SCOTTISH players used to dominate the top flight south of the border, from Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen to Graeme Souness and Denis Law. The Scottish top division was always strong but the lure of playing in England was often irresistible, and some of Scotland’s best players were rewarded with trophy-laden careers after heading down the A1. Nowadays the Scottish Premiership is undeniably struggling and the EPL is the world’s richest league, but EPL stars are a little thin on the ground for Gordon Strachan to choose from.
The last Scotland squad featured just eight players plying their trade in the EPL, but since Hull were relegated three of them are now marooned in the Championship. One man that could redress the balance, however, is Jamie Murphy, an uncapped 27-year-old Glaswegian who has just helped Brighton earn promotion to the EPL.
Murphy has been knocking on the door of the Scotland team for a number of years but has failed to earn Strachan’s approval. He was finally called up to the squad ahead of the England game at Hampden Park back in May, but was one of five cut from the final squad and is still yet to earn his first Scotland cap. He represented his country at under-19 and under-21 level, but has not made the step up and languishing in the lower leagues south of the border, first at Sheff Utd and then at Brighton, could have been detrimental to his chances.
But now he has the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage in world football. Brighton kick off their first ever Premiership campaign against Pep Guardiola’s Man City on Saturday, and Murphy will be able to pit his wits against the best in the business. Brighton will play the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd in games broadcast around the world this season and Murphy has never had a greater opportunity to shine.
The Brighton winger has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of seasons and has developed into a fine attacker worthy of a place in Strachan’s squad. He started 20 games last season and made a further 15 substitute appearances last campaign, and he was always dangerous.
He has electric pace and is a strong dribbler, with a cracking left foot. He is not the most prolific winger, but a return of 0.17 goals per game in a career as a wide man is decent. He displayed great composure when he scored a brace against Colchester in the EFL Cup last season, and showed he can use his right peg too when chipping in against Reading following an amazing break from the Seagulls.
In many ways Murphy is the perfect asset for a team that likes to play on the break. He is rapid, full of energy and composed in the final third, as he showed against Reading and several times throughout last season. His pace could benefit Scotland greatly as they are often underdogs in their matches, forced to yield the lion’s share of possession, sit back, soak up pressure and break quickly when they do get a chance. Twenty-seven is a ripe old age to earn your first cap, but Murphy is a bit of a late bloomer and has been on an upward curve throughout his career.
“I almost feel as if in my career I have taken small steps rather than large ones,” he says.
“Going to League One first [with Sheff Utd], then the Championship, now up to the Premier League. It’s worked out well for me so far in my career. I think if I came from Scotland straight to the Premier League, or the top of the Championship, it would have been difficult. You see a lot of players struggle with it.”
Murphy believes it has all worked out perfectly for him and his confidence is intoxicating. Every time he has been asked to make the step up, he has delivered, so you would not bet against him doing so once more in the EPL.
Scotland could do with an injection of fresh talent as they bid to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1998. They are in a pretty good position, with eight points from six games. England will run away with the group, but Scotland are locked in a battle with Slovakia and Slovenia to finish second. The latest football odds at https://www.sunbets.co.uk/sports/betting/Football show that they are 9/10 favourites to beat Lithuania away in their next game and that would leave them tantalisingly close to securing that coveted runners-up spot and reaching the play-offs.
With his pace and dynamism, Murphy could help propel them to Russia next summer. Stephen Naismith is a fading force, so Robert Snodgrass and Ikechi Anya would appear to be his main competition for a place in the starting 11. Snodgrass is a wonderful player and should be one of the first names on the team sheet, but Anya could not cut it at Watford and is not exactly setting the Championship alight with Derby. If Murphy continues his upward trajectory and shines in the EPL with Brighton he should be a shoo-in for the next Scotland squad and really pushing hard for a place in the starting 11.
He has received encouragement from Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee, who said Murphy used to resemble a set of bagpipes but has grown a lot physically over the last two years, and added that Murphy had enjoyed “a great season”. He should convince Strachan to give the winger a chance as Scotland could do with more pace going forwards.
Martin Green is an experienced sports betting writer and tipster. He has been covering international football for many years.