Having spent all of 30 years waiting for his own country to return to a major tournament finals, Brendan Rodgers can’t be expected to have too much sympathy for those lamenting the now likely prospect of Scotland’s absence from the main stage stretching to just two decades.
But if there is a lesson Scotland can learn from Rodgers’ native Northern Ireland, it is surely that an international team can achieve success by being greater than the sum of its parts.
After just four months working in Scottish football, the Celtic manager admits he does not feel fully qualified to assess the problems which most recently manifested themselves in Tuesday night’s 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Slovakia.
Even witnessing events from afar, however, Rodgers had noted a lack of continuity in the development structure as first Mark Wotte, then Brian McClair, left the still vacant performance director’s role.
Rodgers feels that could hold the key to Scotland finding the right formula on the field to compensate for the lack of outstanding individual talent currently at Gordon Strachan’s disposal.
“I know it is hard to miss out on the big tournaments,” said Rodgers. “I had to watch it for years with Northern Ireland, from the World Cup in 1986 until I then saw us come through it by reaching the Euros in France this year. It gives the nation a lift.
“I am sure Scotland will get to that point again but there is a lot of soul searching from within to get there. The SFA needs to look at how they are going to create. Maybe the standard of player from the past isn’t there any more. They may be there, but now in a different context, but I haven’t been here long enough to see know what the development cycles are. But there always seems to be change there. Watching it from down south, you saw there was a technical director and then there is a change. Stability is very important.
“Can you find a way of playing? It’s all about the collective, as you need to be the better team as you won’t be able to rely on individuals. It’s about galvanising the players and the team and trying to get players to maximise what they have.
“It’s difficult for Scotland and I have sensed that, even though I’ve only been here for a matter of months. I sense there is this huge expectation but my own feeling if there needs to be a reality check in terms of where Scotland sees itself. You are not Scotland of the 1970s or 1980s, the reality is that international football is very tough. It’s not an easy game. I read some stuff that Scotland should be going to Slovakia and winning comfortably but why? Slovakia have good players as well so it’s tough and I have empathy for Gordon Strachan.
“The manager always gets criticised but he should be one of the last ones. There is a deep rooted issue here, there’s a problem which needs looking at. When you carry the mantle of being the Scotland manager and you really want success and to qualify for tournaments then it’s very tough. What I would say is that where do Scotland expect to be? Where do you expect to be as a nation? It’s certainly not where it was a number of years ago when you were qualifying for World Cups and had some of the best players in Europe. So it’s about asking ‘right, where are we?’ That might hurt, it may be sore.”
For Rodgers, the international break provided a welcome opportunity to take stock after a hectic start to his Celtic tenure both domestically and in the Champions League. The Scottish champions now enter another relentless round of fixtures, starting at home to Motherwell in the Premiership tomorrow, while they will play nine games in December alone.
“I feel refreshed and we needed the break,” said Rodgers. “It feels like I’ve been here a lot longer, but I’ve really only just started. We’ve now got seven games before the next international break and also that busy December to come. They couldn’t have rescheduled any more games in there. But that’s fine. If you have all those games, it means you are winning games and going far in competitions. We don’t see it as a threat, it’s something we embrace. Obviously it means you don’t have a great deal of coaching time with the players, so it’s about player-recovery. But it just means the squad will really come to the fore over the next few months.
“We have a team of people here that monitor that aspect very closely. Up until this point we’ve had virtually every player available, so the fitness level is at an extremely good level.”