UPON hearing a huge roar while returning to his car after leaving the Sheffield Wednesday v Reading game early two weekends ago, Gordon Strachan knew exactly what had happened.
Stevie May, the player he had gone to watch, had broken the deadlock with a goal for Wednesday; the decisive one as it turned out.
But rather than be annoyed at missing the moment, Strachan felt only satisfaction. It was quick vindication of the decision he had already made to call the striker up to the full Scotland squad for the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Georgia and Poland.
“I left after 72 minutes I think,” Strachan said yesterday. “I had already made up my mind. As I got to my car I heard a roar. It was obviously going to be him that had scored! So he was in the squad before he scored that goal, it made no difference. I know he can score goals. But his all-round game was good that day.”
Strachan added: “He will improve over the years. What he’s got is incredible enthusiasm, incredible work-rate and drive to be a good team-mate and to score goals at the same time.
“Later on he will learn the game. He has intelligence, so I’m told, to learn the game. So he will add to what he’s got just now. But what he can’t lose is his hunger.”
Strachan is confident May will continue to develop in England and become someone Scotland can rely on to score goals.
Ryan Gauld, the 18-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder, was also named in the squad yesterday and by calling the pair up relatively early in their careers, it also means the Scotland manager can play a part in influencing them, which, given his own achievements and ability to make the best of himself, can be no bad thing.
Both seem the type preferred by Strachan. Mild-mannered and polite off the field, they are open to learning. The manager accepts not everyone is cut from the same cloth. He welcomed Scott Brown’s return because as well as providing drive and leadership, he is a different character who keeps everyone on their toes.
“Ach, he just makes it a better place if he’s about, whether it’s on the training field or in the dining room,” said Strachan, who was disappointed at not being able to call upon the injured Brown for the recent trip to face Germany in Dortmund.
“He’s different from everybody else. That’s why we’ve enjoyed his company. Everybody can’t be like Broonie. We’re all different. If they were all like Broonie, I wouldn’t turn up!”
Despite changes meaning a second-place group finish is now enough to secure automatic qualification, as well as the heartening upturn in fortunes with him in charge, Strachan is under no illusion about how difficult it still is to gain a place in France.
The narrow opening defeat against Germany had much to delight him but, he conceded, it still resulted in “nae points”.
He resisted any attempt to lure him into describing next weekend’s game against Georgia at Ibrox as “must win”. However, it can’t have escaped his notice that Scotland struggled badly after taking only two points from their opening two games in the last campaign, both of which were at home.
Strachan conceded that a home game placed a different type of pressure on Scotland, since it required them to be “proactive”.
That World Cup qualifying group, he said, showed exactly why reaching a major finals is now such a hard-won achievement. He rates it as Scotland’s hardest ever group.
“If you look at it now, at one stage Croatia were third in the world, Belgium were seventh and Serbia had a back four that was worth £100 million, with [Nemanja] Matic and all these kind of guys,” he said.
Pointing to the pitch at Hampden behind him, and with reference to the three-team qualifying group for the 1974 World Cup, which included then lowly Denmark, he said: “People tell me how Scotland qualified in ’74, but it was just a play-off v Czechoslovakia out there.
“And when I played, it’s nothing like what is going on now. It is a different ball game altogether – completely different.”