The one thing Scotland under-21 coach Scot Gemmill cannot pass on to the young and unfamiliar squad he announced yesterday is his experience of turning out at the same international level a quarter of a century ago, such have been the changes in the game.
Only a handful of the 22 players selected for the friendly against Estonia this month are currently regulars with their parent clubs.
No fewer than nine are currently on loan to gain some elusive senior game time – the very thing Gemmill will look to give his untried personnel, with 10 uncapped players, at the Paisley 2021 Stadium a week on Tuesday, including now Malaga B team midfielder Jack Harper, pictured, and St Mirren’s Stevie Mallan.
The composition of the squad is a world apart from those Gemmill featured in between 1991 and 1992, and yesterday he expressed his sympathy for young Scots seeking to make their way in a truly cosmopolitian game.
“If you go back to when I was playing for the under-21s, most of the players were playing for their first team. I definitely was [with Nottingham Forest]. There was Duncan Ferguson, Paul Lambert, Alex Rae, Gerry Creaney and Alec Cleland and the like. My memory of that particular time was that you didn’t get in the under-21 squad unless you were playing for your first team. That gives an indication of the extra hurdles today’s generation face.
“Whether we like it or not, it’s happening [that they are losing out against overseas players]. The example in my head, Callum Paterson, got injured for Hearts. Liam Smith was recalled by Hearts who still signed a Slovenian international full-back [Andraž Struna]. That wouldn’t have happened in 1991or the chances of it happening would have been much slimmer, so that is why it is harder for our players.”
Harper is a case in point. The 20-year-old was a cause celebre in Scottish football not so very long ago. All because the midfielder was on the books of Real Madrid but the then Scotland under-19s coach Ricky Sbragia chose not to select him for a squad because he considered the youngster a “luxury”.
No-one has worried about Harper, who has struggled with injury, missing out on Scotland selection in the two years since with the player having failed to make an impression at Brighton ahead of a January transfer move to Malaga where he has been playing and scoring for the club’s B side.
“Jack’s a good example of a player who has taken his chance to go and play some games,” Gemmill said.
“I went to watch Jack play. He played very well. He’s keen to take his opportunity and I think if you spoke to all the players they would all recognise the importance of this level and this game and trying to take the oportunity to propel them to the full squad.”
Gemmill sees improving the players as more important than wins, which explains his willingness to take risks with his squads in terms of making wholesale changes and giving uncapped players the platform to prove themselves.
Scotland under-21s haven’t won a game in the past year but Gemmill, appointed to his post last September, can live with any flak that such poor form will bring.
“I still have to be brave about that. It’s not about me, it’s about the players and Scotland under-21s trying to develop as many players who will go onto play for the national team,” he insisted.
“Some people might question that but I don’t think about the issue from a selfish point of view, I really don’t.”