Scotland is the joint oldest national football team in the World alongside England. They played against England in the first-ever international match in the world in 1872. We are approaching 150 years since the match and yet Scotland has not made any breakthrough in the elite stages of world football.
They have qualified for the FIFA World Cup only nine times in their history. In the European Championships, they have only been in the finals twice, with one more appearance due this summer. They have not made it past the group stages of any of these tournaments to date. A poor statistic considering the footballing tradition of the Scots.
A CHANGE OF WIND
The last time they qualified for any major international tournament apart from the Euro this summer was the 1988 FIFA World Cup. A long absence from the world stage, but one the scots are accustomed to. However, the ships harboured far too long in Scotland and its time they set sail. Steve Clarke was appointed in 2019 with the sole purpose of catching the wind. A pragmatic manager who understands his team’s strengths and weakness and culminates strategies around them.
👏 Congratulations to Steve Clarke, who has been nominated for the The William Hill Scottish Football Writers' Manager of The Year award. pic.twitter.com/c8DXkcUB5D
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) May 5, 2021
Before he was appointed National team manager, Clarke had several stints in the Premier League in assistant coach and head coach roles. He then took a year off and was appointed as the manager of Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership. The team was bottom of the league when he was appointed and his efforts led them to a fifth-place finish. Clarke was named the SFWA Manager of the Year for the 2017–2018 season.
The next season proved even more impressive for the club and saw them finish third under the guidance of their star manager. Once again Clarke was named SFWA Manager of the year and was also awarded the PFA Manager of the year. An impressive two years earned him a national team job.
THE SENSIBLE WAY FORWARD
Clarke knows his team well, and the players understand the manager’s way of thinking. There are no fancy players or mind-blowing performances from Scotland. If two words could describe this new talent pool of Scottish players, it would be “work ethic”. Their captain, Andy Robertson, is a testament to the style of play the Scots are known for. A fast winger who doesn’t stop running once the whistle blows for kick-off.
The man who doesn't stop running 🏃♂️💨
Jose Mourinho pays respect to Andy Robertson 👏 pic.twitter.com/M39QIWlRrD
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 16, 2018
“I am still tired just looking at [Andrew] Robertson. I think he makes 100-metre sprints every minute”- Jose Mourinho on Andy Robertson’s performance for Liverpool against Manchester United. P.S: When Mourinho was the United boss.
Robertson is the Scots star man, and although just a left-back, he is capable of scoring goals himself. His greatest asset would be his defence breaking crosses. An engine on the left channel, a true captain for the Scots. Another left-back Kieran Tierney is also a first-team player for the Tartan Army. The Arsenal left-back is a strong presence in defence, one who likes duelling for possession against all size and shapes. Combine that with J Hendry, G Hanley, Liam Cooper and Scott McKenna and suddenly Clarke has more defensive options than which he can play with.
"The Ryan Christie interview… I was crying!."
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) April 22, 2021
Scott McTominay is the first choice in midfield. He has to be, his shimmering form for Manchester United has gained international attention. With new kid Che Adams or the much-adored Ryan Fraser upfront, the Scots have a more than a decent line-up to work with.
Anybody who says that Scotland has a fighting chance to win the tournament is clearly out of their mind. Steve Clarke would be the first at your doorstep if you make such a claim. But at least now, the paradigm has shifted to figuring out how to fit in captain Andy Robertson and Tierney in the left flank at the same time and not on how to qualify for a tournament. The solution was a three-man defence with Kierney as the left-centre back. Andy Robertson would move to the left wing-back position and will have a more commanding position on the left channel.
Clarke’s side has managed to win eight of their nineteen matches and lost only six. Seems like a pretty insignificant figure, but considering that the Tartan Army has not been to a final for 23 years, this is as impressive as it gets.
This crop of young players is not the Golden Generation yet, but they are making steady progress. Young and charismatic, these young group of players, most of them in their mid-20’s have a long career ahead of them. They might not make it to the top of the pecking order this tournament, and might not even be a significant team in the upcoming World Cup, but the necessary measures to ensure a brighter future is being laid down. The delayed Euro 2020 would be a benchmark for this team, one which is sure to be surpassed in the years to follow.
They are in Group D this summer, with Croatia, Czech Republic and neighbour and rival England. A strong group that will test the very essence of the Scots. If they do manage to tug past the group stages, it would be a milestone achievement in itself. A tough ask, but certainly doable one.