Strachan played for Dundee, Aberdeen, Manchester United, Leeds United and Coventry City, as well as the Scotland national team. He has managed Coventry City, Southampton, Celtic and Middlesbrough. In club football, he played 635 league games, scoring a total of 138 goals, playing 21 of 25 career seasons in either the English or Scottish top-flight. In international football Strachan earned 50 caps, scoring five goals and playing in two FIFA World Cup final tournaments, Spain 82 and Mexico 86. Strachan retired from playing in 1997 at age 40, setting a Premier League record for an outfield player.
A right-sided midfielder, Strachan made his senior debut in 1974 with Dundee before moving on within Scotland, to spend seven seasons at Aberdeen. He first played for the Scotland national team in 1980. While at Aberdeen Strachan won multiple domestic league and cup honours in the early 1980s, as well as the 1982–83 European Cup Winners' Cup and 1983 European Super Cup. Moving to England, Strachan won the 1985 FA Cup Final in five seasons with Manchester United, before spending the next seven seasons as club captain at Leeds, winning the 1989–90 Second Division and 1991–92 First Division league titles. He played his last game for Scotland in 1992 while still at Leeds, and then moved to Coventry in 1995 for a final three seasons, as a player-coach.
Strachan became full-time manager of Coventry when the incumbent Ron Atkinson was appointed as director of football. After five years in the role, he was sacked in 2001 when Coventry were relegated from the top-flight for the first time in 34 years. However, he immediately returned to the Premier League with Southampton and guided the "Saints" to the 2003 FA Cup Final, where they lost 1–0 to Arsenal. Strachan resigned from Southampton in 2004 and took a 16-month break from management before returning to Scotland to become manager of Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. With Celtic, he achieved three successive league titles and other domestic cup wins, before resigning in May 2009 after failing to win a fourth title. Five months later, he became manager of Middlesbrough in the English Championship, but left the club after an unsuccessful 12 months in the job.
Strachan was named as FWA Footballer of the Year for the 1990–91 season while at Leeds. He was also named Manager of the Year in Scotland several times by writers and players while at Celtic. In 2007, Strachan was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. He is the father of Craig Strachan and Gavin Strachan, also footballers.
Born and raised in Muirhouse, Edinburgh, Strachan supported Hibernian as a boy. His father, Jim, worked as a scaffolder, and his mother, Catherine, worked at a whisky distillery. At age 15, he damaged his vision playing football on the school playground when a pen in his pocket became lodged in his right eye; the pen came within "a thousandth of an inch" of permanently costing him the vision in his eye. He was offered a contract by Hibernian manager Eddie Turnbull, but his father decided against the offer after stating the club did not pay sufficient expenses for footwear.
Strachan began his career with Dundee, having decided to sign with the Scottish club at age 14. In joining the club, he rejected an approach from Manchester United, reasoning he had a better chance to establish himself in the first team at Dens Park. His natural talent was immediately apparent and he quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding player in the second team, twice winning the Scottish Reserve Player of the Year Award. He made his mark as an 18-year-old when he outplayed Alan Ball in a friendly with Arsenal in August 1975; The Sunday Post compared him to a young Billy Bremner. Strachan became a regular player in the 1975–76 season, the inaugural season of the Scottish Premier Division, featuring in 17 of the club's 36 league matches. However David White's "Dee" were relegated on the last day of the season after rivals Dundee United edged ahead on goal average with an unlikely draw with champions Rangers.
New boss Tommy Gemmell handed 19-year-old Strachan the captaincy for the 1976–77 First Division campaign, and he remains the youngest player to have captained Dundee. However, the club failed to shine in the lower divisions, and Strachan lost his first team place early in the 1977–78 season following a drinking session with Jimmy Johnstone; Gemmell was also concerned that Strachan was "getting kicked a lot" after opposition teams worked out that the way to stop Dundee was to take out their playmaker. Strachan decided to leave Dundee as the club seemed unlikely to win back their top-flight status; the Dundee chairman was also keen on cashing in his most prized asset, and told Gemmell that "we need £50,000 by Friday or the banks are closing the gate". His last match for Dundee was on 26 October 1977 in a 6–0 defeat in the League Cup to Queen of the South at Palmerston Park, which Strachan described in his autobiography as "embarrassing".
Strachan was signed by Aberdeen manager Billy McNeill in November 1977 for a fee of £50,000 plus Jim Shirra. Poor form and niggling injuries made 1977–78 a poor season for Strachan, though the "Dons" went on to finish second in the Scottish Premier Division. He was not picked for the 1978 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Rangers.
