27 March 2013

Let's all laugh at Scotland

Charlie Adam is devastated as another World Cup passes Scotland by.

Goodness me, there are 442 days to go until the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and already Scotland are out of contention!

A miserable 2-0 defeat to Serbia, in which they were outdone by the shooting prowess of Filip Djuricic, has condemned them to an eight successive major tournament as TV viewers.

It is remarkable that the first European team to be officially eliminated from the 'Road to Brazil' (note that I didn't say Road to Rio - the World Cup isn't held in just one city!) is not Andorra, Luxembourg or even San Marino. Although I have more chance of dating Amy Macdonald than those three teams have of making it to the finals, at least they still have a mathematical chance of getting through the play-offs, which is more than can be said for Scotland.

For us English, this is a chance to laugh at the Scots' expense. But north of the border, yesterday's humiliation in Belgrade is just another landmark in their national team's darkest period.

Over the last decade, the Tartan Army have lurched from manager to manager. Gordon Strachan is their fifth since the infamous Berti Vogts was axed in 2004. Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein have all tried and failed to get the Scots into their first major finals of the 21st century.

Scotland's instability with their managers translates to their players. Only two players from yesterday's squad, Kenny Miller and Gary Caldwell, have over 50 caps. Alan Hutton, the only other player capped more than 30 times, has been in and out of the squad since his breakthrough six years ago. The rest of the squad is chopped and changed at the rate that Henry VIII altered his marital status.

The Tartan Army will also be concerned that the Scottish squad is becoming less, well, Scottish. Their last squad to compete in a major finals, at the 1998 World Cup, was full of red-blooded Scots. The current motley crew is anything but.

I'll give you a list of names in alphabetical order: Phil Bardsley, Liam Bridcutt, Kris Commons, Danny Fox, Matt Gilks, Craig Mackail-Smith, Jamie Mackie, Russell Martin, James Morrison, Matt Phillips, Jordan Rhodes. All 11 of those players have been capped or even called up by Scotland in the past twelve months. All of them were born in England.

Most of the players that I've just named are Championship players at best. But the Scottish Premier League has declined to such an extent that whereas it could be argued 20 years ago that it was close to its English brother quality-wise, nowadays, the worst teams in the SPL would struggle in England's League One. With that in mind, it's not that surprising that the SFA have regularly looked south for players whose grandparents 'sh*gged in Scotland', so to say.

The Scottish class of 2013 is a very far cry from Ally MacLeod's Tartan Army of 1978, who shocked Holland at that year's World Cup, and even the team that gave Brazil a scare in the opening game of France 1998.

Scotland used to qualify for major tournaments quite regularly. Now, though, there is great concern that they could end their World Cup qualifying campaign without a single victory, which really would be the lowest of all low points. When you look at their remaining fixtures (Belgium at home, Macedonia away, and Croatia both home and away), it's hard to see where that morale-boosting win is going to come from.

There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, though. Mark Wotte has been the SFA's Performance Director for the best part of two years, and the progress he has been making in developing talented Scottish footballers for the future has been slow but steady.

Arguably the most talented young Scot in football currently is Islam Feruz, a Somalian-born striker who has been in great form for Chelsea's youth team, but seems to have developed a bit of an attitude problem since moving to south London from Celtic. At 17, it's unlikely that we'll see Feruz in a full international for at least a couple of years.

Likewise, it'll be a while before an outstanding teenage goalkeeper makes his senior bow, but I have high expectations of Rangers' Robbie McCrorie after watching him in last year's Under-16s Victory Shield.

The next generation of Scottish soccer stars is some time away from breaking through, but it's clear that they won't have a lot to live up to, because the current crop can't even outlast Andorra in a qualifying campaign.

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