And their English counterparts are understood to have become so concerned about the SFA’s talent identification system that alerts them to promising young players south of the Border with a Scottish bloodline that they are considering altering protocols and ramping up scouting numbers in response.
When it comes to player pools, SFA performance director Mark Wotte describes England as an ocean with Scotland a loch. Casting Scottish nets in that ocean can bring catches. Some of those, however, might later be helped wriggle free. For though a young English player with Scottish parentage may initially say “yes” to international representation with Scotland, if later given the opportunity with England, he could subsequently join the “no” camp when it comes to wearing the lion rampant.
Southampton’s Sam Gallagher is the latest case in point. A Scotland under-19 internationalist until last month, now he is an England under-19 internationalist. He can switch because the rules allow players to do that until they have earned a full cap in a competitive outing. England are thought to be so fearful of letting any players slip through their net, they are believed to be asking clubs to contact them whenever they have a young player called up by Scotland. Moreover, instead of now simply relying on their 20 club academies to make them aware of potential early-years internationalists, the English are understood to be set to bolster their scouting network involved in this work from the current total of five to around the 27 mark that are utilised by Scotland.
Wotte does not appear overly-concerned at the prospect of England simply capping any indigenous youngsters that Scotland have designs on simply to place them off limits to their neighbours. And he does not believe that Gallagher has necessarily been lost to the Scotland cause on a permanent basis.
“There are good things and bad things about the Sam Gallagher case,” the Dutchman said. “The good thing is we have identified him before England did. He was playing for Plymouth and then he was signed by Southampton so he appeared on our radar very quickly. He certainly enjoyed his time with Scotland but he wanted to be available for England as well. We can only respect that and we will see in the future where he is going to play. England can only play 11 players and they can only select 18, and they have ten times the amount of players that Scotland do. It is going to be a numbers discussion. How many players can they select? If they are not being selected then these boys who love to play international football, they will jump but you need commitment as well.
“England know our squads and if they see a player from Birmingham or Newcastle there they will think, hey what is his position? Probably they have better players. They have 20 Academy One facilities like Celtic and Rangers. So their pool of players is unbelievable. So if they want to take the Scottish eligible ones as well they will have to disappoint some players in England. Eventually they will pick the best players available which means they have to disappoint some players. So it might be possible that Sam Gallagher may not be selected for the under-21s or that he will never play for England.
“So everything is still open. You cannot blame a player if he is born and raised in England and is getting a chance to play for England and has two FA coaches at Southampton. They will whisper in his ear, ‘hey listen you need to be with England’.”
In order to retain second or third generation Scottish players that are English by birth, the SFA needs the Scottish parents or grandparents to be whispering patriotically in the ears of these youngsters. That appears to have happened with the 15-year-old Arsenal midfielder Charlie Gilmour. He is vulnerable to poaching by the English FA but his Scots-born father Ian has seemed keen for him to look in the direction of the country in which he spent his first 15 years.
“Some of the guys’ dads who are really Scottish have told us ‘my son is never going to play for England’,” said Wotte. “Charlie is still in our squads. You have to be careful because some of those guys have also got agents and agents can be a bigger influence than parents in terms of telling them what is better for their career.
“We are quite happy including Scottish eligible players because it widens our pond. We cannot afford to miss out on them but eventually we hope to be able to select from the Scottish pool of players. That would be the best. That would be evidence we are really doing our job well. That would be progress.”