“TECHNICALLY we’re fine,” Gordon Strachan said after becoming agonisingly close to reaching the World Cup play-offs on Sunday night. “But our guys have to work harder to get on the ball than bigger lads at six foot three. Genetically we are behind. In the last campaign we were the second smallest squad behind Spain.
“That means that I had to pick a team tonight to try and combat their height and strength. Even at that, we couldn’t combat their height and strength at set plays. Genetically, we have to work at things. It is a problem for us.”
I’ve covered many a post-game press conference and granted, I wasn’t at this one, but genetics is an excuse I haven’t heard of before.
Strachan is holding on to his job, that is for sure. I was told by a source last month that he was days away from getting sacked, only for him to turn it around and last till the end of the qualifying campaign.
But to say his team won’t be in Russia next year because they are small isn’t true. To use Spain as an example is naive, especially as they head into the tournament as favourites.
One of the tallest nations of this qualifying campaign are the Netherlands. They won’t be travelling to Russia.
Size is not the reason Scotland won’t be playing in a major tournament next summer. It isn’t the reason why they were unable to qualify for Euro 2016, at a time when it was virtually impossible to not qualify for the tournament.
Scotland, at the height of their powers, were always a small team. But they were technically gifted, something they cannot say today. Kenny Dalglish is 5 foot 8. Archie Gemmill is 5 foot 5. Graeme Souness is just under 6 foot. Strachan himself is 5 foot 6.
Not the tallest but could dazzle you off the pitch with their footwork and skill.
Part of the problem is a weak Rangers and a Celtic team reliant on players outside of Scotland. This isn’t a recent trend, this goes back around a decade, when the two Glasgow teams were full of foreign talent and the production line of Scottish talent dried up.
Don’t get me wrong, there have always been, and always will be, the odd Scot playing in the Premier League but not to the extent of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
A strong domestic league often translates to a strong national team. You look at the amount of homegrown players the likes of Germany, Spain and Italy have to pick from and you can see why their squads are always so strong.
I look at the starting line-up of the recent 2-2 draw and I see a team bereft of guile and flair, made up of players from the Scottish Premiership down to League One in England. And there is nothing wrong with that, if the team had a clear identity and plan like Michel O’Neil’s Northern Ireland. But I don’t see it. And neither do the fans.
From what I see online and the few Scottish people I know, Strachan should have walked after the abysmal Euro campaign. His squads are littered with players who are past it, out of form or just rubbish, in their words.
While there is a limited pool of talented youngsters to pick from, they do exist. Oliver Burke is currently with the Under-21 squad when he arguably could be with the seniors.
Strachan is finally pushing forward with Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney but at the start of the campaign they could be seen languishing on the bench.
It’s difficult to include both as they play the same position, but Tierney at right back hasn’t worked and tough decisions needed to be made earlier.
For years, Jordan Rhodes was left out for an out-of-form Leigh Griffiths. When Griffiths was firing for Celtic, he was out of the Scotland squad. It made no sense.
Tom Cairney is another who has been out of the squad when playing brilliantly in the Championship. Yet when called up, he is wasted on the bench. And at 6 foot, you would have thought he would be perfect for Strachan. Especially when his replacement, Barry Bannan, is smaller than him.
While Wales, Republic and Northern Ireland have been capturing the hearts of the globe over the past few years, Scotland have continued to remain a laughing stock.
Strachan can talk about genetics but he has to look at what he has presided over since he took over in 2013.
And the recent emergence of Iceland, the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup, shows that Strachan’s excuses can no longer be
While some will point at the way he turned things around in this campaign, it shouldn’t be enough to keep him in the job. Scotland need a clear direction and plan going forward, something that hasn’t been seen under the guidance of Strachan.
A new generation of players needs to be brought in and that needs to start at grassroots and professional club level. There needs to be a clear plan by the Scottish Football Association about how to move forward.
International football is becoming more surprising every year; the Tartan army cannot afford to be left behind. A flourishing football team can also do wonders for the journalism industry, something I never realised until reading an article from Paul Holleran, national organiser for the National Union of Journalists Scotland.
Following Sunday’s draw he tweeted: “Huge blow for Scottish football but also Scottish media. World Cup in Russia would’ve been real boost for journalism.”
He added to website Hold the Front Page: “I witnessed tangible excitement on sports desks across Scotland last week. Scotland and the Tartan Army were on the brink of making it to the World Cup in Russia next year.
“Sports editors had some hopes that their staffing and freelance resources would be increased at least for a few months. Reporters were building their hopes up and checking out the possibilities of travelling to Moscow or Novosibirsk as part of a trip of a lifetime.
“The sporting challenge as well as the politics of Russia, including the behaviour of so-called football casuals, were all on the agenda.
“All Scotland needed to do was win against Slovenia. Despite hitting the bar twice it wasn’t to be and another near miss for the Scots has been logged in the hard luck book.”
While the next Scottish manager, be it Strachan or someone else, won’t be thinking about newspapers and blogs when picking his team, there is no denying the impact football has on society.
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