After the dreadful George Burley and Craig Levein eras Scotland had reached a low that had only been felt since the dark days of Berti Vogts (and God they were dark days), there was however a saviour and his name was Gordon Strachan.
Strachan walked into a mess; a squad ranked 78 in the world (awful), a squad that lacked quality players and a squad that relied on Kenny Miller for goals. It was going to be a hard job, maybe even an impossible job to turn this once great nation around and take them back to the place where Scotland belongs.
Craig Levein was such a poor manager of Scotland that he managed to take Scotland out of contention faster than countries such as San Marino or Andorra, for a nation that has legitimate claims to the invention of the beautiful game it was just an unacceptable result.
Football is a religion in Scotland and religion is football, it is what makes the Old Firm (Celtic and Rangers [or what was Rangers]) rivalry so fierce. The Old Firm is not about geography like many others (although both teams are from Glasgow), it isn’t about politics like El Classico but rather about religion (that’s a post for another day).
Strachan’s start was slow with defeats to Wales (or should I say Gareth Bale?) and Serbia officially knocking Scotland out of the 2014 World Cup and making the Tartan Army wait at least another two years for Scotland’s first appearance in a major competition since 1998 (24 teams in European Cup 2016 surely it is our time).
The future of Scotland looked bleak until one fateful night in Zagreb (Croatia for those not good at geography). The unlikely result which saw the team ranked 4th in the world (I know incredible) defeated by the brave Scots 1-0 (I know more incredible). Amazing ,just Amazing. Is this the start of something special? Is Strachan the man to bring Scotland back from the brink (up to 50 in world rankings)? Will Scotland finally make a finals competition?
Time will tell if any of these things will come true or come to fruition but Scotland must work to improve their ranking so as to position themselves in a high enough seeding pot for Euro 2016 to finally end the drought that has haunted us so long.
Prior to the miracle in Zagreb, there was talk in the media and amongst fans about the concern of the upcoming friendly with England. If Scotland were being outplayed and beaten by Wales (I mean Wales!) what would England do to them? It was concerning and if there is one thing the Tartan Army do not want it is to lose to the auld enemy, those dirty bastards, the English (Scotland would rather lose to a team of grannie’s [as long as it wasn’t the English international grannie team]).
These fears were put to rest with the victory over Croatia, and after all if Scotland can beat the mighty Croatia (with their massive population of 4 ⅟4 million……why are they so much better than us?) then they can surely beat an average England team.
Well the hopes of the World were resting on the mighty shoulders of the wee man and the national team. The excitement around the World built like a crescendo and a runaway train combined together in a massive mix of loud noise and fast trains (like Speed….no wait that was a bus. Was there a sequel with a train? Or was that a boat…..I don’t know, it doesn’t matter). The hype was huge, however like many things involving Scotland it failed to deliver anything but disappointment.
Here is the squad evaluation based on 4 categories. These are Goalkeepers, Defenders, Midfielders and Forwards (good categories I know).
If there is one area that Scotland actually has lots of depth and strength it is in nets. I’m not saying we have anything amazing (I miss you Craig Gordon) but we have 3 solid keepers in Allan McGregor, David Marshall and Matt Gilks.
Personally I’d like to see Marshall start in nets but it will probably be McGregor (ugh), which is fine as well. The thing I don’t like about McGregor is that it is the common held belief that he is easily the best keeper Scotland but he plays for Hull and Marshall plays for Cardiff, I know who I think is a better team.
If there is one area of major weakness in the Scotland squad it is in defence, it is a mess. There are no quality established players in the squad whatsoever (with Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra missing [oh wait I said quality players, my bad]). I can’t personally comment on the fitness of certain players who did not get called up, so I won’t, but what I can do is criticise those players who got picked.
As far as centre backs go Strachan has called up Hanley (the rock in the middle and that is not a weight joke or a joke about his lack of movement…..), Gordon Greer (the uncapped 32 year old playing for Brighton), Charlie Mulgrew (is he a centre back? Probably but I doubt he will play there) and Russell Martin (who I know is a right back but after his display against Croatia at centre back I imagine he will play there again), oh wait and Andy Webster in the why the hell is this man still being called up for Scotland when he was never good enough in the first place? Seriously Webster has received 28 caps (yes 28!), Stevie Nicol, Alan Hansen, Jimmy Johnstone, Charlie Nicholas, Andy Gray, Tommy Gemmel, Lee McCulloch (this one is a joke in case you are confused) incredibly all have less caps than Andy Webster.
At wing back Scotland have more depth with Alan Hutton (still playing? Who knew), Steven Whittaker (still playing? Who knew), Steven Hammell (some oldie from Motherwell) and of course Mulgrew and Martin. The quality issue is less of a concern here, especially if you consider Martin and Mulgrew as wing backs rather than centre backs.
Andy Webster is the problem with Scotland’s current international state. It isn’t his fault, but a man who is past his best (and well past it at that) is still being called up by Scotland (even though he doesn’t have a club) because quite simply they have nobody else. The further problem is that in my opinion it is better giving these international experiences/caps to young players, who even if they aren’t ready for this level of football the experience could be invaluable. It is surely better giving a potential star of the future his first chance rather than giving some old duffer another one.
I’d imagine the back four for the England game will line up Hutton, Hanley, Martin & Mulgrew.
