How future-proof is Steve Clarke's Scotland squad for Euro 2021 and World Cup 2022?
Nothing makes the present seem insignificant quite like a look towards the future. Scotland haven’t even begun to think about how they’re going to tackle Euro 2020 (2021*) but we’re already getting excited about the prospect of reaching the World Cup in 2022.
Monday’s draw was undoubtedly a blessing for the Scotland national team. We can joke all we want about how infuriating it is to once again come up against Israel but in Denmark and Austria Steve Clarke’s side couldn’t have hoped for better opponents to be plucked from pot 1 and pot 2. They’re undoubtedly formidable but also perfectly beatable. At least more so than Spain or France.
So putting aside Euro 2020 for one moment, let’s take a look at the players currently available to Clarke and his coaching staff and see if we can see any minor tears in the side that could be full-blown holes when the next competition comes around. In a sense, let’s see how future-proof this current crop of Scotland players really are.
While the postponement of the Euros until the following year may have been an unfortunate consequence of the current pandemic for football fans, it could perhaps do international managers like Clarke a few favors.
The condensed calendar means there will now only be 12 months between the end of the European Championships and the World Cup in 2022 and rather than wait a full two-year cycle for the next competition, Clarke will be able to make a better prediction on how his squad will look in one year’s time, rather than two.
It may seem relatively insignificant but a lot can happen in one season of football and when it comes to Scotland internationals that are in their peak right now or quickly approaching it, the Scotland manager will surely appreciate that he may be able to get two tournaments out of most of them rather than just one.
When we jot down all of the players in the current Scotland squad and add in a number of players that have been used in recent international breaks we get a graph like the one above. This shows us how many caps each player has and how old they are. We’ve even colour-coded it based on position.
Let’s take a look at the goalkeepers. Craig Gordon and David Marshall are undoubtedly the oldest and two of the most experienced members of Clarke’s squad, but their position should allow them far more leeway than most others in this squad. They’ll be 39 and 37 respectively when the 2022 World Cup rolls around and even if age is beginning to take its toll on either of them, Jon McLaughlin will only be 35 by then and looks perfectly solid at Rangers right now.
Scotland’s defence is a little more complicated. Clarke already has a number of defenders that are approaching 30 or have already hit it, but most of these players are back-up options. Andrew Considine, Paul McGinn, Paul Hanlon and Grant Hanley will probably be beyond their peak years when the World Cup comes along but they’re also all perfectly replaceable. Sorry guys.
Clarke should take confidence from the fact that Andy Robertson is still only 26, Scott McKenna is only 24 and Scott McTominay and Kieran Tierney are only 23. And they are four players that will be approaching or firmly in their peak years during Euro 2021 and the following World Cup. And in Declan Gallagher and Liam Cooper, who will both be 31 in two years time, he has very little to worry about there too. Especially with Ryan Porteous waiting in the wings.
The only real issue in this backline is one that has dogged Clarke’s national team since he took the job: right back. The jury is still out on Stephen O’Donnell and Liam Palmer and it’s unlikely that either of them will be any better in two years time, when they’ll be 30 and 31 respectively. A young, competent right back is undoubtedly a pressing issue for Clarke and a problem that will only be worse in two years time.
Fortunately for Scotland, our abundance of creative and talented midfielders have all largely come from the same crop of academies and age groups, meaning Clarke has a solid group of players that he can build a squad around for the next two or three years.
As the graph shows, the only concerns from a midfield point of view may come in the form of James Forrest slowing down over the next two years, but in John McGinn, Ryan Christie, Ryan Jack, Callum McGregor, Ryan Fraser and Stuart Armstrong Scotland have plenty of midfield options in the right age range for the next two tournaments.
Like defence, Scotland’s attack is an area of the park that could cause Clarke some concern over the next two years. In 25-year-old Lyndon Dykes, the Scotland manager has a talisman and target man that he can build his tactics around for the next two years without much worry, but beyond the former Livingston striker there aren’t a huge range of options.
Leigh Griffiths will be 32 at the next World Cup and is already showing a serious degree of wear and tear, while young options like Oliver Burke, Callum Paterson and Oli McBurnie have yet to step up and show they can lead the line alongside Dykes or even in place of him.
Lawrence Shankland, at 25 years of age and with just four caps, could perhaps be a long-term solution here. Although the Dundee United striker isn’t enjoying his best campaign with the Tannadice side this season, he does have time on his side and could prove to be a consistent No.9 for Scotland if he can get regular game time for the national team and start scoring.
So what do you make of the current squad’s longevity and who would you promote to the senior squad to fill in the gaps? Let me know in the comments below.