There are many complaints about the Scottish national side and whilst the SFA is still deliberating over who will replace Strachan I’ve decided to look at 3 common complaints about the Scottish national side and see if the criticism is wholly warranted. The three being; “the SFA isn’t doing enough to develop Scottish talent”, “there are too many Englishmen in the squad” and “There are not enough opportunities for players who play in the domestic league”. I’ll attempt to look at the statistics behind each issue and see where Scotland can improve. For a comparison I have looked at the top 11 FIFA ranked nations as of the 12 of September plus England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All stats are based on players who were called up for each nation (but didn’t necessarily play) for the 12 months prior to the last round of World Cup group qualifiers.
“There are not enough opportunities for players who play in the domestic league”
Strachan was always accused of sticking to his old stable and many pundits felt that he wasn’t giving players who play in Scotland the credit they deserved. To be fair to Strachan most national sides don’t have a large domestic contingent, the percentage of domestic players picked by the top ten ranking nations combined was 33%. This is only one percentage point less than the percentage of domestic players called up to the Scotland squad in the same period. The rest of the squad made up of players playing in the top 2 divisions in England with the exception of Charlie Mulgrew who is now in the 3rd tier with Blackburn.
This isn’t to say that the Scottish national team has not ignored domestic talents. The time it took Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and John McGinn to get a call up was much maligned by the Tartan Army but I think it is quite telling that there are successful nations don’t rely on their own domestic leagues. World cup bound Argentina, Colombia, Switzerland and Belgium have less than a quarter of their squad playing domestic football, with all of them relying heavily on the Big 5 European leagues.
Of the UK + Ireland, the total number of players who play for their nations domestic league drops to 31%. This drops to just 12% if you remove England’s 100% domestic bias, and if you remove Scotland the figure drops to less than 2%. It is in fact just 2 players, veteran Roy Carroll who is at Linfield in NI and the uncapped Dundalk Goalkeeper Gary Rodgers for the Republic of Ireland. The welsh national team, the highest ranked of the home nations, selected no players from the welsh domestic league, and only selected 3 players from the two welsh clubs that play in England.
There does not appear to be correlation between domestic player bias and national success. In summary I suppose it does not matter where a player plays his domestic football as all places are considered on an individual basis but to say that the Scottish national team generally doesn’t pick enough players from the domestic league could be seen as churlish when compared to other nations.
“There are too many Englishmen in the squad”
During Wales second fixture of the September international break, Ben Woodburn had the international debut that every kid dreams of. In spite of this Mark Chapman, Ian Wright, Neil Ashton and Sam Wallace on Radio 5 Live seemed more interested in where he was born and wondering why, considering he was born in Nottingham, he isn’t turning out for England. Throughout the 90’s and 00’s England were crying out for a left midfielder, all the while Ryan Giggs was terrifying right backs in the Premier League and turning out for Wales. Wales were doing nothing in that period of time and Giggs was always seen as the ‘One That Got Away’ amongst England supporters, people clung on to the fact he once turned out for England School Boys and thought about what would have been, all this in spite of him being born in Cardiff. The pundits’ conversation was broken up by an interview with Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neil, during which he talks about the recent success of the Northern Ireland international team and how he has cultivated a squad which is seemingly overachieving. The talent pool afforded to O’Neill is limited, and made all the more difficult when players born in Northern Ireland are also automatically eligible to play for The Republic of Ireland. O’Neill admitted that the IFA, as well as developing their own players, actively look to exploit the ‘Grandparent Rule’.
The Grandparent Rule is a much-maligned FIFA rule that allows players to not only have the choice of representing their nation of birth but to instead choose to play for their parents/grandparent’s nation of birth. The very rule that Woodburn has used to play for Wales, and that the England supporters wanted to exploit to poach Ryan Giggs is prevalent in the Scotland squad.
Strachan did pick a lot of players born in England. In the squads picked in the sample there were 12 players born outside Scotland, 11 of those being English. Is this an issue though? Other small nations do the same to add quality and depth. Current European champions Portugal only have 77% of their players born there and Switzerland only have 74% and they have used it to their advantage.
Closer to home Wales only have 54% of their squad born in Wales and they are the highest ranked nation in Britain. They also have a high dependence on English born players but with a difference to Scotland, age.
The average age of the 11 English players picked for Scotland on their debut is 22yrs 8 myths, whereas Wales find their talents younger with an average age of the 16 Englishmen picked being just 21yrs and 2 months. The problem isn’t that there are too many Englishmen playing in the Scottish team it’s just that the ones that are, are not good enough.
“the SFA isn’t doing enough to develop Scottish talent”
To try and quantify this point I have looked at which club developed each player based on the UEFA Homegrown rule. If a player has been at a club for at least 3 years before they are 21 they are classed as being developed by the club, this is important in club football when picking Champions league squads as they must have 8 players developed in the club’s nation and 4 players developed by the club.
It is probably no surprise that Scotland falls way behind most nations, only 61% of players picked were developed in Scotland. None of the top 11 ranked nations have less than 80%. The lowest being Belgium with 83% of their team developed in the Belgian league. Of the 6 players who were not developed in Belgium, 3 came through the ranks at French side Lille who’s training facilities are 2 km away from the Belgian boarder. Scotland by comparison have 3 players developed 473 km away in Wycombe.
This point goes hand in hand with why Scotland are picking English born players, there is statistical evidence supporting the fact that not enough good young Scottish players are coming through our Scottish clubs forcing the national team coach to search further afield for talent.
This has been addressed by the SFA this year with ‘Project Brave’. England had a root-and-branch review of the development of young English talent after the 2008 world cup and in some respects, they are seeing the benefits of that with the English U-17 and U-20 sides winning their respective world cups.
There is no real correlation between any of the above points and actual success amongst the top 11 nations. It could be said that the criticisms are not wholly warranted, especially when it comes to picking players from the domestic league. England rank highly in all three metrics and are yet to do anything on the international scene, even falling behind Wales as the best national team in the UK.
It has to be said that whilst nations like Belgium and Switzerland are not picking many players from their domestic league they are picking players from the Big 5 leagues in Europe, 72% and 74% of their players respectively. This is the highest amongst the top 11 if you discount the Big 5 leagues national teams. This in turn ties into the development of youth. Belgian and Swiss teams are keeping hold of their young talents for longer and then selling them on to teams in the Big 5 leagues. Could that be the model for Scottish football going forward?
The full breakdown of each of the sample nations players is shown in the table below.