The central striker issue appears permanently vexing for Scotland. It might be difficult to believe that, because a record fee has been paid for one such international, but Steve Clarke could have an answer to who to play through the middle in attack when Russia and Belgium come to Hampden for a Euro 2020 double header over the next week.
There were eyebrows raised when Sheffield United lavished £20 million on prising Oli McBurnie from Swansea City during the summer. The 23-year-old has made ripples in the international domain, more, though, for what has been explained away as mock disgruntlement over being called-up for Scotland that was caught on his new club’s social media channel, than any impression made in his seven appearances for the country. One the Leeds-born player qualifies for by dint of having a Scottish father.
Yet, with Steven Fletcher having retired himself, again, from the international arena, Leigh Griffiths left out of the current squad to concentrate on his comeback following mental health issues, Steven Naismith not fully fit, and Matt Philipps considered more of a wide player than a central attacker, McBurnie could represent one of few viable options for the crucial hosting of Russia on Friday, and Belgium’s appearance at the national stadium three days later.
Joe Jordan is a man who could be relied upon to lead the line for Scotland, the fearsome forward scoring storied goals over a nine-year international career that began in 1973, and led to his becoming the only Scot to score in three World Cup finals.
The 67-year-old treads carefully when assessing McBurnie’s readiness to be trusted with coming up with the goals to end the country’s 21-year exile from major tournaments… Jordan himself ended a 16-year absence from a major finals with a first Scotland goal to deliver a pivotal World Cup qualifying victory against Czechoslovakia at Hampden 46 years ago this month.
McBurnie has made only one competitive start for Scotland, his misfortune being this came in the 3-0 defeat away to Kazakhstan in March that was responsible for ending Alex McLeish’s brief ill-fated second spell in charge of the nation. A first goal in the English top flight in United’s loss to Leicester City 12 days ago does though help his Scotland cause more than his summer valuation, according to Jordan.
“I’ve seen him play and £20m is a big price tag,” said the former Leeds United, Manchester United and AC Milan striker. “But you’ve got defenders going for £90m so it’s hard to put fees into perspective. But he is now a striker in a Premier League team and he’s got that tag and it’s a pressure. He’s got off to a good start with a good header into the bottom corner [against Leicester].
“That will give him such a lift. He’s broke his duck in the Premier League. Sheffield United are going to have a tough season but he’s got a good platform now and if you play against those players every week then you can only improve.”
Jordan agrees that McBurnie is something of an untidy, unorthodox forward. However, as an uncompromising bustling forward who was hardly an aesthete on the pitch himself, he does not see the United man’s style as a negative.
“He’s got to use his own attributes,” Jordan said. “It’s about what effect he has on a game and he’s already made an impact this season. He needs to have belief in himself. I’m sure he has and he will handle the price tag he has got. If he can keep Sheffield United in the division next season that price tag is paid for.”
Jordan, in playing during an era when the country was awash with supreme strikers so that at various times he vied with Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law, Peter Lorimer, Steve Archibald and Paul Sturrock for game time, is anguished that in the modern day Scotland have such meagre choices.
“When I played for Scotland, the competition for places kept you on your toes. I played for Scotland for ten years and on occasion I was out of the team,” he said. “The competition was so fierce and I knew if I did not do the business then someone else would come in. You knew you had to perform because there were people on the bench – and there were people who had not been picked but could perform. It’s difficult for the managers now because if you only have two strikers your options are limited.”
l Joe Jordan was speaking to promote Premier Sports’ coverage of Serie A. See premiersports.com for details.