You’d struggle to find a Scotland football fan that is entirely enthused about the idea…
Michael O’Neill is going to be the next Scotland manager. Or he might not be. In which case it will be Derek McInnes. And if it isn’t him it’ll most likely be Sam Allardyce. Assuming he doesn’t decide to coach the United States. Then it’ll either be Paul Lambert or Alex McLeish. That’s for sure.
Indeed, nobody really knows what plans are afoot in the corridors of Hampden Park, with speculation and the general noise that dogs every aspect of the Scottish game already approaching unfavourable levels.
However, a welcome respite from archaic process can be found in a simple look at the state of our national team. And how, once we take a step back and approach things with a broader point of few, there may even be a hopeful tone to what the next Scotland manager can expect to be working with.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, there’s a lot to work with within this squad and plenty of reason to suggest success is just around the corner.
While Celtic’s unrivalled domination may not hold much interest for many in other areas of Scottish football, it has morphed in to an opportunity that the national team can undoubtedly make the most of.
Not only are Brendan Rodgers’ side an exquisite footballing side, but they’re also built around a core group of Scottish players. A selection of talented athletes that can just as easily apply the football that has took them to the Champions League, and possibly further in the Europa League, to the dark blue of Scotland.
Craig Gordon and Scott Brown have been regulars for the national team for the best part of a decade now, but what the next national team coach should take quick note of is just how easily the likes of Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and James Forrest would slot in alongside the elder statesmen.
In the modern game, international football lacks the comprehensive tactics of team pressing or carefully-composed attacking and defensive drills because the players and coaches rarely meet up. It’s hardly rocket science, but it does mean a team that can build a core around a group of players that play together each week have a notable advantage.
Over half of the German team that won the World Cup in 2014 played for either Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich, while the Spanish side that had dominated the international game before them was built almost entirely around Pep Guardiola’s own Barcelona team. Although nobody is suggesting McGregor & co. could be the next great international side their cohesion could, and undoubtedly should, be the bedrock upon which the next Scotland team is built on.
It was quite striking that in Sunday’s heartbreaking defeat to Switzerland, Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill turned to 23-year-old Kilmarnock winger, Jordan Jones, to try and turn the tide and pinch a late goal. Although it ultimately didn’t work, it showed a degree of faith in the young, Scottish-based talent that has been sorely missing from the Scottish national team for some time.
O’Neill, based in Edinburgh and a notable follower of the Scottish game, had six Premiership players in a squad that was just one goal away from reaching the 2018 World Cup. The squad Gordon Strachan took to Slovenia in October had just seven.
Indeed, while the Premiership may not boast as many top-class foreign players as it did 20 years ago, there are still plenty of examples of coaches around the world putting more value upon the Premiership than the former Scotland boss.
Australian coach, Ange Postecoglou, takes no issue with Tom Rogic earning his wages in Scottish football, Edgaras Jankauskas of Lithuania continues to call up Vykintas Slivka despite his move to Hibernian, Arnaud Djoum hasn’t seen his spot in the Cameroon national team go to someone else while playing at Hearts, and Mikael Lustig’s entire Sweden career has been built off the back of consistent, regular football at Celtic. Even Cristian Gamboa, who has rarely featured for the Scottish champions since his move from West Brom, continues to play for Costa Rica.
If the Premiership is good enough for the coaches of Australia, Cameroon, Costa Rica and Sweden then why isn’t it good enough for Scotland? Our next coach will have to answer that question on day one and will hopefully respond with “It is.”
Once the next coach moves beyond the unfair stigma attached to the Scottish top division, he can then begin to appreciate the sheer amount of young talent that has cropped up over the past five years.
As we’ve already noted, last week’s friendly offered a glimpse of what the Scotland national team could look like in years to come. And in almost every position there is a young, Premiership player ready to make the step up and take on the challenge of qualifying for the first major tournament in 20 years.
Although the likes of Ryan Christie, John McGinn, McGregor and Tierney have only just arrived on the international scene, they should be joined before too long by the likes of Chris Cadden, Greg Docherty and John Souttar. Untested and inexperienced, but unquestionably talented and all thriving with the responsibilities thrown at them by their respective clubs.
Sure, some may falter with the step up but for the first time in perhaps the last 10-15 years there is an abundance of young players in Scottish (and English) football that can ask serious questions of the national team coach. Whether the next manager will be willing to give them their shot is perhaps the more important question. And one that may confirm or deny any future success for the Scotland national team.