As the dust settles on another miserable failure of an International Week for Scotland, people are up in arms.
“I thought things would improve under Gordon Strachan!” was the cry from the average naive Scotland fan who had pinned all the blame for our previous performances on former manager, Craig Levein.
And while Levein could easily be blamed for some of his tactical and team selection decisions, we shouldn’t kid ourselves to think replacing him with someone else would suddenly make things a lot better; especially if he doesn’t actually change anything.
The last two games have felt worse than anything under Levein. Rather than it being the case that you felt individual decisions from the manager (like 4-6-0) might have cost us dearly, the performance level against Wales and Serbia was just appalling, and the blame for that must be shared between manager and players, as it should have been under Levein.
After the match, the inquest began, with the pundits on Radio Scotland asking if Scotland simply had rubbish players and questioning in all seriousness whether or not we are on a par with the likes of San Marino and Andorra.
Now maybe I’m an optimist but I think that is knee-jerk nonsense.
For a start, we are unfortunate to be in probably the strongest group overall, with our lowest seeded team being Wales, and while we have suffered the indignity of being the first team eliminated from qualifying, that has more to do with how far ahead Belgium & Croatia are rather than how far behind we are. There are eight teams on equal or fewer points than us in the other groups.
That shouldn’t detract from what has been a terrible campaign though. Changes have to be made, and while there is certainly no quick fix solution to Scotland’s problems, I could identify five easy ways things might improve for us in the future.
1. Only Call Up Players Who Are Actually Playing For Their Club Sides
In the wake of the defeat to Serbia, Gordon Strachan mentioned that neither Steven Whittaker nor Charlie Adam had played much football for their club sides lately, and in a way used it as a bit of an excuse.
Sorry Gordon, you – like a number of your predecessors – should know that a footballer who isn’t match sharp goes into a game with a disadvantage. You called Whittaker up knowing he hadn’t played for a while, and you did it at the expense of plenty of other players who turn out for their clubs week in week out.
I’m aware that the incentive to play International Football isn’t as strong as it once was for players, but Strachan should make it clear to his troops that if they aren’t getting a game for their club side, they can’t expect to play for the National Team.
2. Stop Calling Up Players Based On Who They Play For
This is a similar issue, but it’s been the case for near on 15 years that a player seems to only have to register for an English club to get a call-up.
Ricky Foster played in the SPL for 10 years and yet one month after moving to Bristol City he got the Scotland call-up. We all laughed, because he obviously wasn’t a better player in a month, but behind the laughter is a real problem.
The same thing happened with Paul Dixon. Following his move to Huddersfield he got the call-up and was man of the match on his debut. He was just as good while at Dundee United.
There’s a belief that playing in England suddenly means you are more worthy, and yet as many managers will claim, there are plenty of SPL players capable of doing well down there.
The Scotland manager shouldn’t be afraid of picking SPL players and giving them a chance. What they don’t seem to realise is that if they do, the player might end up getting a move to the Holy Land of Football as a result.
3. Select Players Who Are On Form
I appreciate he has a charge hanging over his head, and I know he’s not the most popular figure, but Leigh Griffiths should have been in that last Scotland squad.
Call-ups for the international team should be made on merit, and merit comes in the form of how well a player has been performing recently.
Much like match sharpness, a footballer’s confidence can determine how well he plays. If he’s at the top of his game, it might be that he’s a better candidate that a supposed better player experiencing a bad run of form.
4. Judge Your Current Players By How Well They Are Performing For Scotland
In the wake of the Serbia game, Steven Naismith said that the players were all fighting for their Scotland futures.
I’d love to believe that was true, but I doubt it.
Take Shaun Maloney for example. We all know he’s a good player and has done well for Wigan, but when have you ever seen him play a particularly good game for Scotland? I know he’s scored one goal in near on 30 appearances for Scotland since 2005, but how many assists has he got? What does he actually contribute to the Scotland team?
And yet time and time again he gets the call ahead of players who might be less skilled overall, but could be more effective.
It’s not just Maloney either. The likes of James McArthur, Graeme Dorrans and Charlie Adam just don’t seem to ever do it in Dark Blue, while Alan Hutton and Kenny Miller haven’t performed for us for years.
Yet these guys are certainties for inclusion every time, and they get in at the expense of other players who might be effective.
5. Stop Trying To Fit Square Pegs Into Round Holes
All too often, the manager – whether it’s Levein, Burley or now Strachan – chooses to pick a system first and then try to fit his players into it.
That’s something I strongly disagree with.
By all means come up with a system, but once you’ve got that system, pick the right players for it. And sometimes that means leaving out one or two of your strongest 11.
Look at the set-up we had against Wales.
That midfield was appalling. They displayed no willingness to take the initiative, no fighting spirit (unless you count Robert Snodgrass’s lunging tackles as fight) and no work rate.
A team needs someone to take the bull by the horns. Scott Brown does it very well, but if he’s not there, you can’t just say “Ach well, James McArthur and Graeme Dorrans will do”, because all the evidence suggests that they won’t.
Let’s Move Forward
Some might say these ideas are too sensible for a football manager to consider, but I think they are a must for Scotland going forward.
The old way just doesn’t work. Let’s try something different.
Agree or Disagree?
You can read more of Stuart’s musings either on Scotzine in his Dundee United blog or on his own personal website: Stuart Reviews Stuff.