Lack of leadership drive among young footballers has Stuart McCall fearing there are no easy solutions for arresting the decline in this country’s football fortunes.
Rarely has the picture appeared so gloomy. And not merely because Scotland are destined for a two-decade absence from a major tournament following the failure to qualify for a Euro 2016 finals that will accommodate close on half of Europe’s football nations. Celtic’s inability to win a single tournament encounter on the continent this season, wherein they have fielded a host of indigenous performers, has compounded the misery.
Scotland assistant McCall doesn’t pretend he can see an end in sight because – at a UK-wide level – he sees elite youth players who have the trappings of top-class footballers but not the toughness these talents of old possessed.
“Why are we not producing leaders? Why aren’t we bringing through kids for whom football is the be-all and end-all? Leaders are massively lacking,” McCall said. “People will say that there are too many distractions but they’re all over the world and we can’t hide behind that.
“Like Gordon [Strachan], I played until I was 40 and you need to have a burning desire to be able to do that. If you’re a kid and you want to make it then football has to be everything for you. I was speaking to someone at Newcastle and their under-14 team was travelling to a match in the first team’s coach – and all they were thinking about before and during the game was that they were going to be served pasta on the journey back.
“You can improve technically and physically. Mentally? You can’t give people desire. You have got to want it, you have to be hungry for it, it has to mean something to you. You can’t be given everything too young.
“My sister hates me telling this story but I used to go to games and I’d burst my shinpads. My mum didn’t have a lot so I played with a maths book and English book down my socks in a school game. I went to give my homework in the next day and I got a telling off. I didn’t mind because we won 2-1 and I didn’t get a broken leg because someone smashed me on my maths book.
“When did we start saying the result doesn’t matter? If you are getting beat 6-0 you have to take it. People are like, ‘ahhhh’ in sympathy. But you have to say, ‘I want to win 6-0. I’ll go and train a bit more to get better. I will make football mean everything to me’.”