The greatest area of strength in the Scotland squad, not only do Scotland have a wealth of solid central midfielders but they also have a lot of good nippy wingers who can keep opponents up at night.
Scotland are likely to line up with 4 in midfield with one playing off the front and rightly so because there a lot of good players and Strachan has recognised this by calling up 14 midfielders.
In central midfield there is Scott Brown (the stand in captain and pitbull terrier), James Morrison (possibly Scotland’s best player), Charlie Adam (set piece demon and slow as a week in the jail [not from my own experiences]), James McArthur (integral part of the relegated Wigan team, whom I thought may have gotten a transfer away but could become the star of that first team now), Barry Bannan (a player who continues to flatter to deceive), Graham Dorrans (central midfielder at West Brom, more of a squad player for both Scotland and West Brom though) and Liam Bridcutt (an Englishman [we have a few] who does the dirty work that no one else wants to do).
Out wide there is Steven Naismith (the blondey bandit), Robert Snodgrass (the conqueror of Croatia and star of Norwich), James Forrest (one of two of the bright young wingers in the squad), Gary Mackay-Steven (the other bright young winger in the squad), Chris Burke (the player that is very much out his depth with the rest of the midfield, but he’s ginger and Strachan likes that) and Craig Conway (a man who would not win a beauty contest but was an important cog in the Cardiff Championship winning side).
Scotland of course are missing their best player in Darren Fletcher which is a shame because with Fletcher comes a winning mentality and an experience of playing with and against the world’s best players and in the world’s best competitions. I am also disappointed to not see Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Jack or Liam Kelly get a chance in the squad, but to be fair there is such strength and depth in midfield it is understandable.
In a perfect world I would love to see the line-up be Forrest, Brown, Morrison & Mackay-Steven because I think with the two young wingers we could really give England some trouble and the midfield would be solid with Brown and Morrison in there.
In reality I think the midfield will line-up like Naismith, Brown, Morrison & Snodgrass (a player who I really like and banged the drum for when he played for Leeds but left out because I think that Mackay-Steven and Forrest could become special).
The only player that I could really complain about starting out of the players who were called up is Burke, not because he is a bad player (he isn’t) but rather because there are better players than him in the squad.
Previously the greatest area of weakness in the Scotland squad; however in recent years the quality of strikers has improved dramatically and there is the beginning of a healthy crop of youngsters coming through.
The forwards consist of George Boyd (who had a really good season with Hull and Peterborough last year), Shaun Maloney (who was he a standout for Wigan last year and instrumental in them winning the FA Cup), Jordan Rhodes (who had a solid year in a poor Blackburn side), Leigh Griffiths (the SPL player of the year) and oh my god I can’t believe this man still gets called up for Scotland Kenny Miller (a man who it is easier to list his bad traits than his good ones [never a good sign]).
Scotland has 4 solid forward players right there, each could probably start and you couldn’t complain and yet Strachan goes out his way to piss the Tartan Army off by picking Kenny ‘cannae hit a barn door’ Miller.
I have never been a fan of Miller, he is wasteful in front of goal, has no passing ability and takes a squad place from younger more deserving talent, oh and his face is orange. What makes the fact that Miller got called up even worse is that he is done; he has been done for about 3 years. It is further compounded by the fact that Miller has to travel from Vancouver (for those bad at geography the west coast of Canada), almost as far away from Scotland as you can possibly get. The problem with that is, Vancouver is 8 time zones over and to travel that amount and then have to recover and play within 2 or 3 days is not possible. Look at any game Miller has played since his move to Vancouver he hasn’t lasted more than 30 minutes because he does a lot of headless chicken running. As soon as he moved to the MLS (a lower level than the SPL) he should have been dropped from the team never to be called up again, yet whenever a squad is announced there is that little orange faced ned once again. I very much doubt he will start or even play for that matter but in getting called up Miller is taking away the experience of being in a squad from a younger player like Tony Watt or Johnny Russell who could potentially be the future of Scotland.
Anyway I am rambling back to the point. I’m pretty sure that the line-up will be Maloney & Griffiths, with Maloney playing off the front.
There is nothing quite like international football to stir the passion in your heart and increase the love of your country, it is made even greater when you are playing your biggest rivals for the first time in 13 years.
Scotland doesn’t look like a bad side on paper and the world ranking of 50 resembles poor second rate management more than it does the actual squad. In nets, midfield and up front Scotland are stacked with good players and have nice depth to go on top of that. However with good there comes bad and the defensive frailties are very concerning for now and looking in to the future.
As far as the England game goes I imagine it will be close. Scotland will play a stuffy game and look to hit England on the break, which will not suit England because they aren’t very good with the ball and are lacking quality midfield talent that can open up a defence. Scotland couldn’t get England at a better time, they are seriously lacking in quality (for England’s standards still a better team than Scotland) and although I doubt that any Scottish player would get into the England squad (Morrison or Snodgrass maybe, but at a stretch) there is nothing that these players would like better than to stick it to the auld enemy.
I am looking forward to the game win or lose (as long as we don’t get gubbed) I’ll be happy with a good performance and even happier with a win. Although it is a friendly don’t forget there is not such a thing as a friendly between Scotland and England, the English may have forgotten that but the Scots certainly have not.
Feel the Tartan Army roar by leaving a comment or if you are English feel free to leave a comment about how Scotland will be humiliated as if it was a cricket match against Australia that you seem to go on about a lot even though you haven’t actually won. All comments are welcome.