Two decades, 20 long years. Some of my mates, technically speaking, haven’t seen Scotland at a major tournament. Whenever a new campaign comes around, it seems more and more likely that we’re not going to.
Scotland have had credible teams in the past, so why is this an issue that’s gone back for years now?
I’m in the lucky handful that have seen it. I was sat down in front of the telly to watch Scotland vs Brazil at France ’98 and according to my dad, watched it like a hawk. This is when my love for football started and then my subsequent passion for Hearts. This love for my club emerged whilst never having that same feel for the national team.
Can you blame me? After all, what have Scotland given us to shout about in recent times?
There are instances where we’ve gone close. However, if you’re struggling in a Nations League group with Albania and Israel that really does set the tone I’m afraid. How can this be addressed and who’s to blame?
The obvious point of blame is Alex McLeish. After all, a win percentage of 25% hardly makes great reading (2/8). Couldn’t give a toss if some of these are friendlies, these should be seen as opportunities to build morale ahead of competitive fixtures. If you’re going to experiment, surely you’re trying to find a winning formula for said competitive matches?
It’s ironic that under Big Eck, we probably came closest in the 20-year period when looking to qualify for Euro 2008. Narrowly missing out in a group that contained both previous World Cup finalists (France and Italy).
I need not remind you about what happened in Paris. That Hampden defeat to Italy is probably as gutted as the nation’s ever been football wise. Even as a ten-year-old boy, I understood the significance. This would be one instance in a plethora of heartbreaks.
What has been argued against McLeish is that he’s tactically naïve, stubborn and isn’t in touch with the modern game. This is all certainly true, to an extent. However, players can’t escape questioning. Not on my watch.
The squad, tactics and selection
If there’s one thing we can take from watching Scotland these days it’s that Kieran Tierney shouldn’t play centre-half because Andy Robertson, the new captain, is playing left back. Forget about sticking Tierney at right back too, left-footed right backs are about as much use as being a man short.
Can we not push Robertson up and have Tierney left-back? Robertson has shown he’s got the stamina for it, as proven in this 3-5-2 approach. Surely he can come back for defensive cover, if Tierney is struggling in a back 4 formation.
Please stop relying on the old guard. It’s time for a new Scotland, a younger Scotland with a positive outlook. It speaks volumes that the most expensive Scotsman ever, Oliver Burke at £15 million, is nowhere to be seen in international terms.
People will argue it’s down to a lack of game time at West Brom before their relegation to the Championship. At the time of writing, he hasn’t played in the Championship for the Baggies despite moving from RB Leipzig “for more game time”. I’m sorry but at £15 million you have to be ready for the Scottish national team, at least in my eyes.
Odd omissions from the squad
At centre half, Liam Cooper is playing week-in, week-out for Premier League promotion chasers Leeds United. Yet, he can’t feature at centre-half on a regular basis for Scotland. 21-year-old Scott McKenna, who Aberdeen supposedly rejected a £6.5 million bid from Aston Villa for creeps into the team now and then.
Charlie Mulgrew, who’s surely now had his time and error-prone Jack Hendry often feature. Do you have to be Celtic past or present to get a position in the back four/five?
In midfield, Tom Cairney who played a starring role in Fulham’s promotion-winning season can’t wander into the side. Ryan Fraser, who’s been nothing short of sensational so far for Bournemouth this season, also doesn’t start regularly. Three goals and three assists in eight matches in England’s top tier at the time of writing but that’s seemingly overlooked.
Ryan Gauld, the next big thing after attracting rumoured interest from Liverpool, Roma and Real Madrid amongst others when breaking into Dundee United’s first team, now the forgotten man playing in Portugal.
Lack of options up top
Don’t get me started on this. You can understand why Steven Naismith has been called upon recently with his scintillating form for Hearts and he’s notched a few for Scotland but there’s not a physical presence anywhere to be seen really.
Oli McBurnie would be a choice for a target man perhaps? Alongside Leigh Griffiths if we’re talking first choice. A physical presence is a must when playing alongside either Griffiths or Naismith and whilst McBurnie is tall, he’s not a real aggressive, bully striker.
So you can blame McLeish all you want; but he hasn’t got the right tools for the job. We need new ideas in order to bring through young talent that must be nurtured correctly. If you’re bringing forward the population argument, Croatia finished runners-up in the 2018 World Cup. Their population? Around 4 million, less than that of Scotland’s.
What is preventing us from developing a world-class playmaker, for instance? Take The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018, Real Madrid and Croatia’s Luka Modric. There should be no excuse.
Hold my hands up, I am guilty for not really caring when it comes to the national side. I’d always said that if I had to choose I’d rather see Hearts win the Champions League than Scotland win the World Cup, not that ever are likely any time soon unfortunately.
What is daft though is staging friendlies at Hampden with poor crowds. Yes Glasgow is the largest and most populated city but Hampden Park can be a nightmare to travel to. Folk aren’t prepared to travel hours in whatever mode of transport only to be greeted with a half-empty ground and two mediocre sides going head to head. If only there was a stadium of use in the east of the country…..
The last thing we want is another Hampden/Murrayfield debacle but when former Scotland captain Scott Brown says that Hampden is “one of the worst atmospheres” he’s played in, how can you expect players to feel honoured or passionate representing the nation in the world’s biggest sport?
The solution is obviously to play your friendlies at your Easter Road, Tynecastle, Pittodrie and Rugby Parks and competitive games at either Hampden or Murrayfield. That’s for the SFA to debate another time, for now it seems Hampden is the foreseeable future.
The bottom line is that enormous changes are needed from top to bottom. What’s more, everyone needs to be on the same page. We can be the nation again, one that beams with pride whenever the national team plays, wherever it plays at any ground in the country and beyond.
Hopefully it isn’t long before Scotland has a talented squad under a savvy manager which gives some of the most passionate football fans on the planet a reason to smile again. Although don’t hold your breath just yet.