What can you say about Scotland?
Another summer and another finals without Scotland there. By the next World Cup in Russia, it will be 2o years since the Scots qualified for any major tournament.
They used to be the only home nation team that consistently qualified for the World Cup, especially when England kept missing out in the 1970s, but their decline on the world stage is sad and shows no real sign of even a hope of revival.
After the recent game against Italy, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan admitted his side were “badly off the pace” with their passing in a one-sided 1-0 defeat.
Strachan felt the friendly in Malta was a harsh lesson both for his players and Scottish football as a whole as Italy outclassed his team.
The former Celtic boss said: “It’s a learning curve, not only for us, and I hope the whole of Scottish football, everybody at youth level, understands what you need to be a top player.”
One of the problems for Gordon Strachan is the fact that so few of his players actually play in the top flight in English or European football and with real honesty, that won’t change for the foreseeable future.
Gone are the days when the majority of the Scotland side played for Manchester United or top continental sides in the top leagues and elite European competitions. The Scottish Premiership sadly drags it’s heels in the wake of the Premier League with the financial chasm between them frightening.
The game against Italy isn’t definitive, as the team were not at full strength and there were a number of younger players on a learning curve.
Maybe there is an issue further down the line? Are the Under 21 players good enough to fight their way onto the senior international stage or does it all go pear shaped for many of them? One look at the systems employed by Germany, Spain and France suggests that there is a steady progression within the national coaching framework for the youth to rise through the levels and then be ready for the full international arena.
The conveyor belt of talent started to dry up in the late 1980s. While there have been undoubtedly decent players coming from Scottish clubs in recent times, such as Alan Hutton and Craig Gordon, some of these, such as James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady have chosen to represent other countries instead and what is clear is that the standard of players coming through now represents that of a lower quality than those who came through 20 or 30 years ago.
Another problem in Scotland is that there are ‘usually’ only two clubs that ever win the title with the revenue those two teams can earn, outweighing anything that the other sides can pocket, and therefore a parity between the well-off and the also-rans exists and will probably always exist. Consequently, whereas the Scottish Prem’s big brother south of the border is viewed and sold worldwide, their offering is not and only seen in a handful of English speaking countries.
The whole of the Scottish game possibly needs to be looked at in terms of its structure (again) and TV rights in other far off countries, as the Premiership joined the Sky revolution five years later than the Premier League and also, ensuring that its youth follow a prescribed line of continuity as per our European neighbours. This might go some way to heightening the profile of Scottish football, entice better players and not just those who have nowhere else to go into the SPL and hopefully put a national side that graced the past tournaments back on track.
Who remembers Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland and David Narey’s blast against Brazil?
And as the EUROs creep ever nearer, many Scots will be hiding their TVs, heading for camping breaks in the Highlands or doing anything just so they don’t have to watch every other home nation and the Republic of Ireland teams telling us just how grateful they are just to be there, while England play down the favourites to win card.
The good times will come around again, but not quickly enough for the next World Cup sadly.