Alex Smith, who was inducted into Scottish football’s Hall of Fame on Sunday evening, believes that Stephen Kingsley could eventually join him on the list that separates the great from the good.
The septuagenarian former St Mirren and Aberdeen manager has been a footballing father finger to the Swansea City full-back, helping to guide him through the ranks at Falkirk since he was at primary school.
With Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson of Hull City injured, Kingsley’s name will be included when Gordon Strachan announces his squad today for the vital World Cup qualifying match against England at Wembley a week on Friday.
Smith is convinced that the 22-year-old, who won his first cap as a substitute in the 3-0 defeat by France in June, will not let his country down should he be called upon.
“Stephen was in our academy since he was nine years old,” he said. “He is a Stirling boy and I am so proud of him.
“He has come through the pathway and it is a difficult thing, going from year to year and proving that you’re good enough to stay in the programme.
“Then he got into the first team and, under Steven Pressley, we were reaching the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup with a team whose average age was 22. We had Stephen, Jay Fulton, Craig Sibbald, Conor McGrandles and Blair Alston.
“I went to Arsenal earlier this year to see Stephen play. I was so pleased – Swansea won 2-1 and there were more than 60,000 people at the Emirates watching him.
“He and Jay Fulton played together. Kingsley played from the start and he was outstanding. Jay came on with 20-25 minutes to go and ran the show. I have so much pride in them.
“I would have no worries at all about playing Stephen against England. I would play him at left-back or even left centre-back. He could possibly be the answer [to Scotland’s problem position]. He has a good temperament. Of course, he would be nervous like anybody else but he coped with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and helped Swansea beat them when Arsenal were going for the title.
“Thierry Henry gave him the biggest boost when he spoke about him afterwards and said he was one of the best young players he has seen in that position; Stephen has that kind of ability.”
Yet Kingsley could hardly have endured a worse start to his first-team career at Falkirk..
“His first game was at Stirling Albion and he was on the bench,” explained Smith. “There were about five or ten minutes still to go when we put him on.
“He goes on, gets the ball out from the goalie and plays it up to our striker, who lost possession. They hit it back to where Stephen is, Albion’s right- winger takes possession and Stephen comes clattering in – ball, man, everything, right out onto the track.
“The referee produced a red card. He was only on the park for a minute. In his home town, with his mother, father and granny all sitting in the stand. Fortunately, he recovered from that.”