McNeill left the Pittodrie Stadium for Celtic in summer 1978, and Alex Ferguson was appointed as the new manager. Strachan played at Hampden Park in the 1979 League Cup defeat to Rangers, and set up Duncan Davidson for the game's opening goal. Though the 1978–79 campaign was a disappointment, Aberdeen went on to win the league title in 1979–80 after closing a ten-point deficit over Celtic with a late run that included two victories at Celtic Park. They again reached the League Cup Final, beating both Old Firm sides en route, where they lost 3–0 to Dundee United at Dens Park. At the end of the season, Strachan was elected SFWA Footballer of the Year. After gaining assurance Alex McLeish would also stay with the club, Strachan signed a new contract to keep him at Pittodrie until 1984.
The "Reds" could only manage a second-place finish in 1980–81, as Celtic regained the league title. They exited the European Cup in the second round with defeat to eventual champions Liverpool; manager Bob Paisley said Strachan would become "Britain's first £2 million player", in what was a (successful) early attempt at mind games. He missed the second half of the season with a muscle tear in his stomach. With fit-again Strachan on the right flank – supported by full-back Stuart Kennedy – and record signing Peter Weir on the left-flank, Aberdeen mounted a genuine title challenge in 1981–82, but had to settle for second place to Celtic. They did though lift the Scottish Cup with a 4–1 extra-time victory over Rangers, with Strachan contributing one assist and one goal.
The 1982–83 campaign was the greatest in the history of the club, and Strachan made his mark early on with four goals in a 5–1 victory at former club Dundee in the League Cup. Despite only finishing third in the league (albeit only one point behind champions and New Firm rivals Dundee United) and exiting the League Cup in the quarter-finals, Aberdeen won the Scottish Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup. The club's European success came with a 2–1 after-extra-time victory over Spanish giants Real Madrid at Ullevi in Gothenburg. The Scottish Cup came with a 1–0 win over Rangers. The "Dons" continued their success by delivering the league title and Scottish Cup in 1983–84, with Strachan setting up Mark McGhee for the winning goal in the cup final win over Celtic. This completed a unique treble, as they defeated Hamburger SV in the 1983 European Super Cup.
In August 1984, Manchester United spent £500,000 to take Strachan to Old Trafford. However, because Strachan had previously signed a pre-contract agreement with Bundesliga side 1. FC Köln, United paid £75,000 compensation to resolve the row – teammate Mark McGhee had also signed a contract with Hamburger SV on the understanding that Strachan would also be playing in Germany. Strachan opened the 1984–85 campaign with four goals in seven matches, though the "Red Devils" could only manage a fourth-place finish in the First Division. He featured at Wembley Stadium in the 1985 FA Cup Final, as United ran out 1–0 winners over Everton; his lung-bursting run off-the-ball helped Norman Whiteside to find the space for his extra-time winner.
After winning their opening ten league matches of the 1985–86 season, United had to cope without Strachan, who was sidelined for much of the season with injury. They proved unable to cope with their injuries – another key player facing extended time in the treatment room was Bryan Robson – and limped to another fourth-place finish. Atkinson was replaced by Alex Ferguson in November 1986, and Strachan mocked sobbing as he told his teammates, "I never thought he'd follow me this far south!" After his arrival, Ferguson speculated that no longer being the star player had negatively affected Strachan's form. United finished a disappointing 11th in 1986–87, before rising to second place in 1987–88. Strachan's form was again patchy in 1988–89, as United slipped back down to 11th.
In March 1989, Sheffield Wednesday manager Ron Atkinson had a bid of £200,000 accepted by Manchester United, and he offered Strachan a contract paying more money than anyone in the club's history. However likely a move to Sheffield seemed, Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson matched the offer and convinced Strachan to drop down into the Second Division. He quickly became a popular figure at Elland Road, earning comparisons to former favourites Bobby Collins and Johnny Giles. Signing a two-year contract, he was awarded with the captain's armband. He formed an unlikely midfield partnership with hard-man Vinnie Jones and led the club to the Second Division title in 1989–90.
With the "Whites" now in the First Division, Wilkinson secured a midfield quartet of Strachan, Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gary Speed. They achieved a commendable fourth-place finish in 1990–91, and also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. Strachan was voted FWA Footballer of the Year for his performances during the campaign, becoming the first player to win the award both in Scotland and in England.
Strachan signed a new two-year contract, before captaining Leeds to the league title in 1991–92. In so doing, he denied former boss Alex Ferguson and Leeds' hated rivals Manchester United the title. However, Strachan (now nearing age 35) was beginning to feel the effects of his sciatica and missed a number of matches due to his bad back. Following the club's success, Strachan was appointed an OBE for his services to sport.
