KENNY DALGLISH scored consecutive winning goals for Scotland against England at Hampden and Wembley in 1976 and 1977. He was among the visiting support a decade earlier when the Scots became unofficial world champions with the famous 3-2 win over Alf Ramsey’s heroes of 1966.
But while Dalglish would never seek to diminish the significance of the fixture between international football’s oldest rivals, he insists the Tartan Army must accept it has secondary billing when it takes place at Celtic Park in two months’ time.
Scotland’s most-capped player of all-time, back in Glasgow yesterday for a grassroots event in the south side of the city, believes the national team’s next match against Georgia at Ibrox on 11 October is by far the most crucial assignment in Gordon Strachan’s diary.
While echoing the praise Strachan’s squad received for their performance in losing the opening Euro 2016 qualifier 2-1 to world champions Germany in Dortmund on Saturday night, Dalglish says nothing – including the first Scotland-England clash in Glasgow for 15 years – can be allowed to distract focus from collecting all three points against Georgia.
“Playing England has always been a fantastic fixture for us and it’s good to get that rivalry back,” said Dalglish. “It won’t be a friendly, even though it is billed as one. Everyone is looking forward to it.
“But the most important game for Scotland is the next one. What game would you prefer to win – Georgia or England? I’ll take Georgia. It will be a good game to win.
“The performance against Germany was encouraging but that has to be repeated now. I don’t think anyone is kidding themselves, it’s not going to be easy to qualify from the group we are in.
“I don’t think anyone will win in Germany – let’s be honest. So we’ve got off to the same start we would expect anyone else to get if their first game had been away to Germany.
“Poland are a decent side and so are the Republic of Ireland. I wouldn’t get too carried away. The Irish had a good win in Georgia on Saturday, so they have got off to a better start than us, however good our performance was. If we can keep a reasonable rationale, which sometimes you find it hard to get with the international team, then it would be helpful for everybody.
“But the performance against Germany was really important and it was just a reflection of the good work that has happened under Gordon so far. He has got a good away record and the players seem to be buying into what he has been doing. He trusts the players and the players trust Gordon.
“When you get that, you get the belief. Although you don’t want to celebrate losing games, to go to Germany and put on such a good performance is something that gives you confidence.”
For Dalglish, there is additional interest in the visit of Georgia in the shape of their manager Temuri Ketsbaia. The former Dundee and Newcastle United midfielder played under Dalglish’s management at St James’ Park, famously putting the boot into an advertising hoarding behind a goal after scoring a late winner in a match against Bolton in 1998.
“He is a good guy,” smiled Dalglish. “Did you notice it was an adidas board he kicked that day? The club were sponsored by adidas. After a winning goal like that, I was going to kick it after him!
“He was very passionate and a bit excitable, but a good person. I never really saw him as a manager, but he was really successful in Cyprus where he qualified for the Champions League with Anorthosis. He got a move to Olympiakos, which didn’t go so well for him. I saw him quoted after the weekend as saying Georgia are out if they don’t beat Scotland, so they are under more pressure than us.”
With the club game in Scotland at a low ebb, Dalglish believes successes for the national team in the coming months will be widely beneficial.
“Scottish football as a whole needs a lift and if it is the national team giving us it, then brilliant,” added Dalglish.
“If it was Celtic qualifying for the Champions League, then that would obviously have given Scottish football a lift. For Scottish football, it is really encouraging for people who are watching their football.
“Every kid needs an icon, somebody to look up to, so if they can see someone there who puts in a good performance, which Scotland are putting on right now, that they can look up to and it attracts them into football, then that can only be good for everybody.”
Dalglish also called for patience in assessing Ronny Deila’s merits as Celtic manager in the wake of an unconvincing start in the role from the Norwegian coach.
“When most people start a new job, they get time to settle in,” said Dalglish. “When you’ve done a job for a length of time, you’re at a level where you are better than when you started.
“Just give the boy a bit of time to settle down and see what happens. It was a disappointment not qualifying for the Champions League but there will be no-one more disappointed than him. Results haven’t helped him, especially after getting the reprieve against Legia Warsaw. But it is what it is and there’s no point in a knee-jerk reaction.”
• Kenny Dalglish, McDonald’s head of Scottish football, was speaking at the launch of McDonald’s new four-year community partnership with the Scottish FA. McDonald’s is giving more than 350 Quality Mark junior football clubs one free kit every season for the next four years with the potential for more than 4,500 kits to be distributed across Scotland in the first year. For more information visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/betterplay