Another campaign, another disappointment for the tartan army. Tuesday’s defeat to Serbia confirmed what most had already accepted that Scotland would not be travelling to Brazil next summer to take part in the FIFA World Cup. The two nil score line followed Fridays loss to Wales and made it now mathematically impossible for Scotland to progress. It has now been 16 years since Scotland took part in a major tournament and memories that event, France 1998 are fading fast. Yet again it’s back to the drawing board for the SFA and new head coach, Gordon Strachan.
Whilst the damaged had already been done before Strachan arrived, the two performances offered little in the way of comfort for the bewildered Scottish fans. New faces were introduced to the mix and old faces returned but the defeated attitude remained in tact from the Levein days. A spirited first half against Wales where Scotland took the lead was all undone as the players failed to show up in the second half. Defeat led to dejection which shone through on Tuesday as all pride was lost. In both matches, the same mistake was made. When Scotland lost a goal, they scrambled up field immediately to try and get a goal back which resulted in too much space at the back for Wales and Serbia to attack. Patience departed the squad as they were left in a blind panic which ultimately led to their undoing. It was painful viewing for Strachan and his assistant Mark McGhee, who looked on helplessly on both occasions as their team fell apart.
As ever blame reverts back to the structure of Scottish football and in particular its grassroots. Henry MacLeish’s detailed report into the national game highlighted the problems over three years ago and pointed towards a solution that would radicalize Scottish football to the core. Unfortunately for the ever loyal Scottish faithful, the report is likely acting as a door stop only at the SFA rather than being acted on. Yes Mark Wotte has been introduced as performance director with the mandate to address youth development but one man cannot change Rome in a day nor can he change the Scottish game overnight. A plan needs to be developed, money spent and time given for it to alter the present. An overhaul of the current league setup and major plans to improve the quality of the game in Scotland were highlighted against Serbia when the starting line up did not feature a single SPL player. Granted Celtic’s Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew were missing but apart from those two, it is hard to think of another who would displace one of the starting eleven that took the field that night. France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany have all taken radical steps to reposition their league to be more youth focus and are now reaping the benefits but as yet Scotland abstains, much to the annoyance of its fans.
Patience is needed, first and foremost, for change to happen but this does not help Strachan’s current problem. His main concern should be that Scotland has lost the one thing that made them so formidable in years gone past – their battling spirit. Scotland the brave is now Scotland the timid with no bite left within the lion rampant. The players lack the belief that they can actually qualify for a major tournament and this shows in their game. Out muscled and outplayed in Serbia and shamed into dirty tactics at home, Scotland does not present a viable threat to many nations who have evolved along with the modern game. Gone are the days of Colin Hendry, Kevin Gallacher and Gary McCallister who would give their all every time they pulled on the dark blue jersey. Kenny Miller and Darren Fletcher are two of only a handful of players in the current setup who can run their socks off in a game for Scotland but to succeed in international football, you need all eleven men plus the entire subs bench to be covering every inch of the pitch together as a single unit.
Yes Scottish players need to improve their technique, bulk up and regain their composure but most of all its the spirit and team belief that will change their fortunes. The tartan army will turn out wherever and whenever needed, even to shovel snow in Serbia to make sure the game goes ahead, and all they ask for in return is for the team to give it’s all in every match and maybe just once manage to reach a major tournament. They need something to shout about, a team to be proud of and then the Tartan Army will truly shine. After all, it is at major tournaments where the tartan army can best lay claim to be the best support in the world.