Why Scottish football is quietly good for international prospects
In typically Scottish fashion we tend to focus on the negatives, with some speculating that Sinclair’s dreams may be dashed because he plays in Scotland. We should try looking at it from the other angle. Playing in Scotland may ultimately be a factor in the 27-year-old not getting a game for England. But do you know what? There wouldn’t even be a conversation if he wasn’t north of the border.
Sinclair has never been capped for England, even when he was at the height of his career with Swansea in the English Premier League. That form propelled him on to a big money move to Manchester City, and still he never forced his way into the national set-up.
Prior to joining Celtic last summer, his career was on the decline. He’d just been relegated with a dreadfully poor Aston Villa side, of which Sinclair wasn’t even one of the star performers. If he hadn’t made the move north, what would the chances have been that people were talking about him in connection with a place in the England squad? It’s because his confidence is back, he’s playing well, and that’s carried over into his Champions League exploits, which carries a lot of weight with observers down south.
Playing in the Champions League can be huge for a footballer’s career trajectory. The standard of the Scottish league alone probably won’t be enough to garner serious international recognition, but a footballer only needs to have two or three good games in the Champions League and suddenly their reputation goes through the roof.
Moussa Dembele is a prime example. He’d still have some of the big clubs sniffing about based on his domestic form alone, seeing as they were interested before Celtic snatched him up anyway, but there wouldn’t be talk of a £20million-plus transfer fee were it not for his performances against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.
It goes for other players as well. The question was always asked of Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk: was playing in Scotland hampering their chances? Their modest careers before Celtic weren’t taken into consideration. Forster was a reserve at Newcastle and Van Dijk had played two seasons in the Dutch league with Groningen. While, ultimately, excelling in Scottish football wasn’t enough to have them propelled into a starting place in their respective national sides, it was enough to get them their first caps and certainly improved their standing in the international set-up.
There’s also the stepping stone factor. It’s often related to foreign players, but it can do the same for English talents as well. Instead of slowly climbing the English league structure, going through gruelling 46-game seasons against another 23 teams packed with players who have the same hopes and dreams, they can come up to Scotland and be noticed much quicker. Gary Hooper moved to the English Premier League from Scunthorpe after his stay with Celtic, while Marley Watkins jumped three leagues, before making to the Championship a year later, thanks to his two years with Inverness CT.
There will be players who’s international careers were hampered by playing in Scotland, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the phrase that comes to mind, and certainly applied to Steve McManaman when he was playing some of the best football of his career and winning two European Cups with Real Madrid, and yet couldn’t get near an England starting XI. And because it’s a cheaper market, if talent spotters rate Scottish-based players highly enough to consider them international class, then chances are they’ll be soon whisked away by the big clubs anyway.
If Sinclair fails to push himself into the England set-up it’ll be because he’s not quite got the talent to succeed at that level, and not because Scottish football is holding him back.