20 years of hurt – Scotland’s men’s football team extend tournament hiatus.

Credit: Ka Leung

Max Kelly
Sports Editor

Disappointment in Slovenia leaves Tartan Army searching for a new approach

Last month, Scotland men’s national team failed to beat Slovenia in Ljubljana, managing just a 2-2 draw in a must-win game. The result extended Scotland’s wait to take a place at a major competition to two decades, with the last being 1998 and this resulted in the dismissal of manager Gordon Strachan. Since Scotland last qualified for a World Cup, I have learnt how to walk, read, attended nursery, primary and secondary school as well as the first year of University. Furthermore, the last time the Tartan Army experienced a taste of a major competition, Microsoft Windows 98 and the second instalment of the Harry Potter franchise “The Chamber Of Secrets” had just been released, the Spice Girl’s Viva Forever and Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On were battling for chart supremacy and Donald Trump was quoted saying the US will have to take “drastic action” against North Korea – well, I guess some things never change.

Despite a strong end to their qualifying campaign going undefeated in their final six – a run which saw four wins and a draw against rivals England – the disappointment in Slovenia ultimately came down to a woeful start to the campaign. Gordon Strachan’s side were beaten 3-0 twice by England and Slovakia and their poor start also included a disappointing home draw with Lithuania.

Following the failure to qualify for the tournament which will be held in Russia next year, Gordon Strachan was dismissed and replaced by Malky Mackay for the interim. The decision that Strachan’s time was up was widely debated with some believing that he should have stayed on in his post due to an encouraging end to Scotland’s campaign. However, the most common opinion was that Strachan had done a good job but it was time for something different. What this “something different” is, however, remains to be seen. Numerous names have been thrown into the hat, from native Derek Mcinnes to former Italy manager Cesare Prandelli – with former England manager Sam Allardyce also being mentioned.

Nevertheless, Malky Mackay looked to be the bookie’s choice after temporarily taking charge. However, after just one game (a 1-0 defeat to the Netherlands) it was revealed that the incredibly controversial figure would not be the “something different” Scotland needed. Mackay is also currently one of five men being pursued by Cardiff City in a High Court claim over allegedly fraudulent transfers. However, he denies any wrongdoing and said that he would “respect the legal process”.

Despite failure to qualify for the World Cup and manager controversy, there are plenty of positives for Scotland fans. Despite problems at centre-back, Scotland have two very exciting full-backs in Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson. Although both play left-back, Tierney looks adept playing at right-back and the two give Scotland defensive stability as well as attacking impetus.

Scotland looked much improved with the increased inclusion of Celtic players in the squad. Goalkeeper Craig Gordon, left-back Kieran Tierney, midfielders Scott Brown, James Forrest and Stuart Armstrong and striker Leigh Griffiths all play together at a Celtic side breaking all types of domestic records. This inclusion of a Celtic “spine” has revolutionised Scotland’s play and helped with the chemistry of the side. However, Celtic players are not the only players who will be key to any future success Scotland may have and their involvement far from guarantees success with exciting non-Celtic players including Hibernian’s John McGinn and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson.
Furthermore, Scotland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup has also led for calls for wholesale redevelopment and change of the current Scottish football system. Improvement and funding in “grassroots football” as well as a demand for a focus on developing youth football in Scotland have been suggested as a way to fix Scotland’s perpetual woe.

On the other hand, more pessimistic Scotland fans have argued that the country should not expect to be at a World Cup due to a number of problems, including quality of players or lack thereof and population size. Some argue that Scotland would be punching above their weight if they were to qualify for a major tournament with countries such as Slovakia and Norway with similar populations and others such as Belarus and Austria with almost double the population also regularly missing out on attending these competitions. However, this population argument is somewhat irrelevant, although it does hold up when comparing Scotland to the best in world football such as Germany, Brazil, and France. Despite this, many countries with much smaller populations have gone to and thrived at major tournaments in Scotland’s absence – notably Wales and Iceland at Euro 2016 and Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup.

Whatever route Scotland intends to go down it will as ever be a roller coaster of hope, joy, and mainly disappointment with the unique ridiculousness of the Scottish game.