However, Leeds were unable to build on their success, and finished the 1992–93 season down in 17th place in what was newly re-branded as the Premier League. Strachan continued to impress though, and was given the club's Player of the Year award. He scored a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers on 10 April 1993.
Strachan managed 37 starts in 1993–94, and Leeds rose to fifth. He was rarely selected in the 1994–95 season, which would prove to be the end of his spell at Elland Road, where he had spent six years.
In March 1995, Strachan moved to Coventry City to work as assistant manager under new manager Ron Atkinson, the man who had brought him south of the border to Manchester United 11 years earlier. It was also agreed he would replace Atkinson as manager in summer 1997. Strachan coached the team and led training sessions while learning the finer points of management from Atkinson. He also took to the field at Highfield Road, playing 26 Premier League matches for the Sky Blues over the next two years before finally hanging up his boots in his 40th year. Atkinson signed Aberdeen midfielder Eoin Jess in 1996 purely on the basis of Strachan's recommendation. However, Isaías left the club after falling-out with Strachan. Coventry signed Gary McAllister for £3 million on wages of £20,000 per week; the deal was done by McAllister's former teammate and friend Strachan, while Atkinson was largely opposed to the deal. The club struggled at the start of the 1996–97 campaign, and the club's board of directors asked Atkinson to step aside in November 1996, some months earlier than first agreed, and Strachan was appointed manager.
Strachan won his first cap for Scotland on 16 May 1980, in a British Home Championship defeat to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. Strachan helped Scotland qualify for the 1982 FIFA World Cup and scored a crucial goal in qualifying by scoring the only goal against Sweden at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm. He did not feature in the 1982 British Home Championship, as Jock Stein wanted to rest him for the World Cup, held in Spain. The Scots cruised to a 5–2 victory over New Zealand at La Rosaleda Stadium, Málaga; Strachan was named Man of the Match. Scotland then lost 4–1 to a world-class Brazil side at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, Seville. In the third match, a 2–2 draw with the Soviet Union back in Málaga saw Scotland exit the tournament on goal difference.
Scotland also qualified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup. However, shortly after the draw with Wales at Ninian Park on 10 September 1985, Jock Stein died of a heart attack, and his assistant Alex Ferguson took charge for the World Cup campaign. To complete their qualification, they had to beat Australia in a play-off. Strachan played in the first leg at Hampden Park, but did not travel to Melbourne for the second leg. The Scots faced a tough draw in Mexico and lost their opening match at Estadio Neza 86 1–0 to the unseeded – but highly fancied – Denmark. Strachan then scored in a 2–1 defeat to West Germany at the Estadio Corregidora; his goal celebration was memorable, as he tried to climb the advertising hoardings, but was thwarted by his short stature and so merely rested his leg on the hoarding before he was joined by his teammates. In the third and final group match back in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Scotland drew 0–0 with Uruguay despite their opponents going down to ten men almost from the first whistle after José Batista attempted to take Strachan out of the game.
Strachan fell out of the first team picture under Andy Roxburgh, and was omitted from the squad for the 1990 World Cup. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a national team revival between 1990 and 1992, and captained his country in qualification for UEFA Euro 1992. However, he did not travel to Sweden as a member of the squad, as he announced his retirement due to long-term back troubles. He won 50 full caps, and scored five international goals.
When Ron Atkinson became Coventry City's director of football in November 1996, Strachan was promoted to the manager's seat. He appointed Alex Miller as his assistant. After an upturn in results, Strachan was named Manager of the Month in December. However, 1 win in 12 matches in the New Year left the "Sky Blues" in the relegation zone. Late wins over Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur saved their season though, and relegation was avoided by a one-point margin. Strachan played in the win over Chelsea at Highfield Road at age 40, in what was at the time a record age for an outfield player in the Premier League.
Strachan signed Swedish goalkeeper Magnus Hedman and defender Roland Nilsson, Dutch midfielder George Boateng, and Romanian striker Viorel Moldovan – all of whom would win international caps. Coventry rose to 11th place in 1997–98, and also reached the quarter-finals of the 1997–98 FA Cup. After Miller left the club, Strachan replaced him with Garry Pendrey, who would go on to spend many years as his assistant at various clubs. Strachan was again named Manager of the Month in February 1998.
