Stephen Craigan is embedded in the Fir Park set-up as the club’s under-20s coach and he feels all that has been lacking amid the 21-year-old’s growing maturity is a berth truly to call his own.
“Chris has progressed a lot but there is still a lot more to come,” said Craigan. “We need to find his best position over the next six months to a year. I like his attributes as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 but I think he brings an extra energy in midfield where he can get past people and beyond the game.
“We are still working out his best position. He won’t be sure. He is one who can play anywhere but somewhere down the line he needs to nail down a position.”
Cadden’s chance to do a bit of hammering away at furthering his international credentials after helping the Lanarkshire club to both cup finals last season has come through McLeish being without a raft of senior choices for the Peru encounter on Wednesday and the Mexico assignment four days later. The Motherwell performer didn’t feature in the original 24-strong squad but was added after Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie dropped out. McLeish will be forced to field a shadow team in next week’s meetings with World Cup-bound opponents. That is the reality through being without the six Celtic players who could be expected to form the backbone of the side in Leigh Griffiths, Kieran Tierney, Craig Gordon, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor, as well as Andrew Robertson who is preparing for Liverpool’s Champions League final against Real Madrid tomorrow evening.
Craigan is convinced that McLeish’s loss can firmly be the gain of Cadden, who burst with pride when given the nod by the Scotland manager in the lead-up to the Hampden decider which Celtic won 2-0.
“This is a big opportunity for him,” said Motherwell’s under-20s coach. “This is the kind of circumstance you need. A Motherwell player isn’t going to hit the Scotland squad until they are maybe 25. You are going to have to wait for call-offs. It’s a chance for Chris to put himself in front of James [McFadden] and Peter Grant and big Alex and make them say ‘he’s better than what we thought, he can play different positions’. It’s great for him and the credibility of the club. He’s been with us since he was nine years of age and to come through and become an international is fantastic.”
With almost half the Scotland squad currently in South America uncapped, the trip has been derided in all quarters. Northern Irishman Craigan can point to parallels with his country’s end-of-season excursion across the Atlantic in 2014 to provide World Cup warm-up opposition to Uruguay and Chile. Michael O’Neill’s men lost both games to leave them with only one win in 21 games at that point. Within two years, though, they were progressing from their group in a Euro 2016 finals that marked their first major tournament in 30 years.
“Michael got backing from the senior players to go to the trip. That was the key,” said Craigan. “They came back from that summer having played a couple of games but also they spent 12 days together which they hadn’t had before.
“They didn’t have a great campaign previously but suddenly we had a group together that gained three or four players so it meant when Michael named the squad in the September there was more depth to it.
“Alex might find that himself, with Chris being a prime example. Scott McKenna is going as well. It would be another two games down the line as well. Positives will come from it.”