IT ISN’T the computer selecting Scotland’s Euro 2016 group opponents today that Gordon Strachan considers key to the country’s qualification hopes. It is the information processors in his players’ heads.
At best, the Scotland manager will have 12 training days to drill his squad before they take to the field for their first game of the campaign in early September.
The friendly against Poland a week on Wednesday and the end-of-season date in May are the only two get-togethers for the Scotland players before they begin their quest to reach the finals in France.
Every session between now and then must be made to count for Strachan. “The most important thing will be the hours spent on the training field,” he said.
“I don’t want to be saying we’ll be training hard but we’ll need to be thinking hard. It won’t be too physical, it will be more about our shape as a team and understanding where you need to be on the pitch.
“Every player needs to know where to be when we are attacking and defending. That’s the way we’ll use up our hours on the training field and through that I hope we have skilful players that can win games for us. The players have started to understand what we’re wanting them to do.
“The game against Poland is important. We can train before the game but the problem is that it might be snowing. There’s nothing worse than training in the snow. We’ll have to sit and talk to the players, show them videos and drink lots of tea.
“One of the reasons we took Poland away is that we know the game will definitely go ahead as they have the roof over the stadium [in Warsaw].”
In order to maximise the minutes to make shape and system second nature to his team, offers to contest friendlies in America and Australia once the club season is completed will be declined.
“We have options,” said Strachan. “We can travel around the world and play in strange foreign countries against top sides in strange conditions but is that really going to help our European build-up? No. So, we’ll stay closer to home and make it short and sharp.
“It will be for three or four days and we’ll tell the players that we’ll work really hard over that period.
“I think that’s better than going away for ten days and getting planes here and there and be flying for 18 hours and then be tired when you arrive.
“We will work as a group and that’s the way it has to be. We’ll explain to them we have to do it, work really hard, and if it’s too hard for you then tell us.”
The hard work may be required of those that have not made the 24-man squad for next week’s encounter in Poland.
With a fit-again Darren Fletcher able to return to international duty for the first time in two years, Phil Bardsley and Ross McCormack recalled and Dundee United’s Andy Robertson making his first step up to the senior squad, there are notable omissions. Jordan Rhodes, Leigh Griffiths, Lee Wallace, Liam Bridcutt and Craig Bryson will consider themselves in that bracket, with Shaun Maloney not able to be considered because he is making his way back from injury.
The fit absentees may be rightly anxious about forcing their way into Strachan’s plans for the Euro 2016 campaign, though Bridcutt, who moved to Sunderland from Brighton in the transfer window, is a special case.
“He [Bridcutt] has been injured for a long time, but I think he is a right good player,” the Scotland manager said.
“I texted him when he got his move and said that would be good for him. He is a good player and is in the Sunderland side, but you need to watch. He has been out for so long that he is back and playing on adrenalin. You need to see what happens when the adrenalin dies a little bit, hopefully I am wrong and he will go on and do very well.
“I am hoping [the other players that have missed out] are all going to be anxious that they are not going to be part of the team.
“The guys that I spoke to (before naming the squad to tell them they wouldn’t be in it) have no regrets about their performances or the way that they have played. The good thing is that they have already been involved in the system we are trying to do, so they have got that in their locker already.
“We have to keep working people who have not been involved. It will be good for Robertson and Fletcher, we have to do the same sort of training with different people.
“We can’t chop and change the training. One system we will use more than others. I can only pick 24. I pick the 24 that is going to suit the system that we will be using.
“If we had to play a system that suited everybody here we would have about five or six different systems.”