John Collins and Gordon Smith call on youth to end malaise in Scottish football
Can Scotland ever compete at the top level? Our experts told us what has to be done...
Last Updated: 27/03/13 12:27pm
That's the question posed on Sky Sports News HD in the aftermath of Scotland's defeat to Serbia which saw them eliminated from the 2014 World Cup with four games of their qualifying group left.
Former Scotland international John Collins and former SFA Chief Executive Gordon Smith have the future of the national team at heart and investigated the current and future challenges for the sport...
The on-pitch concerns facing Scottish football
COLLINS: Anybody who has watched all the games will see we've competed in periods of the games, but we've never dominated a game or got hold of the ball and made teams chase the ball. You need good football players throughout the team to be able to do that and in this campaign we've had a lot of injuries and some bad luck and some bad decisions have gone against us. But we're not going to make excuses. The bottom line is we haven't been good enough to compete at the top end of this group and results have proved that.
SMITH: In days gone by when myself and John went down to play in England a lot of the big teams had Scottish players and there was a Scottish backbone for major clubs. That disappeared for a while. There was a spell when there was hardly a Scottish player from the Premier League and Darren Fletcher at Manchester United was the only one getting a Scottish cap. However, I would say there are more playing in the Premier League than we've had for some time.
The off-pitch problems for Scottish football
COLLINS: There's lots of smaller clubs struggling to pay the bills at the end of the month. The crowds are down, but bills stay the same or go up. It's really tough and I feel for all the boards of directors who are struggling to keep the small clubs going and we've got to try and keep as many full-time clubs as possible because if teams like Dunfermline go out of business, that's 50 full-time players that aren't going to be on the scene and there's less places for young players to go and get started playing full-time football. It's not looking good at this time at all.
SMITH: Scottish football is at a low. In recent years, Rangers and Celtic have been far bigger than Scottish football so to speak because they're playing in Europe and playing in front of far bigger crowds than the others. Now one of them is playing in the third division because of a financial scenario and liquidation. What you've got is the same club, but a new business and that might happen to Dunfermline as well if they don't get permission to go into administration. Things are bad.
The impact of the coefficient factor on Scotland's hopes
COLLINS: As years go by it becomes more difficult. Why? We're in Pot Four for this group stage so we're getting tougher groups. The present players are being drawn in even harder groups so it becomes even more difficult and it's a Catch 22 situation. In recent campaigns we've got off to poor starts and then the pressure is on and it's difficult. No doubt we will get a tough draw for the next European Championships, but fingers crossed we start the campaign well and get that elusive first win and get some confidence back. Sadly the confidence has been lacking and anybody who has played the game at a high level knows confidence is such a big thing.
SMITH: The ranking wouldn't matter too much if Scotland started to put together a good team. It's true, but the coefficient factor means you have a lot of good teams in front of you and a lot of good teams in your group. Because results have been poor and we have dropped down a level, we might even be in Pot Five for the European Championships, albeit there will be 24 teams qualifying.
The immediate challenge for Gordon Strachan
SMITH: The World Cup campaign was over and that's the basis why Craig Levein lost his job. What happens now is that Gordon Strachan has to use this World Cup campaign, albeit in a terrible time for Scotland, to build a new team for the European Championships. What might help Scotland a little bit is that there's going to be 24 teams playing in the European Championships coming up in 2016 so he's got time to build a team. There are a lot of better players about just now who need a bit more experience at international level and that's what Gordon Strachan has to do. First and foremost he's got to determine who are international class players and pick the best ones to compete at that level again.
COLLINS: The last thing we want is to be out of the tournament so early, but we got off to such a bad start and in the first two home games we couldn't get a win. That put pressure on the players and manager straight away and the bottom line is we haven't been good enough. There was plenty of effort and commitment, but technically we're off the top four teams in the group. Gordon has taken over at a terrible time really. At the weekend his midfield was all out injured and Fletcher went off. Against Serbia it was a makeshift team against a side that beat Wales 6-1.
The long-term challenge for Scottish football
COLLINS: We're not good enough at this moment in time, but we have to look further down the ladder at the younger players. That's where the real work's got to get done in the coming years. It has started with the SFA's performance schools and we've started that with the 12-year-olds on a daily basis, working on the skills and the technical aspect of the game where we've fallen short. It's going to take time and patience - nobody has got a magic wand - but a lot of hard work at the grassroots level has got to be done.
SMITH: I agree with John. When I was at the SFA, there was a lot already happening in terms of youth development. We need more kids playing the game and there are more teams getting developed and more teams coming into football. We have got a negative side of the game right now, but we have got to try to be positive. The only way we can do that is by developing younger players; we want athleticism back in the game among youngsters and we certainly want technical players and a good, strong mentality. The people that are taking youth teams have to bring that about. Although Scottish football is on a low at the moment in terms of the financial aspect for professional clubs, let's hope the youth development is going to bring Scottish football back up to a good level.