National Football

Ten Players Scotland Must Build Their Future Around

 • by Frank Smith
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Scotland revived their hopes of qualification for the 2018 World Cup with a last-gasp 1-0 home win over Slovenia at Hampden Park on Sunday.

In what was one of the strongest team performances of Gordon Strachan’s managerial reign, a late winner from substitute Chris Martin secured all three points.

But, more than the epic finish, it was the individual displays of two exciting young talents that stood out.

Celtic duo Kieran Tierney and Stuart Armstrong were Scotland’s best players on the night – the former consummately filled in at right-back while the latter set up the goal.

The pairing are part of a large group of players who are either youthful prospects or relatively inexperienced at international level who can have an important role in the national team’s future.

Here, Football Whispers looks at ten talents – including Tierney and Armstrong – who Scotland must build their future around.

STUART ARMSTRONG

The man of the match in the win over Slovenia, Armstrong didn’t appear fazed whatsoever by the fact it was his international debut.

For many, it had taken far too long for Strachan to acknowledge the 24-year-old’s quality – the midfielder has been a consistently positive performer in the Scottish top flight for more than five years.

This season Armstrong has taken his game to another level, thanks primarily to the tactical guidance of Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers.

With his refined touch, intelligent forward runs and quick feet the Hoops star could become the schemer Scotland need to connect attacks.

LIAM BRIDCUTT

The oldest player on this list at 27 years of age, Liam Bridcutt’s inclusion may surprise some. He moved beyond prospect status many years ago and hasn’t added to the two Scotland caps he won four years ago.

However, Bridcutt is recognised as one of the finest defensive midfielders in the English Championship, where he has plied his trade for much of his career.

He is now captain of promotion chasers Leeds United, and his dogged defensive work and tidy passing could be of real value to Scotland as 31-year-old Scott Brown and 33-year-old Darren Fletcher’s careers wind down.

OLIVER BURKE

Oliver Burke’s decision to join newly promoted German Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig in a £13 million deal at the beginning of this campaign came under some scrutiny.

Former Celtic striker John Hartson said: “The Premier League is the place to be. I thought that was the next step for him… What about a Burnley or a Sunderland or a West Brom? It’s only my opinion but I think he is good enough for the Premier League.”

However, with Leipzig sitting second in the Bundesliga, Burke’s move looks wiser by the week.

He is learning from one of the most respected minds on the continent, Ralph Hassenhuttl. He is playing in a rich tactical environment where he must learn to marry his physical and athletic attributes with intelligent movement and decision-making. And he is gaining an appreciation for all phases of play.

At just 19 Burke has four caps for Scotland. And, able to play in almost any forward position, he could soon be called upon to lead his country’s attack.

Read more: The rise of Oliver Burke 

TOM CAIRNEY

In 2016/17, Tom Cairney has asserted himself as one of the best players in English football outside of the Premier League.

He has scored and set up nine goals apiece, having a direct hand in over 27 per cent of Fulham’s league goals as the London club chase a play-off spot. Considering he is an attacking midfielder, that statistic looks all the more remarkable.

At 26 Cairney is a player for the present and the future. And, having impressed on his international debut in the recent friendly against Canada, he is ready to play an immediate role for Strachan’s Scotland side.

LIAM COOPER

After an injury to Grant Hanley, Liam Cooper was once again called into the Scotland squad for the recent international break.

However, once again, the Leeds centre-back failed to get any time on the pitch. It’s a strange situation, especially considering the quality of the player who, at 25 years old, could be a long-term answer to the country’s central defensive problems.

Composed in possession and with a fine left foot, Cooper is a capable distributor of the ball. And, more importantly, he is a solid defender.

While he doesn’t play regularly at club level, this is only due to the presence of an exceptional pairing of Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson. It’s time for Strachan to give Cooper a chance.

RYAN FRASER

As Bournemouth raced into a 3-0 lead at home to Arsenal in early January, Scottish football fans were particularly enthused by the performance of Ryan Fraser.

The 23-year-old winger, who was born and raised in Aberdeen, was outstanding that night, offering enough evidence to suggest he can play a part for the national team.

Having excelled while on loan at Ipswich Town in the Championship last term, Fraser has become a frequent starter for the Cherries in their bid to survive in the Premier League

His raw pace, energy and intensity make him a difficult prospect for opposition full-backs. With ten under-21 caps to his name, he deserves an opportunity to make the international step up.

Bournemouth midfielder Ryan Fraser

ANDREW ROBERTSON

Scotland are well stocked for left-backs present so it speaks volumes Andrew Robertson looks set to be first choice.

The 23-year-old’s rise has been rapid. In five years he has gone from the Scottish Third Division to the English Premier League, and has adapted quickly with each progression.

Robertson is at his best when allowed to attack the left flank, where his flying runs, speed and pinpoint crossing make him a genuine offensive threat.

Thanks to those traits he could keep hold of the left-sided berth at international level despite competition from Tierney, Graeme Shinnie and Lee Wallace.

JOHN SOUTTAR

Prior to rupturing his Achilles, an injury that ruled him out for the rest of this season, John Souttar was beginning to show signs of his quality.

The Hearts centre-back is still only 20 years old but has been highly regarded ever since making his debut for Dundee United at 16.

After years of inconsistency and doubt over his defensive fundamentals, he seems to be on the right track to fulfilling his immense potential.

Souttar is a sound passer with composure on the ball and efficient close control. His decision-making is also maturing and, with Hearts manager Ian Cathro intent on building possession from the back, his qualities will be showcased in the coming years.

KIERAN TIERNEY

Rumour has it that Celtic star Kieran Tierney is an Arsenal and Manchester United transfer target. Such news will be no surprise to those who have studied the full-back in recent seasons.

While Robertson occupies the left-back role for Scotland, many believe Tierney to be the superior talent.

At just 19 he possesses a tactical maturity and work ethic most other players cannot match, while his dribbling, passing and tackling mean he is already an extraordinarily rounded player for his position.

Whether he plays at left-back or right-back – as he did in the win over Slovenia – or higher up on one of the flanks, the Celtic youngster is set for a long career at international level.

Celtic youngster Kieran Tierney celebrates

JAMIE WALKER

On the face of it, Jamie Walker’s lack of involvement at international level for Scotland is puzzling.

The 23-year-old has been one of Hearts’ most important players in recent years and this season has ramped up his attacking output by scoring 15 goals and assisting for a further seven in 35 appearances.

He is one of the most productive attacking midfielders in the Scottish top flight, but is unfortunately hampered by sheer quantity of other players competing for a place in Strachan’s squad.

Scotland have a raft of options for the attacking midfield and wide roles, some of which have been mentioned above.

However, if Walker keeps up his current form it can’t be long before he wins his first senior call-up.

Read more: The next generation of Scottish wonderkids

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