The club finished 15th in 1998–99 and 14th in 1999–2000, as Strachan spent £6 million on Irish striker Robbie Keane and £5 million on Moroccans Mustapha Hadji and Youssef Chippo, while selling Dion Dublin to Midlands rivals Aston Villa. Coventry were relegated at the end of the 2000–01 season, making Strachan unpopular with fans. New signing Craig Bellamy proved disappointing, while Robbie Keane was sold and Gary McAllister departed for Liverpool. Strachan attempted to launch a promotion campaign by signing striker Lee Hughes, but in the face of increasing supporter unrest, he was sacked five matches into the 2001–02 First Division campaign. His replacement, Roland Nilsson, took the club to an 11th-place finish.
Strachan returned to management within weeks, taking the manager's job at Premier League Southampton, who had sacked manager Stuart Gray after a terrible start to their first season at the new St Mary's Stadium. Most pundits had already written off their survival chances by the time of Strachan's appointment in October 2001, but he turned round their fortunes and they finished 11th in the Premier League. The Saints progressed further in 2002–03 when they finished eighth and reached the FA Cup Final, where they lost 1–0 to Arsenal. As Arsenal had already qualified for the 2003–04 UEFA Champions League, Southampton won a place in the UEFA Cup.
In February 2004, Strachan announced his resignation as Southampton manager after his decision not to stay on at the club in the summer was leaked to the press. He wanted to take a break from football, but was forced to resign earlier than initially intended due to the speculation surrounding his and the club's future following the leak.
After a 16-month break, Strachan returned to management on 1 June 2005, when he succeeded Martin O'Neill as manager of Celtic in the Scottish Premier League (SPL). For 2005–06, his stated aim was to regain the SPL title from rivals Rangers. He had an embarrassing start to his campaign as Celtic manager, losing 5–0 to Slovakian champions Artmedia Bratislava on 27 July 2005 and three days later, drawing 4–4 with Motherwell in his first SPL match in charge of the Glasgow club. The loss against Artmedia meant Celtic suffered an early exit from European competition, despite winning the return match 4–0. After this disastrous start, Celtic started to improve under Strachan. A low-point was the shock defeat in the third round of the Scottish Cup to First Division Clyde on 8 January 2006. However, the following month his team made history when they defeated Dunfermline Athletic 8–1, a record victory margin for the SPL at the time. Strachan's first season was ultimately successful as he coached Celtic to victory in the League Cup and, on 5 April 2006, his side clinched the SPL title in record time and with six matches remaining. Reflecting this achievement, Strachan was voted Manager of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers' Association eight days later.
The following year, Strachan restructured the team and made a series of signings, bringing in players such as Hibernian's Derek Riordan; Chelsea's Jiří Jarošík; Kenny Miller and Lee Naylor from Wolverhampton Wanderers; Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink from PSV; Thomas Gravesen from Real Madrid; and Paul Hartley and Steven Pressley from Hearts. Celtic flourished and by mid-January 2007 held a 17-point lead in the SPL table. UEFA Champions League football again returned to Celtic Park, the team having automatically qualified for the group stages and drawn alongside Benfica, Copenhagen and Manchester United. Home victories against all three Group F members saw the team progress to the round of 16 of the Champions League for the first time since the competition was re-formatted in 1993. Celtic lost the tie, against eventual winners Milan in extra time, missing out on a place in the quarter-finals. On 22 April 2007, Strachan guided Celtic to their 41st league championship, and second in succession. A 2–1 victory against Kilmarnock left Celtic 13 points clear of Rangers with four matches remaining. Later that day, Strachan was recognised as the inaugural PFA Scotland Manager of the Year for 2007. Celtic went on to win the Scottish Cup, beating Dunfermline Athletic.
In the 2007–08 season, Strachan led Celtic into the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League again after defeating Milan, Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk. However, by April, there was significant criticism from the press and the fans after the 1–0 loss to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup quarter-final and the 1–0 loss to ten-man Motherwell in the SPL. But he proved the critics wrong again and, after defeating Rangers twice at home, on 22 May 2008 Strachan became only the third ever Celtic manager to guide the club to three consecutive Scottish league titles.
After failing to lead Celtic to another league title in the 2008–09 season, he resigned as manager on 25 May 2009.
Strachan signed a four-year contract with English Championship team Middlesbrough on 26 October 2009, succeeding Gareth Southgate. He had been linked with the Middlesbrough manager's job 15 years earlier, when still a Leeds United player. His first match in charge was on 31 October, a 1–0 defeat to Plymouth Argyle, with Adam Johnson missing a penalty. On 5 December, Middlesbrough won their first match under Strachan, 5–1 away to Queens Park Rangers. After a poor run of results, including a 3–0 loss at home to Blackpool and a 1–0 loss at home to Cardiff City, Strachan earned his first home win after his team beat Scunthorpe United 3–0.
