Promoting the Hampden sports clinic’s procurement of a NASA-engineered anti-gravity treadmill that will assist the rehabilitation process brought Colin Hendry to the national stadium yesterday.
Recent evidence would suggest that what is needed by those who earn caps for the country at the arena is a machine capable of slowing down the ageing process.
Football statisticians reported the other day that, across 2015, the average age of Gordon Strachan’s side topped that of any top-50 ranked nation in the world. It was considered a gloomy portent that, at 29 years old, Scotland players tended to be more than two years the senior of the leading nations. Essentially, then, firmly in their peak years, the Scotland squad squandered their best chance of reaching a major finals for a decade.
Yet history that he helped make tells Hendry that Scotland followers shouldn’t fear that Strachan will need to rely on the same players, now in their 30s, when the World Cup qualification campaign begins in eight months. Scotland have claimed only one point at the World Cup finals in the past quarter of a century. That came with a 1-1 draw against Norway at France ’98. The average age of Craig Brown’s starting line-up then was 30.8.
“Age for Scotland is not an issue. There are a lot of teams in that similar block and it wouldn’t be an issue for them,” said Hendry, who was 32 in France after only making his debut five years earlier. “If we can progress then we can have players at the peak of their game at 28 or 29 or 30. Centre-halves don’t peak until then when they’ve gained experience and are better readers of the game. These days they are all physically fit, they are all machines.
“Age doesn’t matter when you look at those three games we played in France ’98. I was a late starter, although I got 51 caps, and there were a lot of players around the same age as me, Kevin Gallacher wasn’t much younger and Colin Calderwood was a similar age.
“OK, we were s***e on the night against Morocco. On another day we might not have conceded from a corner early doors or scored a nasty own goal against Brazil. We were thinking we would get a doing against Brazil and then during the game we weren’t so bad and we dug in, and dug in and almost got a result against the best team in the world. The age thing wasn’t a problem and it should not be a problem for Gordon Strachan either. People are looking and thinking – who is going to take over from him and who is coming through.”
That is the bigger issue. “Players that played for Scotland when I was around were top of the tree. Even the players that were filling in were in the squads at Rangers and Celtic, playing in the Champions League. Now we’ve got players that are not at that level and in a lower division in England,” said Hendry. “If you don’t have that sort of quality – and I’m not being critical of any of the players now – then what you’ve got is what you’ve got.” An age-old problem.