Is the Scotland squad really that bad?

Indulging in feelings of nostalgia and reminiscing about the good old days is scientifically proven to have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing. A study by the University of Southampton in 2006 found a direct correlation between people who reminisce the most and those who enjoy the happiest lives. Professor Clay Routledge discovered nostalgic thoughts are even powerful enough to fend off thoughts about death. Nostalgia is a much more powerful asset in our emotional armoury than many would give it credit for.

It perhaps begins to make sense then as of to why Scotland fans cling to the players and games of yesteryear so much. We are preserving our sanity, and it’s not like anything’s really happened in the last decade or so to be positive about either. Every defeat to minnows or hammering from an opponent half decent is soothed slightly in our minds by James McFadden’s or Gary Caldwell’s winners against France. It’s why before every qualification campaign, dramatic highlights packages are assembled at Hampden, with Maloney’s curler against Ireland the only moment in vaguely recent memory to make an appearance. (We won’t talk about the England game, I’m still not ready) The rest? They’re edging further and further away from us.

Image result for James mcfadden france goal

Billy Gilmour will be a regular feature for Scotland soon, he was 5 years old when Landreau was picking the ball out of the net in Paris. Still, these moments generate a warm, fuzzy feeling inside us which makes a nice change from the rage and despair we so often have to endure as Scotland fans. The videos get us hooked, that nostalgia builds and we flock back for every single campaign. Sports teams, especially at international level, are different to any other entertainment property in the world. Particularly in Europe and in a country as passionate about football as Scotland is, it is blind loyalty and faith which informs most fan decisions. If it was purely based on logic and value for money, we’d be lucky to break Queens Park’s attendances at Hampden for some internationals.

We’re far from the only set of football fans to reminisce, everyone does it, we just don’t have anything in recent memory to celebrate alongside it like other nations do. There comes a point where we need to draw a bit of a line though. After our disastrous performance in Russia last month, as usual, there were hot takes aplenty. One I really, really did not expect to see however questioned whether things under Alex McLeish were really that bad? At the very least, it made the other wild suggestions that we should never have sacked Strachan seem slightly more sensible.

It was perfectly fair after the performance in Moscow to question Clarke, and you can read an excellent piece from Gavin on here about just that. However, Alex McLeish looked genuinely unwell managing us. It was difficult to watch at times, and he should have been put out of his misery long before he eventually was. In fact, he should never have been given the job in the first place and the decision to do so has set us back years. As for Strachan, there’s a group of Scotland fans that somehow didn’t tire of his constant clichés and passing of the buck when we failed under him. He could seemingly do no wrong in certain supporters’ eyes. Just because we are worse off at the minute does not mean we should’ve stuck with Strachan. He had to go. For us to have any chance of catching back up with the nations that have passed us by, a change was needed. The SFA making a complete arse of finding his replacement changes none of that.

It isn’t just the managers we like to look back and think wistfully about, it’s players too. Now, in a nation that has produced the likes of Dalglish, Souness, Law, Johnstone etc, genuine world class footballers, we are obviously going to question why we’re seemingly unable to do that now. Even as recently as the 90s with Cooper, Collins, Strachan, McCoist and the likes we clearly had players of a higher quality than we do now and discussions into why that is are completely justified. We’ve now reached a stage though where people have begun talking up the squads of the last decade or so. Apparently, we’re not even producing the footballers we did in the glory days of the early 2000s, when we still qualified for absolutely nothing.

How true is this? Well, I decided to go back and have a look. The majority of old Scotland squads will have been expunged from the memory of most supporters and only the flashpoints of (insert failed campaign) will remain. Unfortunately, they can all be found online. It’s bad. For the purposes of this article I’ve looked at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup qualifiers – but only players with 4 or more appearances in the campaign. It makes things a bit more fair and allows me to filter out dross like Ian Murray, Richard Hughes & David McNamee (who amassed more Scotland caps than Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld).