After a poor start to the 2010–11 season meant Middlesbrough were down in 20th place, Strachan left the club by mutual consent on 18 October. He voluntarily tore up his contract and left without compensation.
Strachan was appointed manager of the Scotland national team on 15 January 2013, succeeding Craig Levein. His first match in charge was at Pittodrie Stadium in a friendly match against Estonia on 6 February. The game ended 1–0 to Scotland, with Charlie Mulgrew getting his first international goal. Scotland suffered defeats to Wales and Serbia in Strachan's first two competitive matches, which ended the Scots' slim chances of qualification for the 2014 World Cup. After this, Scotland had an upturn in form, winning both matches against Croatia and away against Macedonia. Scotland finished fourth in qualifying Group A.
In Euro 2016 qualifying, Scotland appeared to have a better chance of qualification as the finals tournament was expanded from 16 teams to 24, but were drawn in a tough group with Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland. After losing their opening match in Germany, Scotland recorded home wins against Georgia, Ireland and Gibraltar, and away draws against Poland and Ireland. In their following match, Scotland produced an "insipid" performance, as they lost 1–0 in Georgia. A home defeat by Germany left Scotland four points behind third-placed Ireland, with two matches to play. In the penultimate matches of the group, Scotland needed to beat Poland, or hope that Ireland would lose to Germany. Scotland came from behind to lead 2–1 in their match, but Ireland had scored the only goal of their match, leaving the Scots needing a win to stay alive. A late scrambled goal by Robert Lewandowski gave Poland a draw that eliminated Scotland from contention. Strachan bemoaned what he perceived to be bad luck. After a win against Gibraltar in the last qualifier, Strachan agreed to a new contract with the Scottish Football Association.
Typically playing a traditional 4–4–2 formation, and very occasionally 4–5–1, Strachan is widely known for his rigorous management style, and admits to watching video replays of his club's matches two, sometimes three, times. He also places great emphasis on player health and fitness, forbidding his players to drink alcohol excessively or regularly, and often giving dietary advice to his players, attributing his own longevity as a player to a strict and somewhat unusual diet involving seaweed. Players such as Scotland international Gary Caldwell have attributed their success at Celtic to lifestyle changes enforced by Strachan.
Renowned for his deadpan humour in media interviews, quotes attributed to Strachan have become part of popular football culture.
Despite playing for Alex Ferguson at two clubs, the pair had an ongoing public feud during Strachan's managerial career. In his 1999 autobiography, the former Manchester United manager said, "I decided this man could not be trusted an inch – I would not want to expose my back to him in a hurry." In his own 2006 autobiography, in response to Ferguson's comments, Strachan said he was "surprised and disappointed". The rivalry dates from Strachan's time playing under Ferguson, first at Aberdeen and later Manchester United. The hostilities between the two men are widely recognised to have decreased especially since they were seen on cordial terms during Celtic and Manchester United UEFA Champions League fixtures in 2006 and 2008.
Strachan has analysed football matches for the media, notably alongside Adrian Chiles on BBC Sport's Match of the Day 2. He has worked as a regular pundit for ITV's coverage of the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. During the 2014 World Cup, he worked as a pundit for ITV.
For the 2006 World Cup, Strachan was appointed as the official FIFA Ambassador for Scotland, joining 50 others in fundraising for SOS Children's Villages, the official charity of the tournament.
Strachan married Lesley Scott in 1977; George Mackie was his best man. Together, they had three children: Craig and Gavin Strachan, also footballers, and Gemma Strachan.As of 4 September 2017
Scottish Premier Division winner: 1979–80, 1983–84
Scottish Cup winner: 1982, 1983, 1984
European Cup Winners' Cup winner: 1983
European Super Cup winner: 1983
FA Cup winner: 1985
Football League Second Division winner: 1989–90
Football League First Division winner: 1991–92
FA Charity Shield winner: 1992
FA Cup runner-up: 2003
Scottish Premier League winner: 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08
Scottish Cup winner: 2007
Scottish League Cup winner: 2006, 2009
IOC European Footballer of the Season: 1982–83
SFWA Footballer of the Year: 1979–80
PFA Team of the Year Second Division: 1989–90
PFA Team of the Year First Division: 1990–91
FWA Footballer of the Year: 1990–91
Leeds United F.C. Player of the Year: 1993
PFA Merit Award: 1995
English Football Hall of Fame inductee: 2016
Premier League Manager of the Month: December 1996, February 1998, January 2002, December 2002
PFA Scotland Manager of the Year: 2005–06
SFWA Manager of the Year: 2005–06, 2006–07
PFA Scotland Manager of the Year: 2006–07, 2008–09
Scotland national football team roll of honour: 1992