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Berra the devil you know – A meaningless friendly that proved nothing

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An international friendly against Cyprus in November, while other nations are fighting it out on the pitch for a place in the European Championships. How predictable, how uninspiring.

A win is a win when FIFA rankings are involved, that is why Scotland and Craig Levein selected to play Cyprus, but despite the win it proved to be nothing more than a game to hand the usual suspects another cap and a few days in the sun.

All the talk leading up to the game was of Craig Levein experimenting with the side against a Cyprus side that were missing six key players. Cue the day of the game and Craig Levein announced his squad:

McGregor (Rangers); Whittaker (Rangers), Caldwell (Wigan), Berra (Wolves), Bardsley (Sunderland); Robson (Middlesbrough), Cowie (Cardiff), Fletcher (Man Utd), Morrison (West Brom), Miller (Cardiff), Mackie (QPR).

Other than the return of Jamie Mackie from injury, the others were the usual suspects selected by Levein through the European Championship qualifiers. The same players who failed to qualify for the same European Championships.

For such a meaningless friendly would it not have been better to give the likes of Matt Gilks or Craig Samson a chance to prove themselves in goal? Why not give Jordan Rhodes 45 minutes at least, rather than four measly minutes. Then you had the likes of Grant Hanley, Ryan Stevenson, James McArthur and David Goodwillie – why call them up and not even give them game time?

A 2-1 win over a weakened Cyprus does not prove anything to the Tartan Army nor our World Cup 2014 qualifying opponents.

Likewise the notable omissions of Paul Dixon, Jamie Murphy, Steven Hammell, David Templeton, Ross McCormack and even the demotion of James Forrest to the Under-21s is baffling for a game that could have given such players much needed international experience. The demotion of James Forrest is explainable given that the Under-21 game against Holland was a competitive fixture and tonight saw Billy Stark’s side secure a superb win over their Dutch counterparts.

Will the 33-year-old Barry Robson be part of the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign? Likewise the 31-year-old Kenny Miller? How about the 30-year-old Stephen Crainey? I always thought that such meaningless friendlies were a way for managers to experiment with new formations and tactics, along with bringing through players of the future.

Craig Levein stated before the Cyprus game that the friendly would be deemed a success if just one future international star emerged, similar to what happened when Barry Bannan came to the fore against the Faroe Islands last year. The only potential star of the future who took to the pitch that had not been there and got the postcard was Jordan Rhodes, and with just four minutes of game time can he be judged on that? So in other words despite the victory, the friendly was not a success – we never learned anything we didn’t know already.

Match reports in the Scottish media quoted statistics which showed that Scotland under Craig Levein was on the up. One statistic proves otherwise – failure to qualify for the European Championships 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. That is the most important statistic, another failure by Scotland to qualify for a major tournament.

Scotland’s future stars that are under the tutelage of Billy Stark proved tonight that some of them have a bright future. The likes of James Forrest, Tom Cairney, David Wotherspoon, Gregg Wylde, Leigh Griffiths, Jordan Rhodes etc are just some of the players that need to be brought through into the senior squad and put the old guard put out to pasture.

But hey lets all celebrate a 2-1 win over Cyprus, a side ranked 120th in the world.

Meanwhile it looks like Craig Levein is set to become Scotland’s Jack Charlton as the Scotland side could become an England B team.

We could have a full starting eleven of players that were never born in Scotland and only qualify through the parents or grandparents ruling. Is Scotland so bereft of talent that we have to resort to bringing in Angles?

Matt Gilks, Phil Bardsley, James Morrison, Craig Mackail-Smith, Jamie Mackie, Jordan Rhodes and Kris Commons have already been called up to the squad. While Levein is currently looking at Spurs defender Steve Caulker, Sunderland’s Craig Gardner and now Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

But am I being anti-English? Or do I just want a Scotland national side to be represented by Scottish players?

With the likes of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland against a Team GB at the 2012 Olympics because they could lose their independence, what happens to a Scotland national side that is bereft of Scots? What happens to our identity then?

SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan hit back at critics of the surge of Angles into the Scotland side via his twitter page, he said: “It’s not just a Scotland thing. It happens all over the world. Klose in the German team is Polish born. Most of the USA team are born overseas. Lots of Germans are in there because of Jurgen Klinsmann as coach. We need to compete until we develop our own players.”

Emmet Ryan, editor of Action81.com, stated on the Jack Charlton-era as manager of the Republic of Ireland: “The long history of Irish immigration to the UK meant that nearly everyone on the island has a cousin born or living in a large English city. That naturally meant that second and third generation players, some of whom may not have spent any time in Ireland prior to donning the jersey, would be seen as having a link to their historical home. That was a big factor in calming any concerns over players not being accepted by fans.

“Winning helps and most of the Charlton-era British players were either good or scored important goals. This is particularly crucial given how long Ireland had gone without making an impact on the big stage.

“Kevin Sheedy, born in Wales with a father from Clare, scored the equaliser against England in Italia 90. Ray Houghton, born in Glasgow to a Donegal father, scored two of Ireland’s most famous goals ever (vs England Euro 88, and vs Italy at USA 94). Even Alan McLoughlin, born in Manchester to parents from Galway and Limerick, got in on the act by scoring the goal that sent Ireland to USA 94. That’s even before getting to Irish-adopted Scouser John Aldridge.

“There have been failures since that era, most notably Paul Butler but most of the British born players to don the green jersey have either won over fans with their work-rate or drifted out of the squad.”

Maybe there is a case for introducing some English-born players into the Scotland squad, but a full starting eleven? It could be worse though couldn’t it? We could have the likes of Nigel Quashie playing for us again.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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