THE biggest issue for Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, and one he returns to regularly, is “getting enough good players on the park”.
In March, following the double header defeat at the hands of Wales and Serbia, his former Celtic captain Neil Lennon floated another potential difficulty for the new national coach. Lennon said that there appeared an unwillingness among the Scotland squad to “leave their egos at the door” and called for senior players to “sacrifice more for their country”. In the week that Kris Commons announced his international retirement, Strachan was willing to echo the sentiment expressed by Lennon.
“Lenny only knows four or five, you can speak to Lenny about that,” said the Scotland manager. “The rest of them really shouldn’t have an ego. I could see the point if people were winning Champions Leagues and things like that, and having a bit of confidence. I could see that.
“I used to sit with the Scotland squad and watch [Kenny] Dalglish and [Alan] Hansen walk in. I thought they were confident but I never saw any ego. They used to sit there and have bacon sandwiches and all the rest of it: ‘that will do me for a pre-match’. It was great. They had a confidence and an aura about them but that’s a different thing. With our squad, we really shouldn’t have anybody with an ego. I wouldn’t like to think they have it, because they have a problem themselves then.”
Another former Celtic player, Paolo di Canio, now Sunderland manager, has claimed the malaise of the modern-day footballer is lack of discipline, and Strachan, who will assemble his squad on 1 June for their World Cup qualifier in Zagreb against Croatia the following Friday, has sympathy with the Italian’s disgruntlement.
“I can see where he is coming from in terms of there being a lack of discipline in younger players but I think there is a lack of discipline in younger people full-stop now. If you give younger people a lot of money, it is a dangerous concoction.
“Whatever you think of him, he trained incredibly hard and that is where he has found it difficult. I think it was even easier at Swindon, where the guys would be more disciplined, but when you go to Premier level and see indiscipline then I think that could get to him. [With] the wages they get, there should be no excuse for indiscipline. I think that is why he is getting upset.
“You have got to have the right people. You have to have everyone there thinking: ‘this is it, this is as good as it gets for me’. If they have not got that attitude and they think they are too good then you have got a problem. But it is not a problem for just Scottish football players, it is problem for youth.”
Scotland need two more points from their remaining three qualifiers – which will see them go to Macedonia and entertain Belgium next season – to avoid dropping down to pot five for the European Championship qualifiers. A game in June against “a wonderful” Croatian side and an anticipated raft of call-offs – “I’d imagine I’m going to get doctors phoning up saying ‘this guy has this and this guy has that’” – hardly engenders optimism.
All Strachan can do is get his preparations right and to that end he has added Hearts’ sports scientist Neil Gibson to his backroom team. “I see players going to do wee things on their own on the treadmill. I don’t like that,” Strachan said. “Treadmills and stuff like that are for old guys like me. So I felt I needed a sports scientist for a lot of things. [So we can say to clubs] what has a player been doing, what is he up to, what do you want us to do with him? Give us a programme so when we send him back to you he is as fit if not fitter than when you gave him to us.
“We also need that information to find out when they come here how fit they are because we have had a problem with guys coming to us who do not play regular games. When they have finished here we can have information which says your player did this, your player did that. Also, I want our sports scientist to say, ‘listen if there is something special you want us to do when he is here give us that and we can implement that so there is nobody wasting their time’.
“But when we get them in the first thing to find out through the old-fashioned and the new methods is who is fit enough to play.”