For the 2006 WC campaign (the results of which we will not speak of) we had 6 players operating at the “elite” level of the Barclays Premier League –

  • Barry Ferguson – Blackburn
  • Darren Fletcher – Man United
  • James McFadden – Everton
  • Nigel Quashie – Portsmouth/Southampton
  • Davie Weir – Everton
  • Gary Naysmith – Everton

They were supplemented by players from a very strong Hearts team (Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley & Andy Webster) as well as the likes of Gay Caldwell, Jackie McNamara and literally any Scottish player the English Championship had to offer.

Image result for barry ferguson birmingham

For the 2010 WC qualifiers (the results of which we will again refrain from discussing), it’s much of the same. We had 5 regulars operating at the elite level.

  • Darren Fletcher – Man United
  • Alan Hutton – Spurs
  • James McFadden -Birmingham City
  • Craig Gordon – Sunderland’s bench)
  • Graham Alexander – Burnley (kinda, they were just promoted)

They were backed up by quite a strong core of Scottish players at domestic level. Kenny Miller who was scoring for fun at Rangers, along with Maloney, Fletcher, Brown, Caldwell, McManus, Hartley & Weir. Once again, if you were in the English Championship and eligible for a Scotland call up, there’s a very good chance you got one.

How does that stack up with where we are currently?

At the elite level, we appear to be better covered.

  • Andy Robertson – Liverpool
  • Kieran Tierney – Arsenal
  • Stuart Armstrong – Southampton
  • Scott McTominay – Man United
  • Oli McBurnie – Sheffield United
  • John Fleck – Sheffield United
  • Kenny McLean – Norwich
  • John McGinn – Aston Villa
  • Billy Gilmour – Chelsea
  • Ryan Fraser – Bournemouth

Domestically, things aren’t too bad either with the likes of McGregor, Christie, Jack, Souttar and Forrest being regular features. What conclusions can we actually draw from the names above though?

Well obviously Ferguson, Hutton, McFadden and Naysmith would walk into the current squads, as would Caldwell, McManus and Miller, but most of our “elite level” ballers would stroll into their squads as well. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration in any way to suggest that every one of those players would be involved in the 2006/2010 squads – with most of them becoming mainstays. The English top flight has clearly increased in quality since then as well, yet we have more players operating in it since the 90s. Even the English Championship has seen an increase in quality due to the ludicrous amounts of money available to its clubs. That of course has had a knock-on effect domestically. Diddy teams south of the border can now financially outmuscle most of our clubs, meaning player quality outside the Old Firm has probably decreased. (Factor In things like the collapse of the Romanov era and clubs becoming more financially responsible in the SPFL age as well)

The quality hasn’t gone down much though – and international sides have outperformed us with players hailing from much worse teams than the current Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen. The Old Firm are flying high in Europe again too, giving players coming from there bigger challenges than 90% of the games they’ll play at international level. Ryan Jack is obviously the only current Rangers player involved in the setup (though Alan McGregor would likely be our 1st choice keeper). Things appear to finally be working properly at Auchenhowie though, with their youth teams picking up some excellent results. Hopefully more of those players begin working their way into the first team.

Our youth teams would require an entirely different piece, but you only have to look at Owen’s depth chart above to see we do have exciting prospects on the cusp, and our results at youth international recently have been terrific too. Names like Hickey, Gilmour, Campbell, Turnbull and McLennan will all be involved soon, and there’s plenty more exciting names all throughout the age groups. If you compare it to the situation the Irish are going through at the minute where there is next to nothing in terms of prospects, it’s night and day.

We have more players at the top level than we’ve had in some time. Our two biggest clubs are bossing it in Europe and there are plenty of up and coming names in Scottish Football that if they fulfil their potential will go on to that elite level as well. There are specific points and aspects of player development you can pick apart, but they key point is the quantity and overall quality of footballer we produce for the highest level has risen the last decade, not reduced. It is fine to reminisce, in fact as a Scotland fan I would encourage it, but we mustn’t lose a sense of perspective about where we actually are and where we’ve been in the process.

What do we miss? Actual centre backs and a right back for a start. We don’t have anyone with the leadership qualities of a Brown or a McGregor anymore, and there is a serious question over the commitment of some of the current squad. Poor Steve Clarke has been left with Oli McBurie, one-legged Steven Naismith and the PureFitbaw writing team for the upcoming qualifiers. Write us off at your peril.

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