SCOTLAND had a long time to dream about how their first major international tournament in 23 years would go. Steve Clarke’s men, having qualified for Euro 2020, had high hopes of using home advantage at Hampden Park to make it out of the group stage only for one point from three matches (and two defeats at home) to leave them bottom of Group D.
While Scotland certainly didn’t embarrass themselves over the summer (their performance in the goalless draw against England at Wembley demonstrated the true ability within Clarke’s squad), it’s now clear in retrospect they underperformed. They are a lot better than they showed at Euro 2020.
And so with Scotland no longer tasked with merely qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in over two decades, they must now work on a plan to actually impose themselves at them, starting with the 2022 World Cup. There can be no more excuses – this is a country producing world class talent once again.
Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney are two of the finest full backs in the Premier League. Robertson in particular, as a Premier League and Champions League winner, has experience of competing at the elite level of the game. While the pair play in the same position, Clarke has found a system to harness them both, with Tierney given the freedom to charge forward from his left centre back position.
" Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson form a very good partnership for Scotland and we know they have got some very good players"
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 17, 2021
Scott McTominay is another who is accustomed to playing at the highest level with Stuart Armstrong, Che Adams and John McGinn also standout performers in the Premier League. Then there’s Billy Gilmour, the 20-year-old midfield metronome who produced a Man of the Match performance against England at Euro 2020.
It’s players like Gilmour who represent the future for Scotland. They need players not only with the technical ability, but with the mindset to control matches. Gilmour, considered one of Chelsea’s brightest prospects, has this. First team football on loan at Norwich City this season will accelerate the 20-year-old’s development and Clarke must build around him for Scotland.
Nathan Patterson is another who must be integrated into the Scotland team as quickly as possible. While the Rangers right back is missing from the squad to face Denmark, Moldova and Austria this week and next due to Covid-19 self-isolation, he is already the best right back at his country’s disposal.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) August 24, 2021
Patterson isn’t yet a first team pick at club level, but the interest shown in the 19-year-old from the Premier League this summer (Everton had two bids rejected) underlines his potential. Patterson can fill an area of the squad that has been a deficiency for Scotland since Alan Hutton faded from the picture.
Clarke has given Scotland the structural integrity to be competitive in every match they play. This was evident in the performances they produced against Czech Republic, England and Croatia. However, those performances also demonstrated a lack of guile and cutting edge that prevented Scotland from going any further.
Through the likes of Gilmour, Adams, Armstrong, McGinn Lyndon Dykes, Ryan Christie and others, Scotland must adopt a more expansive style. This isn’t to say they should go all-out attack in every game they play, but Clarke must afford his players the freedom to make more of a mark in the final third.
Unfortunately for Scotland, they don't currently possess a top level goalscorer to lead the line, but this is the case for many international teams that still manage to impose themselves and take chances. Qualification for a major tournament was an achievement in itself for Scotland, but Euro 2020 must prove to be the start of an even greater process.