IF GORDON Strachan is looking for a double agent planted deep in Polish football to provide some inside information ahead of next week’s Euro 2016 qualifier, he has one.
Barry Douglas has called the Eastern European country home since making the move from Dundee United to Lech Poznan last year, although the left-back says he hasn’t been consulted by Strachan.
“No, he hasn’t given me a call,” laughs the 25-year-old. “I’m sure they’ve been doing their own scouting.” Perhaps Strachan should ask for his number, because Douglas has seen first hand what Scotland will be up against when they travel to Warsaw for Tuesday’s match.
“They are a very good team, and I think in general Polish football is definitely on the up, especially after the Euros were hosted here. In the league over here you get so much time on the ball to play, and that’s why the country is producing such good, technical players. And you can see that in the national team.”
Douglas joined Lech Poznan last summer after three years at Dundee United, making the move to Poland as a free agent on a two-year contract. Since then the former Queen’s Park youth product has secured a first-team place at Lech, helping the club to a second place finish in the Ekstraklasa last season.
His signing was described as “innovative” by Lech, and indeed it was unusual in that so very few Scottish players take their trade beyond the shores of the British Isles, especially to continental Europe.
However, Douglas’s move to Poland has been followed up by Ryan Gauld’s switch, also from Dundee United, to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal this summer. Are Scottish players finally broadening their horizons in an increasingly global marketplace?
“I think in this day and age you need to look at all your options,” the left-back explains. “Sometimes you need to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just to experience new cultures and countries. That kind of thing can also have a good effect on you as a player.
“It was that unknown that actually attracted me to this move. It was about the challenge for me. Not a lot of Scottish players go abroad and stay abroad, so I think I wanted to show that it can be done.”
With Douglas in Poland, Gauld in Portugal and Tony Watt in Belgium with Standard Liege, as well as Jack Harper at Spanish giants Real Madrid, Scotland all of a sudden has a contingent of young, promising talents playing in continental Europe.
Even still, Scotland has not had a native playing at the very highest level of European football since the days of Paul Lambert at Borussia Dortmund and John Collins at Monaco. Most, including Strachan, would surely agree that the Scottish game could use a Saltire flying on the continent.
“It certainly can be daunting, learning a new language and moving to a new country without your family,” admitted Douglas, who insists he has picked up the language in Poland quite well. “It used to be the case that the offers from foreign clubs [for Scottish players] just weren’t there, but I think more clubs outwith England are now looking to find the new Ryan Gauld in Scottish football.”
But Douglas doesn’t want Poland to be his final destination. He wants to use Poznan as a stepping-stone to other clubs and countries on the continent.
“That was the plan and the whole reason I came here,” he says. “It wasn’t to come and settle in Poland, but to come here and maybe make the next step elsewhere in Europe.
“I think the [Polish] league is more respected throughout Europe. So you get players making big moves all the time. For instance a striker was just sold to Dinamo Kiev for £5 million, and outwith Celtic and Rangers nobody really gets those moves in Scotland. Coming to Lech was a route into Europe for me.”
Playing in front of a fanbase renowned for their pyrotechnical displays and for pioneering the now widely replicated “Poznan” goal celebration can be a distraction though.
“Sometimes you have to stop yourself from actually watching the fans because it’s such a spectacle,” says Douglas. “But nah, Lech’s version is the original and best,” insists the defender when asked how close Celtic’s “Huddle” comes in comparison to Lech’s “Poznan”.
As an alumni of Scotland’s newly-established unofficial football factory – Dundee United – Douglas feels an obligation to stay informed of happenings in the Scottish Premiership.
“I still speak to some of the boys at United; John Rankin, and Gary Mackay-Steven in particular,” says Douglas, who still keeps a keen eye on results back home. “I’ve got the iPad linked up to iPlayer so I still get my fix of Sportscene.”
But for now, that’s as close to home as Douglas wants to get. “I’d like to stay in Europe for as long as possible,” he says. “I’m enjoying myself in Poland and I hope Scotland enjoy themselves out here next week. But it is not going to be easy.”
Strachan, you have been warned.