MANY eyebrows were raised when Alex McLeish named his Scotland squad for the upcoming friendly matches against Costa Rica and Hungary next weekend.
Out went underachievers of the previous regime, such as Ikechi Anya, Chris Martin, Barry Bannan, Steven Fletcher and Robert Snodgrass, all of whom are either not getting regular first team football or are underperforming at club level. In came six new faces in Jon McLaughlin, Barry Douglas, Scott McKenna, Dylan McGeough, Scott McTominay and Ollie McBurney, all rewarded for impressive form at their respective clubs. Along with fellow squad members Jordan Archer, Jamie Murphy and Kevin McDonald, they are all hoping to earn their first caps over the course of these next two matches.
It is a refreshing approach by McLeish from that of his predecessor and former club and country team mate Gordon Strachan, who frequently used friendlies to give players game time that weren’t playing for their clubs. It was completely the wrong message by Strachan by rewarding failure and not using the opportunity to try out fresh blood before the more critical qualifying matches. If you fancy a bet on Scotland benefitting from the boost sides get from appointing a new manager, checkout EnergyBet Bonuses.
McLeish’s squad sends out a strong message that he will use these games to give players more exposure to international football, in order to prepare them for the upcoming UEFA Nations League and Euro 2020 Qualifying campaigns (check out . It also makes the statement that, unlike his predecessor, he is willing to bring in new players who’s form is good and not continue to pick the so-called tried-and-tested regardless of whether they play regularly at club level or not.
He did state that he wasn’t closing the door on the likes of Anya and Snodgrass but made the point that he knows what they can do at International level. Therefore the time is right to look at others before the international action becomes serious in September.
Of the six new faces, McTominay is the most high profile. He’s broken into the Manchester United side and held his own in big games recently, for example the recent home wins over Chelsea and Liverpool, keeping £89million Paul Pogba out of the United line up. Born in Lancashire, there was talk he was going to wear the three lions instead, especially with a World Cup on the horizon, so it’s a major coup for Scotland that he’s chosen the land of his fathers birth. With Scott Brown announcing his international retirement, McTominay could be the one to fill that position for years.
Dylan McGeough and Scott McKenna have saw their standout performances at Hibs and Aberdeen respectively rewarded with a place in the squad, showing that McLeish is prepared to look at players playing consistently well in the Scottish Premiership, something his predecessor was guilty of neglecting. In the case of McKenna, it’s well documented that Scotland are short of quality centre backs and he has the potential to solve that position for years to come. McGeough has been given an opportunity in an area where there is already an overload of centre midfield options, so this is one he’ll need to grasp if he’s going to remain in McLeish’s plans going forward.
Another young gun looking to take his chance is Oliver McBurnie, currently on loan at Barnsley from Swansea. Having impressed in the Under 21’s and scoring six times in eight games at Oakwell, McBurnie comes with a growing reputation and with an opportunity to solve another problem area, the striking department. With talisman Leigh Griffiths out injured, McBurnie and Jason Cummings are the only recognised strikers in the squad so he will have the chance at some point to lay down an early marker to suggest he will be a useful Scotland striker going forward.
In the cases of Jon McLaughlin and Barry Douglas, it shows that you don’t have to be a young gun to earn your first call up, and there’s no doubt that both are merited. McLaughlin has been a safe pair of hands in the Hearts goal, keeping many clean sheets, whilst Douglas has been a solid performer in a Wolves team set for promotion to the English Premier League.
Of course, there are other players who can count themselves unfortunate not to find themselves in the squad. It was a surprise to many that Liam Lindsay and John Souttar weren’t called up to fill the centre back positions whilst veterans Russell Martin and Charlie Mulgrew kept their places. McLeish will argue that, although the games are friendlies, experience is still essential for these games, especially at the back, and that it’s not the right time for Lindsay or Souttar, who is in the Under 21 squad for the qualifier against Andorra, just yet.
So all is positive about Alex McLeish’s first Scotland squad in his second spell as National Team Manager. It will be interesting to see the tactics and personnel that he deploys over the two fixtures as he seeks a formula that will be successful in the Nations League and European Championships to end Scotland’s long wait for a major Finals.
Victories against Costa Rica and Hungary would be a good way to start building confidence ahead of the competitive qualifiers.
Here’s hoping that this is the start of a journey that will see grace a tournament where Hampden is one of 13 host venues of Euro 2020.