National Football

Why Scotland indebted to Rodgers and Celtic

 • by Stefan Bienkowski
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There’s not a huge amount for Scotland fans to get too excited about when it comes to the national team.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning Alex McLeish’s makeshift squad of Scottish Premiership debutants went down to a better drilled Peru. On Sunday they play Mexico in another match that’ll probably offer very little for the new manager to mull over.

However, when the squad return home and McLeish thumbs through his list of potential call ups for the far more serious Nations League campaign later this year he’ll most likely notice a pattern emerging: a number of Scotland’s best or most promising players all play for Celtic.

That perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising. Celtic are, after all, the biggest and richest club in Scotland. Like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich, they have first dibs on any players developing in their own backyard and tend to hoover them up before English – or even European – clubs are aware of them.

But we still can’t deny how much McLeish’s future squad will rely on the good work done in Glasgow by Brendan Rodgers and his own coaching team. Not only do the Scottish champions buy the best young, domestic players but, in recent years, they’ve done a superb job of turning them into senior stars as well.

Let’s consider the most likely squad that McLeish will line up with when Scotland begin their Nations League campaign against Albania on September 10.

In goal, the Scotland manager will most likely stick with Craig Gordon. Although David Marshall, Allan McGregor and Jordan Archer have all made claims lately to be the Scotland No.1, the Celtic shot-stopper has remained a consistent performer.

How do Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney compare in the battle to be Scotland left-back?

But that has only come from Celtic picking the player up after two years out of action with a horrendous knee injury. It was the Glasgow club that resigned him after traumatic spell out of the game and allowed him to become the goalkeeper that he is today.

In defence, McLeish will largely turn to players from other clubs but Kieran Tierney, subject of Manchester United transfer rumours, will undoubtedly be front and centre of whichever system Scotland use going forward.

The new manager has tended to favour a back three with wingbacks, which could mean Tierney is brought inside as a central defender while Andrew Robertson plays on the left. Or, Tierney could end up playing as a right wing-back too. Either way, McLeish will shuffle his pack until he finds a way to wedge the Celtic talent in to his defensive line.

In midfield, McLeish will once again turn to Celtic to lead the way. After former captain Scott Brown retired, we’ll most likely see both Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor feature alongside the likes of Tom Cairney or Scott McTominay.

Armstrong, already a proven international, is one of the country’s most gifted attacking midfielders and although McGregor only has three caps to his name he’ll surely also feature heavily after the tremendous season he’s just had under Rodgers.

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Similarly, Scotland’s front line will most likely be spearheaded by Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths – another player that has got his career back on track after an abject spell in England – while James Forrest should be expected to run the right wing for McLeish’s team as he has done for Rodgers’ for the past 12 months.

In total, that’s six players who could be regular starters for McLeish in just a few months time. And yet there are still a few more that may be knocking on the door as they develop at Celtic next season.

After a number of years struggling to pull two decent central defenders from the national pool of players, McLeish now has a number of young, exciting players he can develop over the next few years.

One of them is recently-acquired Celtic defender Jack Hendry. The 23-year old is good in the air, fast and has exquisite technical skill for a defender. And if he’s central to Rodgers’ plans going forward then he’ll only get better.

Similarly, Lewis Morgan and Ryan Christie are two young forwards who have excelled within Scottish football over the past year or two and are now ready to make the next step at Celtic, under the guidance of Rodgers.

Although neither are likely to be regular starters for either their club or country any time soon, it shows that the conveyor belt of Scottish talent emerging from Celtic Park will continue rumbling on.

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