Great Scot! Where have all Scotland's good players gone?

 

As expected, Craig Levein’s Scotland were soundly beaten by an emergent Belgium team in Brussels on Tuesday, heaping more pressure on the already trouble-laden coach and leaving his team in need of wins in Serbia and Croatia if they are to stand the remotest chance of qualifying for 2014 World Cup.

It is surely now a matter of time before the SFA decides to pull the plug on Levein’s reign, one which has yielded three competitive wins in nearly three years.

Should this happen, he will join Alex McLeish, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Kean and Owen Coyle in the list of high-profile Scottish managers to get the sack in under six months. It wasn’t long ago that Coyle, sensationally headhunted by Bolton in 2010, was being touted as a future Scotland manager. There appears to be little chance of that happening now.

There remains, however, a strong contingent of Scottish managers plying their trade in the English Premier League. The perennial fixtures of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes, in addition to Paul Lambert, have been joined by first-time appointee Steve Clarke, who has been working wonders with West Bromwich Albion since taking over at the Hawthorns in June. Together they make up 20 per cent of the top-flight managerial roster, down from 35 per cent last season when they outnumbered their native counterparts for the first time in Premiership history.

Former Manchester United captain and Scotland centre-back Martin Buchan – now of the PFA – believes “passion” and “sheer love of the game” are the reasons why Highlanders excel in the hot-seat. The two-time World Cup finals participant told The Independent: “I feel privileged to have known such greats as Sir Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Sir Alex (Ferguson), all winners of the European Cup. Bill Shankly was a giant. David Moyes has done sterling work at Preston and Everton over the years. Each had an inner core of steel and determination.”

Suffice to say, then, the Scots have some serious managerial pedigree. But what about the players? Where are the Gemmills, the Grays, the Laws, the Lorimers of yesteryear? Alan Hansen was the last truly world-class Scottish footballer and he earned his final cap in 1987. Of the Scotland team selected for their 2-0 defeat to Belgium, only six currently play regular Premier League football, and just one plays in the Scottish Premier League – Kris Commons for Celtic. The two Fletchers, Darren and Steven, are probably the only players in the current Scotland squad who would feature at all for England.

Buchan believes Rangers’ relegation to the Scottish Third Division will have an adverse effect on the national side due to the inferior quality of their weekly opposition. However, the National Secretary of the Scottish Youth Football Assocation (SYFA), David Little, rejects this view.

“I don’t think Rangers moving to the third division this season has had a huge effect on Scottish football at national level. I think the decline started long before the Rangers scenario appeared. We don’t have a good side at the moment. We’ve got some average players people have talked up.

“We never invested in young players at the correct times. I think the financial state of Scottish football has necessitated young players to be drafted in to first-team squads and there has recently been the influx of average, cheaper foreign players.”

These are sentiments shared by Buchan, who added: “I strongly believe that the development of home-grown talent has been stifled over the years by too many Scottish clubs signing too many second and third rate foreign imports who weren't good enough for the English Premier League or the Championship. Just because an overseas player's name ends in vowel, it doesn't mean he's a good 'un or, more importantly, better than what's on your doorstep.

“Glancing through last night’s (Tuesday's) line-up I see one player from Celtic and one from Manchester United. In the past there would be at least three players from both sides in the squad, if not the team, and two, three or more from Leeds and Liverpool, the two top English teams of the seventies, and we quickly got used to playing together.”

So, what’s the answer? How does Scotland go back to producing players like Dalglish and Hansen? Buchan says the Scottish FA’s plans for a National Performance Centre may hold the key but believes that truly great players essentially “produce themselves”.

Scotland’s smaller population – five million to England’s 52 – and considerably fewer financial resources to that of their Southern cousins mean they will always be limited in the number of top-class players they can produce. But it is worth bearing in mind that the Belgium team who dismantled them earlier this week – a team arguably better than England’s on paper – was drawn from a population of just 11 million people.

Players like Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Thomas Vermaelen were no accidents. They were raw talents, hand-picked and refined by Belgian and Dutch academies where the virtues of technical control and possession football are inculcated from a tender age, an approach which Scottish football, Little says, is actively seeking to adopt.

“(The) SYFA have, in conjunction with the national association, produced a National Player Pathway. Effectively what that did was it introduced 4-a-side, 5-a-side, 7-a-side and ultimately 11-a-side football. So, a young player, or a parent of a young player who turns up with his six-year-old son can see a training path in front of him that will enable him to develop as a player and as a person.

 “This is skills-based, small-sided games that give players many, many more touches on a football and the more opportunities to be on the ball should increase the standard of player at grassroots level, so when they go to professional clubs they should be receiving a player of a much higher calibre.”

It remains to be seen whether Scotland’s football culture is sufficiently flexible to incorporate the European model. It also remains to be seen whether Levein will be at the helm long enough to see the initiative bear fruit.

News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us