Date: 25th June 2021
The Euros for Scotland have come, gone, and can be just about summed up as progress.
But there are more questions than answers.
We may have qualified via a back door penalty save but these Euros could yet prove to be a turning point for our game and our future teams.
If those who have the power to make a difference care enough to do so.
It really all depends how those entrusted with our game react and facilitate the changes that need to happen.
And maybe Uefa too will learn some lessons and instigate changes for the good.
None of what needs to be actioned by us as a nation or by Sandy Ceferin and his Uefa, money focussed team, is rocket science, just common sense, and a desire to work for the good of all stakeholders.
That takes leadership and needs balls.
Not Good Enough
1. The League Tables
2. Developing Elite Talent
3. 24 into 16
4. Our Covid Protocols
5. Away Goals Demise
6. Cinch Up Again
7. Thank You Stevie
1. Sport is Ruthless
Scotland came bottom of our group with 1 point, 1 goal scored and 5 conceded.
Yes we were a little unlucky against the Czechs, yes we played well against England and yes were surprised a little by a very good Croatia.
Despite what Tam and Stuart hoped and said Modric is still at the very top of his game and Croatia are a fine side.
Before the competition we had actually been given a 57% chance of qualifying by some bookie’s super-computer.
i.e., a little better than even odds to qualify.
Had we beaten Croatia it might have been us to play vs the Netherlands in Budapest on Sunday at 5 as third in our group.
But the league table doesn’t lie, and we can have no complaints.
C’est la Vie.
At least we didn’t snatch ‘defeat from the jaws of victory’ like we have done in the past.
The facts will show we came in as the 21st ranked Fifa football side out of the 24 competing and our population made us the 19th biggest so we were always a long shot.
Neither of the two sides ranked below us, Finland and North Macedonia qualified.
However, Croatia with a smaller population of 4.1M and Wales with 3.2M are still in there.
Population size does matter in football but there is more to it than that.
The lack of citizens didn’t stop Ireland, Croatia, Wales, Norway, or Iceland, an island with a population roughly the same as Aberdeen, outperforming us previously!
What the hard fact that we’re out at the first hurdle doesn’t show is just how much we have improved in the last couple of years.
We have the best group of young players we have seen for a generation, playing at the top level in the world’s best league, and an experienced manager who can be trusted.
After 23 years in the wilderness we got a lucky break to be there this time.
We now have to think about what needs to be done to propel us on to the world stage more often.
That means relearning how to punch above our weight again and again.
Our days of developing ‘tanner-ba’ players or using physicality and sheer hard work to muscle success have gone and won’t come back.
We have to learn how to do things better.
A good starting point might be the famous scientist Ernest Rutherford who reportedly said, when tasked with an equally impossible yet similar challenge, “We don’t have much money so we’ll have to think”.
We can’t buy in players but we can learn from the best countries and start to grow our own again.
History shows we are no longer good at that.
Our game is dominated by short term-ism and it, the need for instant results has us by the short and curlies.
Self-interest has painted us into a corner where vision and common sense for change is treated like heresy at the time of reformation.
The Euros have now demonstrated just how much our nation can get behind our sport when given the chance.
We all know just how positive the game can be for the nation.
It is also a fact that every single player those already out like us and those still in the tournament started playing locally at the very bottom possibly with volunteer help or at his school.
Young people playing football are a conveyor belt for our elite teams and also future fans for life.
We’re not especially good with young players.
2. Developing Elite Talent
Billy Gilmour lit-up Wembley last Friday.
Just 20 he is a product of his dad in the back garden, many unsung local volunteers and enthusiasts in the Ardrossan area, then Grange Academy Kilmarnock, a Scottish Football Association performance school whose roots like others were in the McLeish Report 2 but where funding is now uncertain.
Gilmour was a shiny-bright prospect and picked up by the Rangers Academy who quickly recognised he was a real and rare talent.
But despite being fast tracked towards early 1st team football young Billy chose to relocate himself to the Chelsea Academy, which is reputed to be the best in the business, in 2017.
(There are parallels with the young Andy Murray who decided to pay his own way in Spain rather than follow the SLTA programme in the UK).
Big thinking and talented.
Where do Billy Gilmours come from?
Every now and then a talent like Billy will appear but our challenge as a nation is to maximise the number and to nurture them.
To do that we need more kids playing.
That means more and better facilities and that means in turn political support for the needed changes.
We need joined up thinking that uses and improves local resources, combines opportunities with volunteer input and welcomes all kids early on.
