Craig Levein: Competing at World Cup is the best feeling – that’s why I want to take Scotland there

Jun 6 2010 Craig Levein, Sunday Mail

PLAYING in the World Cup finals wasn’t one of the highlights of my career. It was THE highlight.

Guys like Lothar Matthaus and Paolo Maldini can each boast two dozen appearances at the biggest show on earth.

Pele won the tournament three times with Brazil.

I got one game. Ninety minutes on a steaming hot Saturday night in Genoa 20 years ago.

But it will live with me forever. And it’s still the biggest reason I took the Scotland job.

The idea that I could take another squad back there to experience what I did, feel what I felt that night.

It wasn’t just playing for Scotland.

Wasn’t even just playing in a World Cup finals.

It was doing all of that AND winning the game against Sweden. That was something we’ve only done four times in our history.

And football doesn’t get any better than that for me.

I’d spent nearly three years injured before going to Italia 90. Made three or four comebacks and broken down every time.

I had only started playing again in late 1989 for Hearts, only made my Scots debut against Argentina in January 1990 – when Stewart McKimmie scored the winner.

Getting to the World Cup five months later wasn’t even on my radar. So when I was named in the squad it was huge.

We lost to Costa Rica in that fateful first game and I was thrown into the team for the next match by manager Andy Roxburgh.

I remember getting to the Luigi Ferraris stadium and walking out on to the park.

Some of the fans were already in the stadium and I was able to walk across to my brother and mates.

Just seeing them in the stand made me realise what a massive thing this was – at that point it really hit home how lucky I was.

People become heroes because of days like that. I’m not talking about me here – just about what a World Cup can do.

It can create memories for fans that will live forever.

That will happen this summer for someone. Will it be Lionel Messi? Fernando Torres? Kaka? Wayne Rooney? Or maybe someone we’ve never heard of? Who knows? All I know is I’ll be glued to every minute of the action from South Africa.

I’ll be wishing it was me again and studying so I can have a right good go at making that a reality as Scotland manager I won’t actually be there in the flesh. I had a couple of offers to go as an analyst for radio and TV but their schedules didn’t suit me.

But in the build-up, myself and the Scotland scout Mick Oliver have been doing plenty of homework on the teams we will be facing in the Euro qualifiers come September.

I went to the States to see the Czech Republic and watched Spain play a warm-up game in Austria.

Meanwhile, Mick is visiting every corner of Europe. He’s looking at Sweden ahead of our friendly in August and will watch Lithuania in the Baltic Cup later this month.

But I’ll be watching every World Cup game on television – the same as most people.

It’s funny the associations you make just mentioning that.

My earliest World Cup memories come from 1974 – because my family got our first colour telly to watch the tournament.

That was a big thing in itself at the time – almost bigger than Scotland being in Germany!

I remember being glued to the action, not just because it was the World Cup but because we had this new TV in our front room.

But the actual details of the games are blurry.

Peter Lorimer’s goal against Zaire sticks in my head and so does Billy Bremner’s miss in the draw with Brazil.

No matter how many times you see it you think it has to go in.

And then the helpless feeling against Yugolslavia. Knowing you hadn’t lost a single game but still weren’t going through. I was nine years old. Try explaining that to a kid and see how far you get.

That’s the problem though – Scots of my age group became spoiled by the players from that generation.

It became par for the course to have World Cups to look forward to every four years.

And I’d love to get back to that for future generations.

What we’re about to watch in the next month is an inspiration – or at least it should be.

I’d love to think kids everywhere will be watching games the way I did in 1974 and ’78.

Then when they’re finished you will see them spilling out into their back garden trying to do what Messi or Torres has just done on the TV.

That’s what SHOULD happen and I hope youngsters find some inspiration this summer.

One of my other World Cup memories is the Panini sticker album. You’d try to collect every player from every country and swap with your mates in the playground for the ones you didn’t have.

And you felt so much pride when you had the whole album and knew every player.

These days youngsters get the chance to see far more football from further afield – but the end result should be the same.

The passion, the enthusiasm the World Cup generates should be good for the game.

At that age, I never left the house without a ball at my feet. If my mum sent me to the shops, I’d dribble it there and back. I loved it.

And my reward was that one night in Genoa. Dreams do come true if you work hard enough at them.

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