SPL

McLeish's Scotland Reboot Must Be Led By Youth

 • by Stefan Bienkowski
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Alex McLeish’s first test as Scotland coach isn’t really a test at all. In the quick-paced world of football, very few things rank lower than an international friendly.

On Friday, Scotland and their new coach welcome Costa Rica to Hampden in a game that very few outside of the respective countries will have any interest in whatsoever.

However, there is a great deal for the Tartan Army to get excited about and for McLeish it undoubtedly poses the very first opportunity for him to not only show that he’s ready to step up to the task, but is willing to put forward a team that excites the home support.

Although the match will have little bearing on just about anything in the grand scheme of things, it should gently nudge fans in the direction of where the second-time coach wants to take the squad of players that he’s called up. 

For instance, the defence McLeish puts out against the Costa Ricans will most likely lead to a huge amount of debate among fans. With a number of big names already being overlooked for younger, inexperienced heads.

Perhaps the most potent question is “Who starts at left-back for Scotland?”

While Andy Robertson may be the darling of the English Premier League this season, the Scottish Premiership have their own left-back dynamo in Celtic’s  Kieran Tierney.

Finding a way to squeeze both of them in to the same team has been a conversation overheard in every pub across Scotland for the past six months.

Tierney is undoubtedly the most adaptable of the two, having played on the right for Scotland before and as a central defender for Celtic too. He will most likely be asked to do the same again to ensure Robertson is able to retain his left-back slot.

However, with the ever-impressive Callum Paterson making waves at Cardiff City, McLeish may then be tempted to keep Tierney in a central position and allow the former Hearts full-back and Robertson to bomb down either flank.

This may also lead to the new manager moving towards a back three. One of the more notable aspects of his recent call-ups was the sheer number of young central defenders.

Alongside the more experienced Charlie Mulgrew and Grant Hanley, the Scotland manager turned to Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna’s and Celtic’s Jack Hendry.

Knowing fine well what both Mulgrew and Hanley can do at international level, McLeish ought to be encouraged by the progress both Hendry and McKenna have made this season and could be tempted to move towards a back three, allowing him to not only play both alongside Tierney but also push Robertson and Patterson out as proper wing-backs.

The Scotland boss also faces a similar clean slate in midfield. With Scott Brown’s recent retirement and a bold decision to not recall Darren Fletcher, the former Rangers boss essentially has three midfield spots that could be filled be a number of players.

A late injury to Hibernian’s Dylan McGeouch robs Scotland fans of enjoying one of the Premiership’s most improved players this season, but they’ll undoubtedly still get to enjoy the continued development and improvement of his Easter Road partner in crime, John McGinn.

The central midfielder has long been touted as a replacement for Scott Brown – or at the very least a firm call-back to what Brown once was when he too played at Hibs – as well as a future, regular Scotland international.

With constant links to Celtic, it seems almost inevitable that McGinn will not only move on to bigger things this summer, but will also be at the very heart of McLeish’s plans for the next four or five years. 

The 23-year-old isn’t the only promising midfielder to finally get his Scotland call. Manchester United’s Scott McTominay ought to be employed alongside McGinn as a steadfast midfielder enforcer in a similar mould to his Man Utd and Scotland predecessor, Fletcher.

While one of Celtic’s two, enticing No.10s, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong, will be expected to fill the third midfield spot.

Due to an injury to chief goalscorer, Leigh Griffiths, McLeish had further freedom to get a little experimental with his forward line. Rangers’ on-loan pairing of Jamie Murphy and Jason Cummings offer smart options for the left and centre positions respectively, while Ryan Christie will be hoping to stake a claim to Scotland’s right wing.

Yet, all three will have to contend with competition from Premier League talents like Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie, as well as Fulham’s Tom Cairney.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of any future Scotland front line will be the inclusion of Oliver McBurnie. The young striker is currently firing in the goals in the Championship for Barnsley and looks like a future Premier League goalscorer in the making.

Which would put him front and centre for any future Scotland squads. With his first senior cap beckoning, we await to see what he and this squad of young, promising players can do on Friday.

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