Robbie Neilson insists Scottish football should copy Hearts and match muscle with flair if it wants to rediscover its competitive edge abroad.
The Tynecastle head coach was irked last week after Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes and Murray Davidson of St Johnstone highlighted his side’s physical approach.
I think athleticism is a very good thing. For a long time Scottish football hasn’t had it.Robbie Neilson
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee added further fuel to the fire ahead of his side’s Ladbrokes Premiership trip to Gorgie when he claimed Neilson had adopted “a very robust style of game”.
But Neilson has again leapt to the defence of his players – accusing their critics of confusing physicality with athleticism.
And he claims Gordon Strachan’s national side as well as Scotland’s clubs would do better against foreign opposition if they could back up their ability with brawn.
“I don’t see it as disrespectful,” said Neilson. “I’m actually pleased people are saying that about us. I’d rather people were saying the good things about us rather than commenting on the bad things.
“I think athleticism is a very good thing. For a long time Scottish football hasn’t had it.
“That’s why we struggle in Europe or in the international game. Scotland go away and play against teams that are all big athletic players. We have to be like that as well.
“People sometimes focus on these things because we’re not used to having big athletic players in Scotland. We’re used to having guys at 5ft 4in or 5ft 5in.
“You need to have guys who are strong and also guys who have that technical ability. As soon as the guys here have both, they are away down to England.
“There’s no point us having a team full of Scottish guys who aren’t as strong, as quick or as athletic as the guys they might face down south.”
Hearts certainly have their fair share of imposing figures but Neilson thinks labelling his team as a physical bunch does a disservice to tricky attackers like Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker.
Neilson, whose side sit third in the table, reckons you need a mixture of threats if you are to compete with the big clubs.
He said: “People can say what they want to say but sometimes they mistake physicality with athleticism.
“We are an athletic team. We have a lot of quick players, a lot of strong players and guys who are very fit.
“But you have to be like that to be challenging at the top of the league. It’s something we looked to add at the start of the season and I think it has done well for us.
“We have also got some smaller guys like Sam Nicholson, Billy King, Jamie Walker and Gavin Reilly who give us the flair. You have to have a balance between the two.
“At the start of last season we played Man City and I looked at their players and thought ‘if our guys want to get to that level then they have to have guys that they compete against in training’.
“We played Everton this summer and it was the same again. It really opens your eyes to the physicality and athleticism you do need if you want guys to go to the top level.
“When you are doing well, people always try to look for flaws in what you are doing. Some folk have latched on to this ‘physicality’ term but if you look at the way we play, we’re a very technical team.
“Yes we have guys who are very athletic, but they can still play.”