RATHER than be frightened by the thought of facing Germany, Gordon Strachan believes Scots should view a date with the recently crowned world champions as a stimulating prospect.
The European Championship qualifying clash is now less than a month away. The Scotland manager spent yesterday afternoon talking about his long-term hopes for the SFA’s Class of 2014 Performance School pupils while also considering the rather shorter-term project that is Scotland’s attempt to bring Germany back to earth in Dortmund on 7 September.
The opening Group D fixture is of course a daunting challenge. But Strachan stressed that he is excited as well as nervous. “It’s good to have a bit of both,” he said.
It was just over a month ago that he was sitting watching the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany, following his return home after working as an ITV pundit in Brazil.
Strachan remembers turning to his wife Lesley during Germany’s still-bewildering 7-1 win, and saying: ‘‘I think we are on the Fantasy Channel here. You’ll need to turn it over to something else. We’ve tuned into something that’s not really happening. There’s something wrong with the telly.”
Strachan also recalls saying to himself: “This is not right, this is not right.” He added: “I was looking at the Brazilian players and there were about three or four of them in shock. And I mean literally in shock.”
This is not something he expects will happen to his own players in Dortmund, when Scotland have the dubious honour of forming the opposition when Germany return to competitive action. Helping banish some of Strachan’s concerns are the positive sounds emerging from Manchester United with regards to Darren Fletcher’s fitness.
New Old Trafford manager Louis van Gaal handed the Scotland captain a pivotal role in the club’s recent tour of the United States, and Fletcher now looks well placed to return to the international fold after a long absence due to illness next month.
“We like that,” said Strachan, who could be without the currently injured Scott Brown for the Germany clash.
Joachim Löw’s side have a friendly to play against Argentina first, in a re-match of last month’s World Cup final. Coming as it does just four days before Scotland head to Dortmund, Strachan yesterday confirmed that he will not be attending in person. “Do you really need to go and see them?” he asked. “It’s a friendly.
“I’m sure the Germans will understand that I’ve watched them that many times that it’s not going to be anything different, I don’t think.
“Of course, we will have someone there to watch them in case something happens. But I will spend my time on the coaching field with my players.
“Is there an advantage playing them in their first competitive match since the World Cup final?” Strachan asked. “The game will only be determined by how we play. It’s not the occasion, not the number of people there. It’s entirely up to us how the game goes.”
What Scotland want to do eventually is beat Germany at their own game. This might not happen as soon as three Sundays’ time.
However, the enrolment yesterday of more than 100 aspiring internationals at the SFA’s seven regional performance schools means that over 300 pupils are now involved in the programme, which started in 2012.
Discussions are continuing with Fife Council to establish another performance school in that region. By 2020, Performance director Mark Wotte expects six or seven graduates from these elite schools will be members of the A squad.
Strachan may well still be in place then. He was present yesterday at Heriot-Watt University, the venue for the new National Performance Centre for Sport due to be built in 2016, to remind the parents and guardians of these children that “the work starts here”. The national manager added: “While society has changed the most important ingredient in becoming a professional players remains the same – practice.”
Strachan has long spoken of Germany as being an ideal model to follow.
Their international side’s recent success is closely linked to the overhauling of their own youth development system in the early 2000s, when academies were established across the top two divisions. “I think if you remember rightly, when I took over this job I said to people that the Germans were the team I admired the most,” said Strachan.
“People were scratching their heads and saying ‘what about Spain or Holland?’ But I said Germany because I like what they do. I like how they take a group of great players and turn them into a great team.
“The way they move the ball about, their strength of character, their physical strength is just wonderful and so is their touch. They do the simple things brilliantly. Great players do that.
“They’ve got players who can score goals, and use their ability when needed solely for the team. Everything is about the team with Germany. I’m such a great admirer of them and now two years after saying that it’s come to fruition that they are world champions.”
Wotte was in agreement. “Germany recognised they had a problem and so have we,” he said. “They started a strategy and it paid off.
“We’re on that path as well. But Germany can probably tap into ten times as many players as us and there’s money in German club football, so there’s more resources.
“In England they have 24 academies like the Old Firm and here we have just two,” the Dutchman added.
“Germany has recognised it and developed it and they’re an example for us when it comes from the DFB [German Football Association] and Bundesliga working together. They are a standout for us. They are the example in Europe of how to change the future of your football.
“It’s encouraging that a country with a strategy we are trying to implement is winning the World Cup.”
“In Scotland, it’s becoming apparent that the youngest player is the best player,” added Wotte, who name-checked, among others, Lewis Macleod at Rangers, Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Ryan Christie and, until his departure for Sporting Lisbon, Ryan Gauld at Dundee United.
“You look at a team list now and say ‘he’s a cracking player’ and quite often he’s an academy graduate,” pointed out Wotte.
With reference to the news that Gauld has been named in the B rather than A squad at Sporting Lisbon, the outspoken Wotte stressed that, in his opinion, this was still a higher quality environment than he would find in Scottish football.
“It’s fantastic for Ryan Gauld to go to Sporting Lisbon, even if it is the ‘B’ team,” he said.
“The Sporting ‘B’ team would be top four in Scotland. He can still train with the A squad and they have a fantastic pedigree for developing world-class players.”