Ricky Sbragia quit U21s to give Scot Gemmill chance to shine

Ricky Sbragia stepped down as Under 21 boss after his side suffered a home defeat by Macedonia and a thumping in Ukraine. Picture: SNS
Ricky Sbragia stepped down as Under 21 boss after his side suffered a home defeat by Macedonia and a thumping in Ukraine. Picture: SNS
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Ricky Sbragia last night revealed it was his idea to step aside for Scot Gemmill to succeed him as Scotland Under 21s boss because he didn’t want to stifle the progress of the former Everton midfielder.

The ex-Sunderland manager stepped down as Under 21s manager this week after a double-header loss to Macedonia and a thumping in Ukraine which eliminated them from the European Championship qualifiers.

Gemmill has now progressed from Under 17s manager to Under 19s boss to his new role as manager of the current 21s squad, which includes the likes of Ryan Gauld, Ryan Fraser and Jason Cummings.

And Sbragia, who is 60, insisted he approached the SFA and offered to make way for Gemmill, who guided the Under 17s to the semi-finals of the European Championship two years ago after consulting with former SFA performance director Brian McClair, who quit his role this summer.

He explained: “This didn’t come as a shock, that would have been different. We spoke about this last September, it’s not something that has happened in the last month. It wasn’t geared around qualifying for the Under 21 Euros.

“I actually suggested the idea myself in a meeting in Manchester with Brian McClair and Scot. Listen, I’m 60 now, I’ve had a good career and things have gone well for me. Scot’s ambitious and he needs a chance to see how he does. He’s been excellent for the Under 17s and Under 19s so this is the natural step for him.

“Sometimes in football people stand in your way. I didn’t want to do that with Scot.

“When I brought it up in that meeting – that Scot should be U21’s coach – I didn’t know whether it would put me out of a job altogether. They could have decided then that my time was up. That’s the truth. For what Scot had done, it was a great opportunity for him. Maybe I’m too honest, but Scot appreciated it and we spoke about it again a few months ago. Scot needs to be tested and we should let him get on with it.” Sbragia will go back to coaching the youth sides of Scotland and will mentor Gemmill, with ex-Dundee and Dundee United striker James Grady and former Celtic winger Brian McLaughlin assisting as SFA youth coaches.

He explained: “There will be a time when I go out of the game, there’s no doubt about that. But we had to ask where the next Scottish coaches were coming from. So I went to the Victory Shield last year down in Wales and spoke with Brian McLaughlin and James Grady. I just tried to pass on some knowledge.

“I suggested to Brian that we should continue to do that kind of thing but ultimately, it was his final decision. I’d never say never but I don’t think I’ll be a manager again.

“So I wanted to do this to enhance Scot’s development, that was my thought process. Scot didn’t expect that, but he was pleased.” Sbragia is aware that Tartan Army fans haven’t viewed the job switch for him as a favourable move after a dismal Euro 2017 campaign. But he stressed: “The flak is water of a duck’s back for me. I’m not in the game to get praise. I’m in it to try and make a difference, even if it’s only a small one.”

Gemmill also paid tribute to Sbragia as he prepares to name his first squad in a few weeks for next month’s now-meaningless double-header with Iceland and Macedonia.

He said: “Ricky Sbragia has been invaluable to my own personal development and is a driving force behind these changes, so I’d like to thank him for his support.”