FOR GORDON STRACHAN, having the former Dundee United youngster in his squad is about looking to the future, as the player himself has done with Lisbon move
FIRST impressions aren’t always everything. Gordon Strachan has promoted Ryan Gauld to his senior Scotland squad because of a “need to know more” about the hugely-promising teenager now at Sporting Lisbon. The national manager thought an opportunity to speak with Gauld had come after he watched him play for the Scotland under-19s against Montenegro at Walsall in May. “That day he walked past me in the corridor with his head down and I thought ‘oh aye, OK’,” recalls a smiling Strachan.
Including Gauld in the pool for the Euro 2016 double-header against Georgia and Poland across the next ten days demonstrates that Strachan is able to consider circumstances for Scotland beyond his immediate priorities. The 18-year-old has been placed with Sporting B team in the Portuguese second tier following his £3 million summer move from Dundee United. That may make the attacker firmly one for the future in international terms, then, but for Strachan that doesn’t preclude him being assimilated into the set-up now.
“I don’t know too much about Ryan Gauld. I have seen him on the television, seen him play but I don’t know him as a kid,” he says. “I have never sat down with him, I have never had him in a training session, so that is the reason he is in. Obviously his talent has taken him here. If you look at my squads I like to have younger ones now and then. ‘Come on then, let’s have a look at you’. So when we do get together it is not such a big shock. He has already been involved in that environment. We want to know what we are going to get, what kind of personality we have because some people can’t deal with groups at this level. Sometimes it is too much for them.
“The most important thing is on the training ground. Can they play with good players or do good players intimidate them? Do they buy into what we are doing? Is their style of play all right for it?
“And then about them. Have they got a brother, a sister, where are your mum and dad from? It is just about getting to know them so they are not coming in from the cold.”
Gauld appears to have settled well in the warmer climes offered by Sporting B – so much so that the first-team coach at the Lisbon club, Marco Silva, named him in his 25-man squad for the club’s Champions League campaign.
The youngster has been celebrated in these parts merely for having the gumption to go to the Iberian peninsula and essentially reset his footballing boundaries.
“If you can’t go and embrace good football you have a problem,” Strachan says. “I went and embraced Dundee [his first club as a player]. So it doesn’t matter where you are, or what the weather is like. If you want to be a better football player use the hours that are sent to you. It is as simple as that. Whether it be technical, whether it be physical. Don’t use environment as an excuse for not putting in the hours. [At Dundee] I used to go back with Bobby Robinson, John Duncan, George Mackay and practise bits and bobs. Under that horrible wee gym under the Dens Park stand. What was that like? And the abdominal work was Harry Davis with a medicine ball he dropped on my stomach. I was 15. But we used up the hours.
“When you leave home, you leave home. I left Edinburgh to go and stay in Dundee. It was two hours to get there and it was miles away, staying in a room with another three lads. I didn’t have Skype at that time. I don’t even know if there was a phone in the house. So when you were gone, you were gone. Now you can Skype, phone, fly. But I like his [Gauld’s] guts. I’m not saying it’s a right thing or a wrong thing to do. I’m sure he did fantastic work with Dundee United, but that’s the way he felt and that’s good.”
Good feelings abound about Scotland’s prospects in Group D following the commendable 2-1 defeat away to world champions Germany last month. However, in Saturday’s Ibrox encounter with Georgia and the trip to Poland the following Tuesday, results more than rave reviews are required. The fact is that, should wins not be obtained from these games, and from the hosting of the Republic of Ireland in November, Scotland will be cut adrift. And in exactly the same hopeless position they found themselves in their last qualifying campaign when they won just two points from the opening three games in their bid to reach the World Cup finals, a sequence of results which helped cost Craig Levein his job.
“You have to deal with that,” says Strachan of the stakes in the imminent double header. “You have to deal with the consequences. You have to deal with the occasion. If you think about it, at one point we were getting a draw in Germany and hoping to get a win [as the Republic were drawing in Georgia] – then [we lost a goal] and the Republic scored in the last minute. That’s what happens.
“There are never any must-win games [though] unless you need those three points to qualify. You never know when those games are coming. All we can do is prepare, do the right things. Sometimes the football gods don’t look upon you, sometimes they do.”