled his biography of Strachan together via a combination of interviews with ex-colleagues and team mates and whatever references he could find in other people's books and articles. Like Alex Montgomery's book about Martin O'Neill, his jigsaw offers little anyone with an interest in the game south of the border didn't know already or couldn't have worked out for themselves.

What we're left with here is some engaging enough light reading without it ever becoming really engrossing.

Which isn't to say I didn't learn anything about Strachan. He grew up in Edinburgh's Muirhouse scheme, a contemporary of Irvine Welsh, and, like the author, was a Hibee. I know that hardly passes muster with the Celtic Minded Police, but it was interesting to read that as a promising schoolboy talent he was scouted by Rangers. According to Moynihan, 'Their scout, sporting an expensive mackintosh and an even dearer cigar, ran the rule over Strachan a number of times but the club's interest waned when they could not be guaranteed that Strachan was not Catholic.'

Was it perhaps the red hair that made Mr. Fat Cigar suspicious?

Incidentally, Celtic were apparently sniffing around as well in 1977, by which time Strachan was playing for Dundee. Nothing came of it.

He had an extremely successful playing career, of course, and to his credit, at times the author has managed to convey some of the realities of life as a professional footballer.

Of most interest to me was his time at Aberdeen. Apart from achieving an extraordinary level of success, his relationship with the Celtic fans was almost as bad as the one he had with Alex Ferguson. The very sight of him could reduce some habitues of the Jungle to apoplectic rage. Understandable enough; Aberdeen would regularly beat us (occasionally humiliate us) and Strachan would invariably be one of our tormentors in chief.

It wasn't just at Celtic Park he was getting the treatment, right enough. As far as I can tell from this story, he was a forerunner of Neil Lennon in that regard, in that he would get the verbals all over the country.

One interesting feature of Ferguson's time at Pittodrie was his willingness to stoke up a feeling that everybody was against them - especially the papers based on the west coast. It's a ploy that has been used by the likes of MON as well, so we'll wait and see if WGS likes to play the bias card, and should he do so how long it will be before he's diagnosed as paranoid like the rest of us.

One of the worrying things to emerge from his days at Manchester United was that Strachan developed a healthy respect for his manager at Old Trafford. 'To this day he will seek help and advice from his old boss', writes Moynihan, which might not be too much cause for concern if it wasn't none other than Ron Atkinson he's on about.

He certainly wouldn't be seeking help from Ferguson. The two of them still don't speak to one another.

Strachan is also reported having been 'incensed' at his team mate Kevin Moran's dismissal during an FA Cup final as a result of a 'shambolic act of officialdom'. It's been a while since he's been exposed to Scottish refs - and never as Celtic manager. Watch out for some more episodic rage as the season progresses.

He has also had uneasy relations with the press in England. Moynihan describes Strachan's persona in front of the microphone as his least natural and quotes him as having said: 'I just find that it's a game we play. Reporters versus managers - and it's not a game I enjoy to be honest. You try and get information out of me and hopefully somewhere along the line I'll say something sensational which makes the headlines. The game I play is, I'll try and give you the answers but without giving you that quote. You keep chucking them and I'll keep batting them away.' The hacks are sharpening their crayons up here already, even though the honeymoon isn't over yet.

His playing career takes up the bulk of the book's 240 pages, but of more immediate interest to me was his spells as manager of Coventry City and Southampton. The former is a thankless task at the best of times and it ended with sections of the Sky Blues' support calling for his head on a spike, even though he did a reasonable job keeping them in the top division longer than anyone expected. Despite helping them to mid-table, it all went belly-up when Strachan started 'chasing the dream', buying in expensive foreign players until the money ran out. At least he won't have that problem at Celtic Park.

He turned things round at Southampton, though, and was immensely popular there, even getting them into Europe - where they did nothing incidentally - but let's not dwell on that.

According to Moynihan, he stepped down to spend more time with his family when he felt that he was becoming too engrossed in the job. I think I'd like the manager of my football team to be engrossed in the job, but still, I thought there were more positives than negatives to emerge from the chapters devoted to Strachan's coaching and managerial career; he comes across as a student of the game and had embraced new fangled ideas about players' diet and sports psychology back in the early 90s, long before they became the norm in the professional game here and when such things were regarded as akin to voodoo by most British players.

The book is liberally sprinkled with Strachan's legendary witticisms - there's a very good chapter entitled 'cheeky wee bastard' which contains quite a few humorous anecdotes as well - most of which will be familiar by now, but my own favourite was his take on the zen of Eric Cantona: 'If a Frenchman goes on about seagulls, trawlers and sardines he's called a philosopher. I'd just be called a wee Scottish bum talking crap.'

There's a better book to be written about Strachan. Hopefully the Celtic chapters will give the author plenty to write about - for all the right reasons.

MANFRED LURKER

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