Football: Pies or players - that's the stark choice Scotland face if they want to produce the likes of Dalglish, Cooper or Law again

ON SATURDAY
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Waiting for my daughter's birth is like waiting for a Scotland goal - eagerly anticipated, but anybody's guess when it's going to happen. And she might one day have to choose if she wants to pledge her future to Scotland or England since she has a Scottish dad and English mum.

It's unlikely ever to become an issue. However, this matter of nationality does seem to be growing increasingly blurred around the edges. One wonders, for example, how Andy Caddick feels as he bowls for England in his former home town of Christchurch; whether Matt Le Tissier wishes he'd chosen to personify Gallic flair rather than English graft; whether one-time England schoolboy Ryan Giggs, who pulled out of yet another Wales friendly this week, regrets choosing the Welsh dragon above the English lion; whether Mark Crossley, erstwhile pretender to Scotland's goalkeeping jersey who made his debut for Wales this week, is suffering an identity crisis; and whether Neil Sullivan, that sarf London geezer who was called up by Craig Brown against Estonia, really feels as Scottish as he says he does?

Sullivan's case is the most disturbing. The Wimbledon keeper may not be (as he's admitted) "your haggis-eating, kilt-wearing Bonnie Prince Charlie" but no matter, this is after all the caring Nineties when we can even accept dear old Vinnie playing for Wales, so it'd be wrong to deny Sullivan his chance.

The worrying thing is that Scotland seem to be following the lead of the Irish and the Welsh in searching for players with tenuous links to the motherland or, in this case, the grandmother land.

It was significant that in the week Sullivan got the nod, Bolton pulled out of a deal with Aberdeen for Scott Booth. A few years ago Booth and Eoin Jess were considered Scotland's brightest young stars. Jess has hardly set the heather alight since he came south to Coventry, and now Booth finds himself rejected by a First Division club.

It was also significant that last Saturday Gordon Durie became the first Scot to score for Rangers this year. It was only five years ago that Leeds were beaten in the European Cup by a Rangers side with a backbone of Scots.

Yet European players now form the nucleus of both Rangers and Celtic. Where once they would have bought Scottish, they now look to Europe, while the best that Scotland has to offer - players such as Paul Lambert and Allan Johnston - move abroad.

Compared to the Seventies and early Eighties, few venture over Hadrian's Wall. Then, the top sides seemed to be brimming with influential Jocks: Law, Strachan, Buchan and Macari at Manchester United; Lorimer, Jordan and the Grays at Leeds and Dalglish, Hansen, Souness, and Nicol at Liverpool.

I can think of only four Scottish players who play currently a pivotal role in their English sides: Hendry (Blackburn), McAllister (Coventry), Ferguson (Everton) and McGinlay (Bolton). Scotland is not widely considered to be the healthiest of breeding grounds for the footballers of the future, although some English clubs still have a strong scouting presence there, notably Coventry and Manchester United. Even the late Davie Cooper once admitted: "If I was 18 again, I wouldn't stay here. Strength has replaced skill as the most important credential. If you can put your foot on the ball and slow the game down, you stick out a mile."

If that's the case, when will we see the likes of Dalglish, Jordan, Cooper and Law again? According to Craig Brown, Scotland's manager, it will be "a very long time before we get another Dalglish".

Brown refuses to blame the dearth of such players on the structure of the Scottish Premier Division in which clubs play each other at least four times a season so that a player's technique is all but sussed out before he has a chance to mature. He says Scotland's current plight "has more to do with evolution, an accident of birth" and stresses that the Scottish Football Association is committing to developing excellence, with plans afoot to set up a residential centre for the best young players.

Brown's predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, claimed the problem with the development of young talent in Scotland is that "we still approach football the way we did 100 years ago. For example - blaes parks. The west of Scotland is the only place I've ever seen them. Whoever dreamed up crushed red shale as a suitable football surface certainly never asked anyone in the game".

Perhaps the problem is an even more parochial one than that, as David Murray once observed. "A few of us want to discuss super leagues," said the Rangers chairman, "but all the rest can talk about is the price of meat pies." Set against the comment made by Aberdeen's general manager, David Johnson, that "pies are probably the most sacrosanct thing in Scottish football", that's hardly surprising. But it would be nice to think the Scots felt the same way about their players as they do their pies.

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