Monday, 9 September 2013

The International break

The first break of the season comes early in September with the International break. It is a time for me to sit and struggle through a couple of Scotland games and wonder how we will ever be good enough to qualify for a tournament again. Since I don't really have a club team I support Scotland more than most players. It really bothers me how bad we currently are and it is hard to see when, or if, we will come through the other side of this lull and make it to a tournament. Not since 1998 in France have we qualified, and that turned into a glorious failure with a close defeat by Brazil and a draw with Norway followed by a spectacular 3-0 defeat to Morocco.

After watching the Belgium game on Friday it is obvious how far away we are. We have no world class players, and if we are honest, we don't really have any top class players. There has to be a reason for this somewhere deep in the Scottish football system. There is no way that there is no talented young players, but where do they all go. It is noticeable that there isn't as many young people playing football in the streets and parks every day around Scotland like they did 10-15 years ago. But there is much more organised football for young players and many football camps held throughout school holidays. But I think that is the problem, there are no coaches in schools. School is where you spent most of your time as a kid, but at P.E you get taught nothing basically. The teachers aren't coaches and therefore you never progress at all at school, so you are only learning skills for football 2 or 3 times a week if you are lucky, under the age of 15. In other countries across Europe young players are receiving many more hours of coaching from top coaches and this make a huge difference to their technical ability.

Defour scores opener for Belgium
Another noticeable difference between Belgium and Scotland on Friday was the fitness levels and strength of the players. Every Belgium player looks like an athlete, they are all strong, quick and fit. Meanwhile we have players who look slow and get bullied. Obviously in relation to Scottish League football most of the players are good enough, but when it comes to stepping up to Premiership or international football it becomes difficult for them to compete. It can only come down to personal commitment and determination to get to the same levels as the top players. I personally think it is the Scottish footballer culture that has a big influence on this. Nights out, gambling and not enough training are all factors that stop players moving to the next level.

Something I really don't understand about Scotland managers that keep coming in, and eventually leaving with no tournaments reached, is that they all seem to want to play the exact same formation, the same way, with the same players. Nothing ever changes in the way we play (except once with the famous 4-6-0) with the team constantly setting up in a 4-5-1 formation. I know this is the modern formation of choice throughout Europe, but the way Scotland play it with 3 flat holding midfielders and 2 wide midfielders (not wingers) is far too defensive and leaves whoever is upfront on their own totally isolated. The top teams all play it with out and out wingers plus a playmaker in the number 10 role.

Hanley looking like he might have made another mistake
Take Belgium as an example since they beat us so comfortably on Friday. They had Benteke up top, then De Bruyne and Chadli playing as wingers with Defour (the goalscorer) in behind getting into the box whenever possible and linking play. We had Griffiths up front all on his own with Snodgrass and Forrest playing wide in midfield. A central defender played centre midfield beside Brown and Maloney which is so defensive. Maloney tried to get forward but likes getting on the ball so kept dropping deep. As for the defense, which is a huge weakness of Scotland and has been for years, Strachan continues to play Grant Hanley, who must be the worst Scottish defender in the squad, if not that's ever been in it!

It would be nice to see a change in formation just to see if something different helps. I'm not saying 2 upfront, but definitely one off a striker would be nice to see, and a slightly more attacking outlook. We have goalscorers in Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes, we need to utilise them and create chances for them. But most importantly we need defenders who know how to defend, not constantly get caught out position and barge around like a rugby player with no brain. Mulgrew is Celtics best defender when he plays central defense, so we should play him there, it makes perfect sense.

One day it would be nice to see a Scotland team playing the way they used to when they had top class performers like Lambert and McAllister. Until we start nurturing our talent properly though, and progressing them consistently through their youth and into their careers then it could be a long long time before we get 'lucky' and bring through a group of players capable of qualifying. With the under 21's losing 6-0 and 4-0 to England and Netherlands respectively in their last 2 games, the future doesn't look bright! Nevertheless, we live in hope, I was born Scottish and I'll support them whatever the weather.

We have another game on Tuesday against Macedonia on Tuesday and here is what team I'd start with based on the current squad:

Hutton   Martin  Mulgrew  Whittaker

Brown  McArthur

Anya  Dorrans   Maloney

It might not win, but it looks more attacking I think, and hopefully stronger at the back with Mulgrew. Hopefully we can get a win and get off the bottom of the group. It would be embarrassing to finish bottom and would seriously affect future campaigns with the pot seeding.


  1. haha Dave, you slam previous managers for the 4-5-1, then line up with it yourself? You are right, it seems managers worry more about conceding, or not losing, so our whole midfield spend a lot of time behind the ball - a side effect of a poor defence?

    Unfortunately, I think Scottish football is a bit insular, with playing for the Old firm or any team in England seen as the pinnacle. You mentioned Lambert, one of our best players of recent years, and he had time abroad. I think more players could do with playing in other countries.

  2. I definitely think playing in another country is something more players should look at. when you look at the improvement in Lambert after his time at Dortmund, there must have been a lot he learned over there.
    I think the 4-5-1 is the formation Scotland play now, with a flat 5. I'd like to see more of a 4231 with a more advanced 3 in midfield. Snodgrass is apparently suspended for Tuesday, so I'd give Anya a go to see how he looks.
    Our defense is a big problem, but if we have our wingers defending instead of full backs doing their jobs, and midfielders right on top of central defenders, we will never get up the pitch.