That’s good for the health of the population but we need to go further that just playing – we then need to get them playing in the right way.
For that we need intelligent coaching and somehow amongst all this, we need to identify and nurture the best kids.
Our clubs only want the best players because development costs money.
Many watching how the clubs manage their inflow of youngsters think our current elite system actually damages kids who then lose interest in the sport.
It does this because having hyped them up it then drops the vast majority of them from a great height and tells them they are not good enough.
Developing talent for the future should be top of the agenda at the SFA and the Scottish government should be involved to ensure common good prevails above self interest.
Without fundamental change we wont get better at growing more Billy Gilmours.
Yes we might hold the current squad together for a few years and we might even make another finals or two but the reality will be we’ll soon be back to same old – same old.
3. 32 : 12 Vision
I don’t know which of Uefa’s Sandy Ceferin’s team decided to increase the number of teams from 16 to 24 but it led to confusion, drama and unfairness.
There was actually only one ‘dead rubber’ 3rd round game, between the Dutchies and North Macedonia.
Yes, that was all exciting, but this tournament could easily have dealt with 8 more teams for 8 groups of four with 2 qualifying for the knock out stages.
Missing teams like Norway, previous winners Greece, Iceland, Romania, Bulgaria, and others would have been worthy competitors.
And we all know the real competition only starts when the round of 16 kicks in after the three warm up group games.
Maybe one day we’ll be there especially if we address grass roots and elite pathway opportunities.
And I like having 12 cities as hosts and think that is an improvement that could work for the world cup too.
4. Failing Covid Protocols!
Tell Us Why
Whatever they are/were they didn’t work for Billy and his 2 Chelsea mates, but they did succeed at getting us, the SFSA on to BBC World news.
Billy must have been infected while in an SFA bubble.
We’re now out, we’ve all moved on and questions that should have been asked have now become old news and probably never will get asked, but they should be.
Listening to BBC Scotland yesterday I smiled several times when Neil Lennon and Ian Maxwell of the SFA crossed swords on matters Covid.
The argument went nowhere because Lenny is still angry at the criticism they got for their Dubai trip and I daresay the Ryan Christie imposed isolation after an SFA trip that kept him out a match longer than Kieran Tierney rankled him as well.
Maxie defensively fought his corner well but for me it was all too little and too late.
Anyway the other day Calum Tully a BBC journalist got in touch with the SFSA and asked if we’d answer a couple of questions on Reeta Chakrabarti’s afternoon world news show.
The questions were, what did fans think about the absence of Billy for such an important game? and also the bigger question of how Covid got into our camp?
I answered both and for me the real questions remain.
How did Billy contract covid while under the care of the SFA?
Which country or venue is next in a tournament where financial pressures are still determining what should be health related decision making?
This week political pressure has seen Boris in London agree to all the financially-driven Uefa criteria for their sponsors, politicians etc. getting quarantine-free access to both the country and Wembley.
It seems that politicians and people running football are choosing to ignore the fact that the virus simply gets on with its job and cuts through the crap.
Yes there might be full houses at Budapest and 60,000 allowed at Wembley but in a week when the SFA protocols have been proven to have failed to protect one of our players then the reality is that politicians words and hopes offer no protection.
I have a sneaky feeling that these Euros have not heard or seen the last of Covid 19.
5. ‘Unfair Rule Abolished’
This week after some 56 years the ‘away goals rule’ has been binned for all European games.
In a simple move 2 leg matches with the same aggregate scores will not double the value of away goals but instead progress to extra time and then penalties.
I am pleased because it means teams can play more open football especially and contrarily at home where losing no goals almost becomes the objective.
6. SPFL Boosts Cinch
In two weeks since announcing their SPFL link up as Leagues Sponsor Cinch have seen the number of cars for sale increase from 3092 to 3097 to 3191.
That is a 3% rise in 15 days which over a year would be 73%.
A Cinch Spokesperson said he wasn’t actually sure if the rise was down to the English Women’s Cricket link or the Scottish Leagues but that if you want ‘Cars without the Faff from Arbroath to Abertarff’ then Cinch is the place to go.
7. Well Done Gaffer
Thanks for the unfussy, honest, and logical approach to everything connected with managing our boys.
You have the best squad we’ve had as a nation for a long time, and we can all see the team spirit starting to flourish.
To paraphrase a wee line that Ali Smith wrote for me for a Bank of Scotland advert in the early 90s.
As always feel free to contact me about anything in Scottish Football.
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