With the announcement of Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad for the upcoming games against Georgia and Germany, the nation once again begins its quarrel over who merited a call-up, and who didn’t.
The midfield has been filled with top players for years and with a couple of predatory strikers to choose from, the main concern among fans inevitably tends be about who should form the back four.
For too long, Scotland have had problems producing top class defenders to shore up the back line and protect what has conversely been a good generation of goalkeepers.
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You’d have to look back to the likes of Davie Weir and Tom Boyd for the most recent top quality Scottish defenders. Considering they are both long retired, it really hits home that Scotland need that generational rejuvenation in order to ease the blood pressure of the ever anxious tartan army.
It’s true that performances and results under saviour Gordon Strachan have been massively improved; the problem is that most managers of his stature don’t hang about on the international scene for too long, especially as the boss of Scotland. Once wee Gord moves on, will we be able to attract a manager as accomplished as him?
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Without taking away from the results so far, Scotland have still conceded a total of six goals in six games, more than rivals Germany, Poland and Ireland. They also have the accolade of being the only team to have conceded to Gibraltar in a competitive match when the British exclave equalised at Hampden in March this year.
It seems logical to conclude that the main weakness is in defence. Many of the recent crop of defenders spend their career floating between the Championship and the EPL but are ultimately just below the standard required to compete consistently at the top level.
Of the squad announced yesterday, Alex Neill is currently getting the best out of Russel Martin and Steven Whittaker at Norwich in the EPL. However, at 29 and 31 respectively, they have both had plenty of time before now to cement their place as distinctly average players.
Alan Hutton is another unreliable full-back who, in one game can produce Messi-esque runs down the flank, and in the next, trip over a blade of grass trying it again. The ex-ger has been in and out of the Aston Villa team for years but is currently back out under Tim Sherwood having not managed a single minute of first team action this term so far.
To compliment these three is the uninspiring collection of Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Gordon Greer (Brighton & Hove Albion) and to a lesser extent, Craig Forsyth (Derby County). It's worth mentioning that Celtic's Charlie Mulgrew, 29, deserves his call up and is a valuable asset due to his versatility.
Some younger Championship defenders, such as Hull’s Andrew Robertson, 21, and Blackburn captain Grant Hanley, 23, are the exception; there’s no doubt they have clear ability and will be playing regularly in the EPL in time.
Examples of players waiting in the wings include Hearts’ 20-year-old right-back Callum Paterson. The young jambo has been tipped for future stardom and seems a ready-made replacement for Hutton. Another is Graeme Shinnie, 24, who has been hailed as the SPL's best left-back and has hit the ground running at Aberdeen after several fruitful seasons with Inverness.
Rangers fans would also argue for the inclusion of 23-year-old Danny Wilson, who may well have been in the squad if not for his decision to step down a level after his move from Hearts. Though none of these three are currently playing at the highest level, few could argue that they would be capable of doing so.
With several quality young players itching to get their chance for Scotland, it would be possible to have a defence with an average age of under 24 if Strachan was brave enough to give them a chance. There’s nothing detrimental about having a mixture of youth and experience. However, if experience is favoured over ability, Scotland will be forever stuck in the painful loop of glorious failure.
What do you think? Is Scotland’s defence weak? Could it be strengthened by dropping some of the more established defenders?
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