Paul McStay: Scotland youth policy made us suffer
Back in Scotland for this Sunday’s charity football match at Celtic Park between his team of maestros and celebrities and Rio Ferdinand’s all-stars, the Parkhead legend, who now lives in Sydney, says that in his day the failure was the nation’s inability to proceed beyond the group stage at major championships. Since France 98 the shame has been in failing to qualify.
“I think that’s a lot to do with the development process. I think a lot of the young players haven’t been given the opportunity at club level. Scottish football went through a period of buying players in and the talent got stifled and they ended up drifting out of things.
“For me, that was part of the issue. But now the majority of the national team is plying their trade down south which is great, giving them really good experience. It’s good that Scottish players are wanted down there.
“When I played there was a good mix of home-based Scots and the anglos. It was a great time for me with Souness, Dalglish and Strachan among the players at international level plus McLeish, Miller, big Roy Aitken. There were so many other top players also.
“It was a really good era for Scotland and it lasted quite a few years. After France, however, it has faded away. I think there are factors behind the scenes which caused that, like I say the situation with the young players.
“But over the last year or so the way we’ve played with Gordon and Mark in charge has provided a lot of optimism, certainly for a play-off place in the Euro qualifying group.
“To win it would be great, but that’s a tall order. Second place would be great. It would also help with the seeding for future campaigns.”
One of those who was considered good enough to break into the senior squad as a teenager, he was nurtured by the quality around him, including Scotland manager Strachan.
“Gordon and all of the main players, Souness, Dalglish, were so helpful to me. They were all vastly experienced.
“It was a welcome to any young player coming into the squad at the time. That’s what I learned from them all, how you’ve got to treat youngsters who come into the team. Give them guidance and help whenever you can.” The classy midfielder, who was capped 76 times, was then able to do the same with the next generation as he took on the mantle of mentor and stalwart.
“That approach instilled confidence in the whole squad and led to the belief that they could take on anything the world had to offer.
Just as the this squad will take on a German side who are the reigning world champions on Sunday, McStay and his team-mates faced that task in 1992 when they were drawn against the 1990 World Cup winners in the European Championships.
“I relished the challenge back then. We had a really good Scotland team, Scotland squad, and we put in a good performance against the Germans.
“We went in without any fear and believed in ourselves as individuals and as a unit. The management had us really well prepared too and although Germany beat us I think we actually gave them a hell of a scare. It was one of the best performances I’ve been involved in.
“So I think if the guys go out properly prepared, and with the right game plan, then we can do well.
“If we get a result then fantastic. If we don’t then you at least want them to come away feeling they’ve achieved something from the performance. Give them a lift for the rest of the campaign. It’s hard to believe its been so long since we were last at a finals.”
A humble man who still managed to shine in an era blessed with a plethora of home-grown talent, he is still reticent about blowing his own trumpet. Asked how he would describe himself as player, he thinks for a minute then offers a typically understated analysis.
“I enjoyed my football, I was a decent player. I did okay.”
To others, many who will pack into the Celtic Park stands on Sunday and some of those who will take to the pitch, he was much more than that.
“He was the maestro and is one of the main attractions on a day which will also see the likes of Paul Scholes, Gianfranco Zola, Lubo Moravcik and Stiliyan Petrov take to the pitch alongside One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, actor James McEvoy and comedian Jack Whitehall.
“Just seeing these guys out at Celtic Park should be a treat for anyone coming along.
“On the flight over I watched The Class of ‘92 film and that was an amazing hour-and-a-half watching that.
“I think all of them apart from Mr Beckham will be out there on Sunday. For any young fans of football – not just Celtic fans – it should be a great experience . . . it’s an occasion for people to be entertained.
“I just hope a lot of people turn up to support these guys and the charities too.”
For McStay it represents the chance to help charities such as Unicef and War Child as well as the chance to relive the walk out into an arena that was his home from home throughout his career. “It’s just nice to be here, but it’s all gone for me, I had my day and now it’s up to the new guys in the Hoops to go out and enjoy it. I’ve been back and caught the occasional match.
“I was at the Helsinborg game a few years ago and it was an amazing atmosphere and it brought back memories.
“But I’ve been out of it long enough that I’m cool with it all. All of my momentos are in a big box in the house but my life is really busy with the kids and everything else so I don’t have time to sit and think about what went before.
“That was my career and I loved it, it’s still very vivid in my mind but you move on. I still keep connected by watching games and going online to see what’s happening.”
And he is delighted to see the introduction of youngsters such as Callum McGregor.
He said: “It’s important for any club to bring through young players if they are good enough then they should have that opportunity.
“The only way to learn and develop your trade is by being given opportunities. Even if it’s a few games and then out, it allows them to experience it.
“I think the Europa League could be a great chance to allow the younger players to gain that European experience so that when the Champions League hopefully comes around again next season then it’s not only the senior players but the really young ones will have that taste of European football.”
• Kick off is at 2pm and tickets are available online or by calling 0871 226 1888.