On the day of one of Scotland’s biggest ever friendlies, it seems relevant to point out that, whatever the result today, Scotland’s future looks bright. Although Levein had received a great deal of criticism in his first year in charge, it seems that he has now come through with the goods. Don’t believe me? Well, have you realised that Scotland have at least four quality players for each position in the squad.
Scotland have two world class goalkeepers, Craig Gordon (Sunderland) and Allan McGregor (Rangers), as well as a number of strong back-ups such as Cammy Bell (Kilmarnock), Iain Turner (Everton) and Matthew Gilks (Blackpool).
Right back is another strong position. Alan Hutton (Tottenham) is “the most exciting right back Scotland has had in years” (Adey, 2011) and three times capped Phil Bardsley (Sunderland) has impressed on every appearance for Scotland, as well as in the English Premier League, in both right and left back positions. Steven Whittaker (Rangers) and Mark Wilson (Celtic) are also strong covers for this position, with 20 year old Steven Saunders (Motherwell) a tip for the future.
Arguably one of Scotland’s weakest positions is in central defence, although Christophe Berra (Wolves) and Gary Caldwell (Wigan) have a good deal of experience playing in the English Premier League, and we have two exciting 19 year old prospects in Grant Hanley (Blackburn) and Danny Wilson (Liverpool).
A number of other players, including Phil Bardsley and Danny Wilson, can cover Scotland’s left-back position but natural left-backs Steven Crainey (Blackpool) and Lee Wallace (Hearts) have impressed in recent seasons and, although both have recently been injured, will prove strong for Scotland.
In front of defence, Levein has favoured the use of a holding midfielder. A number of strong players can cover this position, such as Charlie Adam (Blackpool), Darren Fletcher (Man Utd), Graham Dorrans (West Brom) and Lee McCulloch (Rangers). Each of these players can also control traditional central midfield roles, as well as other notable players including Scott Brown (Celtic), rising young star Barry Bannan (Aston Villa) and James McArthur (Wigan).
James Morrison (West Brom) is a strong, pacey, right midfielder who is unafraid of taking on defenders. This position can also be covered by Darren Fletcher, but also by a number of forwards/wingers including Steven Naismith (Rangers), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds), Jamie Mackie (QPR) and the young Chris Maguire (Aberdeen).
Kris Commons has impressed everyone since joining Celtic in his role in the left side of midfield, but who could forget the prowess of James McFadden in this role? His recent injuries have been unfortunate, but he’ll be back and will undoubtedly have to fight Kris Commons, Graham Dorrans, Barry Bannan and maybe even 19 year old Gregg Wylde (Rangers) for this position.
Now… The forward-line… You can see why Levein consistently appoints lone-striker, and even the widely criticised no-striker, tactics. We do struggle for top-class strikers, and this may always be our downfall, but we can still score goals. 6 goals in 2 games proves this. Kenny Miller (Bursaspor) has been top-class this season at club level, but this still has not really transferred to international level. Hopefully that changes today, but we do have other options.
Levein’s initial choices of Miller, Maguire, Snodgrass and Naismith for today’s match wasn’t hugely inspiring. Miller would have been the only true striker with a 35% professional scoring rate; Maguire, Snoddy and Naismith having 16%, 20% and 24% respectively. Although they are quality players, they are unlikely to score regularly and consistently and are, rather, utilised in winger and supporting striker roles.
Levein’s late call-up of League One 2011 Player of the Year and Peterborough goal machine Craig Mackail-Smith is rather more inspiring, having a 53% scoring record for his club, with the only worrying factor being that he has never played at a truly high level. Today’s game will be a big test to see if he can cut it at the highest level. A make or break chance really.
Other than Mackail-Smith however, are 21 year old, alleged bad-boy, David Goodwillie (Dundee Utd) – who has a 31% professional scoring rate; Derek Riordan (Hibernian) who has appeared three times for Scotland but never scored – he has a 39% scoring rate; rising 20 year old star Leigh Griffiths (Wolves) – 45% scoring rate; and who could forget Kris Boyd who, although criticised by many, has a career scoring rate of 50% even after his current unsuccessful season in the League Championship.
This is undoubtedly an exciting time for Scottish football, especially today (COME-ON SCOTLAND!!), and the focus of this article hasn’t even been on our young rising stars. This seems to be a pivotal time for a bunch of U21 players; with Steven Saunders (20), Grant Hanley (19), Danny Wilson (19), Barry Bannan (21), David Wotherspoon (21), Jamie Ness (20), John Fleck (19), Kyle Hutton (20), Gregg Wylde (20), James Forrest (19), Leigh Griffiths (20) and David Goodwillie (21) all breaking into their clubs’ first teams and exciting at high levels, Scotland’s future certainly looks bright.