MAYBE Scotland simply used up all their dependable goalscorers. Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish, Ally McCoist, Lawrie Reilly – the grand catalogue of great forwards to have played the game counts many Tartan inclusions, although the volume has been closed for a while now. Along with jute and gigantic, seafaring vessels, the free scoring striker goes down as something Scotland no longer produces for the world.
It’s an issue Gordon Strachan has surely pondered and rued, given the national team’s struggle for goals over the course of their Euro 2016 qualification campaign. Excluding the free-throw taken against Gibraltar, Scotland have scored just eight goals in as many games – with their attacking deficiencies brutally exposed in the dismal defeat by Georgia this month, where not even one shot on goal was registered.
For those critical of Strachan, Scotland’s goalscoring problems are all the more exasperating due to the attacking options being continually overlooked by the national coach. No excluded players make a stronger case than Ross McCormack and Jordan Rhodes – who both find themselves in good form in the English Championship for their respective clubs, Fulham and Blackburn.
In McCormack and Rhodes, Scotland have two strikers worth around £20 million – and yet Strachan can still find no space for either in his squad. But is this simply a case of typical English football inflation – the kind that recently saw an unproven French teenager join Manchester United for £36 million – or are they really worth the money they have passed between clubs for?
“I watch Jordan Rhodes very regularly,” says former Scotland striker Kevin Gallacher. “This season, his form hasn’t been what it was – but Jordan is a goalscorer.” Indeed, the Blackburn striker is yet to find his best form this season, although with five goals in his last four outings – taking his tally to 77 league goals in 141 games for Rovers – the 25-year-old is beginning to find his groove.
“We once had a goalscorer in the national team called Kris Boyd and they are very similar styles of player,” continues Gallacher, who scored nine goals in 53 outings for Scotland. “The difference between Kris Boyd, Jordan Rhodes and someone like Steven Fletcher is that Steven Fletcher holds the ball up and brings people into play. Although Jordan is trying to add that little bit extra to his game.”
After starting the season slowly Rhodes has now seemingly found his form, with McCormack also hitting his stride – notching six in five games. Eyebrows were raised when Fulham parted with £12 million to snatch the former Motherwell and Rangers striker from Leeds United last summer, but McCormack has so far appeared comfortable bearing the hefty burden of his weighty price tag – netting 20 times in 47 outings for the Craven Cottage club, including a double in Friday’s 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers.
All those numbers and figures – no matter how impressive – seemingly mean little to Strachan, though. The Scotland coach is a creature of stubbornness and habit, apparently steadfast in his insistence on a 4-2-3-1 formation. In such a system, Strachan believes there to be no natural spot for either McCormack or Rhodes.
Against Georgia, however, Scotland could certainly have used a natural finisher. Even when faced with world champions Germany, Fletcher was presented with a handful of half-chances a more merciless frontman would have tucked away. Although he would never admit so, Strachan must have had cause to reflect on the absence of a more natural goalscorer from his squad at some point over the course of the September double header.
“There are always roles for goalscorers,” says Gallacher, himself a prolific goalscorer in teh English top flight for the best part of a decade. “In today’s system, whether it’s Steven Fletcher or Steven Naismith, it’s a very tall order to ask them to play the role as the lone striker and score the goals as well. Where I think Jordan could be of value is on the bench where, if a game is tight, he could be thrown on to take an opportunity. Jordan’s goalscoring record for the last four or five seasons is absolutely phenomenal. Last season he didn’t have the best of seasons but he still got 21 goals. There should always be a space for goalscorers – even if it’s not in the starting line-up.”
Both Fulham and Blackburn have endured difficult starts to the 2015/16 campaign – with Rovers only just claiming their first win of the season against Charlton last Saturday. Nonetheless, McCormack and Rhodes have both put on a show over the past few weeks to remind us all of what Scotland is missing out on. Strachan has some thinking to do ahead of next month’s crucial qualifiers against Poland and Gibraltar.
With every major tournament that passes by, Craig Brown’s eight-year reign starts to shimmer a little brighter – like some sort of golden era, even if it didn’t feel so at the time. But perhaps Scotland don’t have it so bad after all. Maybe some are too quick to denounce the national team’s attacking variety.
“I genuinely think the options we have now are very similar to when I was playing,” Gallacher claims. “Apart from Ally McCoist, we never really had a striker who scored goals for the national team on a real regular basis. Scotland have only ever had one of those every decade, and at the moment we’re on a similar sort of par.”
However, with McCormack and Rhodes once again showing signs of their best form, the Scottish No.9 – an otherwise rare breed – might be set for a revival.