It was common sense and not the intent to make some kind of statement which lay behind new Scotland under-21 coach Scot Gemmill wiping the slate clean for his first squad yesterday.
In theory, Gemmill could select a full starting XI composed of uncapped players for his first match since taking over from Ricky Sbragia three weeks ago. But only because a new age has dawned.
The games against Iceland next Wednesday, 5 October and Macedonia the following Tuesday will complete yet another failed European Championship campaign. A number of well-known faces who were part of that – including Jason Cummings, Ryan Gauld and Ryan Christie – will be too old for the start of the next qualifying campaign next year. It is for that reason that Gemmill has gone for a dozen younger players who haven’t previous featured at the last stage of international football before senior level.
“When I was asked to take charge of the games it seemed completely logical to look towards the new campaign and therefore consider players who could play in those qualifiers,” Gemmill said. “At youth team level you are always restricted to the new age group. I wanted to maximise every game in between now and then”
“Ricky Sbragia spoke to the players [whose time with the under-21s has come to an end] because he had worked closely with those players. It is not rocket science and they are sensible boys and will understand how youth team football works. The same would have happened at under-17 and under-19 level and, as soon as you are too old, you are too old, it’s as simple as that.”
Gemmill digs the new breed featuring many of those players with whom he has enjoyed success at under-17 level. In that bracket are Reading’s Jake Sheppard and Zak Jules, as well as Kyle Cameron, at Newport County from parent club Newcastle, and Alex Iacovitti, a loanee at Mansfield where he has gone from Nottingham Forest. In goal, Gemmill could hand first caps to goalkeepers Ryan Fulton and Mark Hurst, the latter with St Johnstone while the former is on loan at Chesterfield from Liverpool.
Chelsea’s highly-rated 18-year-old Ruben Sammut is one of four uncapped midfielders. Hamilton’s Greg Docherty, Crewe’s James Jones, and Aidan Nesbitt, on loan at Morton from Celtic, are the others. In attack, Dundee’s Craig Wighton, pictured below, and Ryan Hardie, currently farmed out to St Mirren from Rangers, will hope for debuts.
Gemmill knows the strategy could appear problematic if his side take a few dunts, but in his squad he does also have senior figures in 18-times capped Jordan McGhee, who is with Middlesbrough just now but still contracted to Hearts, Celtic’s Liam Henderson and Oliver McBurnie of Swansea City.
Gemmill is placing much store on his newbies, though. “For me, they don’t get to play at this level if they are not mentally strong enough to handle losing to better teams,” he said of the potential for some pain during assimilation.
“As long as everyone is playing the way they have been asked, in a competitive manner representing their country to the best of their ability, I’d hope the support for them will be there.
“These are the best young players in the country. The players who may be fast-tracked in the future are undoubtedly the best players in the country and everyone needs to get behind them to maximise their progression.”
Gemmill’s progression through the coaching set-up of the national team has come as a result of an impressive command of his duties and equally impressive outcomes, including unprecented back-to-back finals appearances with the under-17s, whom he guided to the semi-finals in Malta two years ago. The handover from Sbragia with two dead rubbers in a campaign still to complete might have appeared to come out of the blue, but not for the man at the centre of it.
“I was not surprised because we had spoken about me taking over for over a year,” Gemmill said. “Ricky was incredibly supportive of me and spoke to Brian McClair [former technical director] about it before the last campaign. It has been something we have been working towards. At the end of the day, the situation has come up whereby we can use these games as preparation for the new campaign. We can make the change now.”