Scotland No 2 Mark McGhee has revealed that watching the Republic of Ireland triumph over Bosnia on Monday left him sick to his stomach, literally.
His sense of nausea was induced by the gut-wrenching feeling that the Scots, and not Martin O’Neill’s side, should have been eliminating Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach the finals of Euro 2016.
As it is, and in spite of beating the Irish in Glasgow and drawing with them in Dublin, Gordon Strachan’s men missed out on a play-off place.
The Republic will now join England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the finals in France and that sticks in the Motherwell manager’s throat.
Scotland’s exile from the finals of major tournaments has now been extended to two decades and that repeated failure has prompted national team boss Strachan to announce that he will shortly reveal his plans to restructure and, he hopes, save our game.
McGhee, along with SFA performance director Brian McClair, has been helping Strachan to expand his blueprint and, once the gnawing disappointment engendered by those triumphant scenes in Dublin has faded, he believes that regeneration is possible.
“Every day this week, particularly with the Republic of Ireland qualifying… every time you see those four names [from the British Isles], you just feel dizzy,” he said.
“It is still having that effect on me. I haven’t spoken to Gordon this week because I know how he will be feeling. I even feel a bit sick talking about it now. It makes me feel, physically, a wee bit sick.
“Trust me, I really mean that. I can imagine the wee man being absolutely beside himself. Feeling like that and feeling the doubt and disappointment that brings, you can imagine he is maybe wondering why anyone [in the game] would be interested in his opinion about other things. I see it from inside and outside, though, and he has done a terrific job. We have not qualified because the Republic took four points from Germany – not because we didn’t beat Georgia. Who could foresee the Irish beating them? We had a bit of misfortune, but I think Gordon has generally brought an improvement.
“He is an intelligent man who cares passionately about the Scottish game as well as the national team. He is at Scottish matches all the time. He cares about the Scottish league and has a relevant opinion.”
Strachan has been secretive when it comes to the content of his masterplan but he has previously complained about how the number of young Scottish players given first-team opportunities in the Premiership is disturbingly small.
McGhee agrees and, in his day job, has vowed to help make a difference.
“That’s a thing I want to do – as long as they’re good enough,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to put kids in the team just so that I can say I’ve done it. They have to be ready and better than everyone else in their position.
“So I’ve got to make them better. I believe three or four of our lads have that potential so maybe a couple of them will appear [in the first team] this summer and another two towards the end of next season.
“Hopefully, we can then get more local players from the academy coming through. I’m prepared to put young players in the team ahead of going to England to make signings. I’ll be looking here first.”
Yet McGhee argues that the root of the problem is simply that not enough boys are participating in the sport – and that a less formal approach could benefit younger players.
‘’We have talked about, rather than worrying about our coaches having pro licences, getting facilitators who will organise games and just let kids play,” he said.
“Out of that, you get a volume of players playing. People ask me: ‘Why are we suddenly not seeing players move down to England?’ It’s a numbers game. You need to have that volume.
“When I [was young] there were 500,000 boys playing football 20 hours a week in Scotland. Now there are 100,000 boys playing seven hours a week so there are not going to be as many good players coming out of that.
“That’s the way it is. So we need to get more players playing more football with more facilities. We need more than kids running in and out of cones.”