Under-21 coach: Hibs star deserves place in full Scots squad

Scotland under-21 captain John McGinn has graduated to the full squad. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Scotland under-21 captain John McGinn has graduated to the full squad. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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The admirable ability to see beyond his own situation will be reflected in Ricky Sbragia’s team selection for the Scotland under-21 side’s match in France on 24 March. An unlikely victory in Angers a week on Thursday is required simply to delay the seemingly inevitable for the young Scots in a pretty joyless European Championship qualifying campaign. Yet, coach Sbragia has resisted the temptation to call on the services of his captain John McGinn for fear of impacting on the Hibernian midfielder’s full Scotland call-up the following week.

The under-21s could be languishing in fourth in Group 3, eight points shy of leaders Iceland and France, before they face Northern Ireland in Paisley on 29 March in the second part of their double-header.

McGinn’s selection by Gordon Strachan for only the home friendly against Denmark at Hampden that same evening could have allowed Sbragia to have him at his disposal for the France game. The under-21 coach felt that would have been a selfish approach.

“I’ve got a lot of time for John, he’s a really good player, he’s a good captain and we respect him and he deserves what he gets because of his performances with Hibs week in, week out. He deserves that chance,” Sbragia said. “John has been exceptional for us and I do think the time is right.

“People have asked me ‘do I consider him for France?’ but no I don’t because he has an opportunity to go and seal a position at A-squad level. I want him to go there and be 100 per cent. It never crossed my mind to take him to France because how could I deny him that opportunity? Gordon has mentioned it and I said ‘no’, keep him.

“I’d love to qualify and we’re looking to try and qualify but the A-squad is a higher level of football, that takes them into another planet. We talk about development and that is good development for them. I would love John not to come back down to us. I’d love John to be up there all the time.”

Yet McGinn isn’t at the highest level even on a weekly basis in operating in the Championship with the Easter Road side. Sbragia sees no disconnect between the midfielder’s club status and senior international recognition. “No, because he’s played regularly for the under-21s and is doing well,” said the 59-year-old. “John will bridge the gap, it won’t be a problem for John. He’s so determined, focused and one-minded I think he’ll go on and do really well.”

Sbragia is similarly hopeful over the prospects of Tony Watt. The 22-year-old of questionable attitude can’t seem to make it work at club level in bouncing from Celtic, to Lierse, to Standard Liege, to Charlton, to Cardiff, then Blackburn Rovers across the past two and a half years. Yet Sbragia understands why he was called up by Strachan for the friendly away to the Czech Republic in nine days’ time.

“I like Watty, I have a lot of time for him. We took him to Holland [with the under-21s] in 2013 and he played against Mexico in the semi-finals there. He was excellent, absolutely excellent. His consistency could be better. He has a fantastic physique. People think he is older than he is.

“Credit to him. He has had a lot of knockbacks and keeps coming back and playing extremely well. He is a character and I don’t mind that. He brings that onto the field of play and I am glad he is back in the A squad.

“There are a lot of things he does people don’t know about. I was told of a couple of things last week he does to look after people. You would be surprised. The lad is good and I hope when he plays he does well.”