Hearts signed off 2017 in style, embarking on a club-record run of six fixtures in…
Although it looks like Rangers are steadily improving under Graeme Murty, it’s hardly been a season to remember for the Ibrox faithful. However amongst embarrassing European exits, Carlos Pena and “concomitant” has been a strawberry-blonde ray of light: Ross McCrorie.
The 19-year-old is fast becoming one of the first names on the Rangers team sheet with consistently excellent performances. It’s his versatility that makes this writer confident that 2018 will be the year that McCrorie becomes a Scotland international.
Pedro Caixinha enjoyed making ludicrous statements and after the teenager’s debut against Celtic he raved:
“Ross McCrorie is going to be one of the best centre halves in history, not just for this club but for this country. You just need to see what he did.”
It’s these kind of claims that resulted in Caixinha leaving Govan with next to no credibility. That said, McCrorie is good enough to play for Scotland and will be a useful asset to whoever takes over the vacant manager’s position.
This year is the ideal time for McCrorie to make his mark on the Scotland team. After all, there will be no competitive fixtures until March 2019 so whoever takes the reigns will be in charge of friendlies until the end of the year.
One important quality the 19-year-old possesses is versatility. We’re talking about a teenager who’s shown he can play in the centre of defence, at both sides of full-back and most recently as a defensive midfielder at a high level. What’s even more impressive is that he’s shown this in such a short space of time.
With the exception of full-back these are positions that Scotland desperately need filled. Gordon Strachan was often criticised for picking his old favourites. The likes of Charlie Mulgrew and Barry Bannan could do no wrong in his eyes. Even out of form players like James McArthur and Robert Snodgrass would always get a sniff.
The bottom line is that McCrorie would give Scotland options. He’s already a well-rounded player who is ever-improving and will only get better. He’s shown for Rangers that he’s composed on the ball and has great vision. At the same time he’s not scared to be combative, put in hard tackles and do the dirty work that is required.
The teenager has been a revelation for Rangers as a holding midfielder in recent weeks, but let’s not forget that McCrorie has impressed in defence. His youth and pace are assets that Scotland’s defence badly need.
During the last World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland conceded 12 goals. No nation which finished in the top two of their group conceded more than nine goals. Evidently our backline is a problem.
Furthermore, it’s not hard to deduce that Scotland’s central defence is a problem area. Christophe Berra has had a great season and given his form you’d fancy him to start for his country. On the other hand, Mulgrew is well past his best with many Scotland fans left bamboozled at his continued inclusion. Admittedly the likelihood of Mulgrew playing for his country has significantly diminished following the departure of Strachan.
Two other familiar faces who have not featured for Scotland in over a year now are Grant Hanley and Russell Martin. Hanley has played 20 times in three seasons and Martin again is well past his sell-by date when it comes to playing for Scotland. After all, if Mulgrew is keeping him out of the Scotland team then he definitely isn’t good enough
Simply put there’s space in Scotland’s defence for McCrorie. He’s a good option for the new manager, but there are of course other young players who deserve a shot. Hearts’ John Souttar is an excellent prospect. Given Berra and him have an extremely solid partnership at club level a call-up should most definitely be on the cards.
As the graph above shows, McCrorie is involved in more defensive duels than both Berra and Souttar. Conversely, when it comes to both interceptions and aerial duels per game the Hearts duo come out on top.
Souttar has undoubtedly improved since playing with Berra at Hearts. This is something McCrorie could certainly benefit from at international level. Don’t forget McCrorie has only been playing consistently for Rangers since September. If he continues on his current trajectory these numbers will only improve.
One way Scotland could set-up is with a back three. Strachan attempted this with Mulgrew, Berra and Kieran Tierney against England. This is the sort of formation that would suit McCrorie’s style of play. He’s a great asset to Scotland; a defender who is composed with the ball at his feet and can dribble out of defence rather than just hoof it up the park.
It would also free up arguably our two best players, Andrew Robertson and Tierney, to play more offensively.
McCrorie has been at his best this season when playing in front of the Rangers defence. He’s shown he can be an enforcer by stopping opposition’s flair players and putting in tough tackles. Furthermore, from the holding midfield role he’s also shown a range of passing and good vision.
With Fletcher and Brown looking ever-closer to retirement, or in Brown’s case returning to retirement, McCrorie offers an exciting option in that holding midfield role. Moreover, it would give the likes of Stuart Armstrong or Callum McGregor more free reign in attack.
Scotland played with two holding midfielders on a couple of occasions during the last qualifying campaign. McCrorie could easily be deployed in there and if there were worries about his inexperience you could pair him with Brown or Fletcher.
Some people may be shouting at their screens right now saying Ryan Jack or Kenny McLean deserve a call-up before McCrorie. Maybe so, but it can be argued that McCrorie in such a short space of time has positioned himself as the most exciting prospect. Also what’s to say all three can’t be Scotland internationals?
Remember that ludicrous quote from Pedro Caixinha sited at the start of this article? Well there was more to it and shockingly the second half makes significantly more sense. It arguably rings true with regards to McCrorie’s Scotland prospects in 2018. The former Rangers boss said:
“It’s not about age or names. It’s about getting the chance to prove it.”
At this stage for Scotland it shouldn’t be about names, it should be about who is in form. McCrorie has already made huge waves at a club where the pressure is immense. What’s even more exciting is he’s still developing physically. Once he does and if he keeps improving at his current rate he could be the complete midfielder for Scotland.