Once considered a breeding ground for new talent in the 70’s and 80’s, Scottish football entered into a somewhat dormant phase of its history with few Scottish born players making the move to other countries to ply their trade. Of the ones that did, only a handful succeeded such as Paul Lambert who joined Borussia Dortmund from Motherwell and helped them to the Champions League title in 1997 before returning to join Celtic. Others like Gary O’Connor lasted only a few seasons abroad before returning sheepishly to Scotland to rebuild his career. But now a new generation of talented players is emerging and interest in Scottish football has spiked again with many clubs now sending scouts to watch specific players. The latest player to agree to the move is Stephen Hendrie, the Hamilton left back who has signed a pre contract with West Ham and will depart for the Premiership in the summer.
The 20 year old has had a superb season helping his side perform above expectations in the Scottish Premier League. Over the years Hamilton has become one of several clubs in Scottish football who continuously discover, develop and sell on young talent. Previous graduates include midfielders James McArthur and James McCarthy who both left the club to join Premiership sides and have since built notable careers. Whilst the latter of the two has chosen to represent the Republic of Ireland at national level, he is still Scottish by birth and a good example of how the clubs youth system is progressing. Similarly Dundee United, Inverness Caley Thistle, Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian have all had talented Scots leave their ranks in recent years to test their skills at a higher level.Switching to the English Premiership has been a common theme for several Scottish players once they start to out shine the other players in Scotland. Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Andrew Robertson, Steven Naismith, James Morrison and Steven Fletcher are all examples of players who have made successful switches and continue to play in England’s top league on a regular basis. But now other European leagues are sitting up and taking notice of the Scottish talent on show. The recent move of Ryan Gauld from Dundee United to Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon is probably the one that springs to mind to most after his £3 million move. The player dubbed “mini Messi’ by the Dundee United fans is still only 19 but excelled in Scotland over a two year period before Sporting came calling. He is now pushing hard for a starting spot in the Lisbon first team after performing well in various cup matches.
Gauld is considered one for the future for Scotland national manager Gordon Strachan who is reaping the benefits of work carried out former Performance Director Mark Wotte. The Dutchman was drafted in by the SFA in 2011 to revamp the countries failing youth system and immediately set about implementing the recommendations of a review conducted by former first minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish. These changes most notably included a shift in mindset around how clubs were developing its younger players, focusing more on technique, fitness and healthy living. The plan, partially backed by the SFA with significant investment saw the appointment of Wotte and the birth of a new generation of players. Whilst it’s the clubs that deserve most of the praise for the way that they have nurtured talent, McLeish and Wotte deserves some credit for starting the conversation and helping Scottish football to get back on track.
The future now looks rosy especially for the national team. Not only can Strachan call up players who have spent several years in the Premiership developing their games but he now has a wealth of talented players coming through to freshen up his side. Gauld, along with the likes of Chelsea’s Islam Feruz, Real Madrid’s Ryan Harper and Dundee United’s Stuart Armstrong are the future of the national team. For the fans their hopes are that this new generation can help the national side to finally end its long term exodus and reach a major international tournament, something it has failed to do for nearly 30 years. Reaching a World Cup or European Championship would be just reward and indicate how far Scotland has come over the past ten years. If the influx of talent young players leaving the country for stronger leagues across Europe is an indication, then Scotland looks to be on course once more to reaching its goals.