PAUL Lambert was a key component of Craig Brown’s midfield at the 1998 World Cup finals in France and the former Borussia Dortmund and Celtic midfielder feels for the lost generation of Scottish stars who have been unable to include an appearance at a major finals on their CV.
A victory over the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday could go a long way to ending that 18-year exile from the big time, and Lambert pinpoints veterans Darren Fletcher and Shaun Maloney, along with Scott Brown (who turns 30 in 16 days’ time) as the men who will matter for Gordon Strachan.
Euro 2016 may be the final opportunity for all three to represent their country at the business end of a tournament and Lambert, who has been visiting some of Europe’s most prominent clubs as he waits for his next management job after leaving Aston Villa in February, is optimistic that Scotland can negotiate their way out of Group D.
“We’ve got a real chance of reaching France – probably the best chance since being there in 1998,” he said. “Scotland, as a country, needs it.
“I would love to see us being there. It would be great: you’d have people hanging out of pubs.
“You’d get flags hanging out of people’s windows. We really need that. The current lads have done well and have put themselves in a position no one has been since our time.
“For some of the older lads, especially, it would be great because they might not have too many more chances.
“You don’t realise how good these tournaments are until you actually get there. For the likes of Fletcher and Brown, it would be great, because being at a major tournament is always something to look back on.
“For Scotland not to have done it since 1998 is far too long and for the older ones, who have been carrying that burden for a number of years, it would mean a lot.
“With 24 teams, the worry is if you don’t qualify now, then when are you going to get there?
“But the foundations are better than they have been for a few years. If you can keep the Scotland support on your side, you’ve got a chance.
“Germany still have to come to Hampden and it won’t be easy for them. Poland have also still to come here and the crowd will be rampant, especially if we can get a result in Ireland.”
Maloney scored the only goal when the Irish came to Glasgow in November and Lambert believes he could make the difference again this weekend.
“I’ve always liked Shaun because he gives you something different,” he said.
“His brain is really quick, although I know he is playing in Disneyland now! Seriously, I watched him the other night for Chicago Fire and he’s doing well over there.
“Shaun’s always bright – his goal against Ireland at Parkhead was brilliant. If that was someone in a foreign strip, we’d be raving about it.
“He was great that night. He’s someone who can create something out of nothing – a really good No 10 and a matchwinner.
“The two experienced lads, Brown and Fletcher, are vital to the team because you need those older heads in games like this.
“Shaun’s older now as well and, for people like him, this is crucial. If I had to pick one player, I’d say he’s the one that can make things happen.”
The Irish will be cajoled from the touchline by Martin O’Neill, Lambert’s mentor from his time at Parkhead, and Roy Keane, his assistant at Villa Park, and the Scot knows how inspirational they can be. “I think there are different ways to motivate people,” he said.
“However, if you ask anyone from that era at Celtic, you always wanted to do well for Martin because of the way he was as a guy.
“We had a group of lads who were really on top of their game at that time.
“But Ottmar Hitzfeld was a different type of motivator, Wim Jansen different again, and Nevio Scala also did things his own way.
“They all set their own high standards but, in the five years I played for Martin, he was excellent.”