Appearances can be deceptive. Scotland’s squad to set off on a qualifying campaign it is hoped can avoid the unhappy ending of the previous nine has a familiar look. All too familiar, with so many of the squad scarred by failure to end the country’s two-decade long exile from the grandest stages.
Yet, the fact is that there are 10 players in Strachan’s 27-man pool for next Sunday’s Malta assignment who didn’t feature as Scotland began their tilt for Euro 2014 against Germany in Dortmund two years ago. Five of these are in the young-ish bracket, which Strachan would petition ought to be recognised as his three-and-a-half years are assessed.
“I really can’t understand why people think it’s a stagnant squad. As far as I’m concerned it’s changed quite significantly, especially since I first took over. It’s unrecognisable,” he said. “It’s great to have such as James Forrest, it’s like having a new player, with him and Robert Snodgrass.
“We’ve not had James for two years really. Add that to the young players and I scratch my head when people say there’s no change to the squad. It looks completely different to me to two years ago.
“We are evolving and that there are 10 changes there, five new players in, says it all. People sometimes just like seeing different things. They want different faces. But the reality is different from the perception.
“The truth is, someone like Gordon Greer came in late, at 34, but played 10 games and went undefeated in all of them, which is some going. Age isn’t a problem to me, whether you’re 34 or 18. We had Oliver Burke in when he’d played three first team games [for Nottingham Forest] – if I said to people in Scotland five months ago, tell me about him, not one person would have known who he was. We’re quite happy to take a chance on youngsters, if you’re there, but we’re definitely not going to put you in just because your name’s different from someone else who’s been about for eight years.
“That doesn’t work. The criteria is that you’re good enough. I’m sure everyone would like someone in from their local team to make things a bit different but if we did that for the whole of Scotland the squad wouldn’t be as strong. If I think you’re good enough, you’re on.
“I’d love to have a squad of 23 year olds who were all brilliant, but it doesn’t work that way. The younger guys we’ve brought in aren’t just in because they’re younger, it’s because at this moment in time this is the best squad I can pick.”
The fresh blood in the squad doesn’t extend to the problem area of central defence. None of the four possibles – Grant Hanley, Russell Martin, Christophe Berra and Greer – plays top-flight football. Martin has drifted out the Norwich City side, while Hanley hasn’t nailed down a place since his £5.5 million summer move to Newcastle United from Blackburn Rovers.
“Christophe is a regular [with Ipswich Town], a decent lad, we know what we’re getting from him. He’s no John Stones, but what a good defender he is and a good lad to have about the place. But again, that’s the best we’ve got and we’re happy with that because we know them and we know their strengths.” And weaknesses.