Of all people it was Barry Ferguson who made a valid point when he said in his latest column: “Strachan has to go with what he knows this weekend and that will most probably result in him picking a Scotland team which is so heavily reliant on Celtic players that he might as well send the lot of them out wearing green and white hoops.”
He added: “On Sunday he needs to be sure about what he’s going to get from his men and for that reason he would be right to pick as many of Brendan Rodgers’ players as he can get his hands on.”
Scotland’s situation is a desperate one as they sit second bottom of their 2018 World Cup qualification group with just four points from a possible 12; the prospect of another campaign ending in familiar disappointment is very much real. Put simply, they must take three points from their clash with Slovenia on Sunday to revive their hopes of qualifying from group F.
And as Ferguson suggests, the best chance of beating Slovenia might come from having a core of Celtic players in the side. Even looking to the future it makes sense for the national team to have a backbone made up of guys who wear the green and white jersey every week.
For a country that hasn’t qualified for a major tournament this century or made significant progress with its domestic game, development of youngsters or playing style since it last appeared at the World Cup in 1998 the least it should do is utilise the experience and relationships built by players who feature regularly for the same club side. It’s the key to success on the international scene, just look at the last two World Champions for example.
In 2010 Spain drew on the same system used to magnificent effect by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona with a number of their players also representing the Catalan club namely Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Pedro. All of whom proved to be key figures in La Roja’s maiden World Cup triumph. Four years later Germany shared a similar characteristic with Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller all Bayern Munich players at the time.
The current Scotland squad includes six Celtic players who all have the quality to start against Slovenia and could perhaps become undisputed starters during the remainder of the campaign. For a squad that tends to be made up of players from the Scottish Premiership, Premier League and English Championship surely it’s worth taking advantage of the chemistry between those Bhoys to give the team a solid framework and some much needed cohesion. Thereafter it’s down to Gordon Strachan to fill in the gaps and devise a game plan that maximises those strengths.
Strachan can rely upon a tried and trusted goalkeeper in Craig Gordon while left-back Kieran Tierney is the country’s biggest prospect. In midfield Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong can dovetail as they do under Brendan Rodgers and with James Forrest on the wing, service to the striker is guaranteed. And the man who should be trusted with the number nine shirt? The majority of the Tartan Army are in agreement that Leigh Griffiths is more than worthy of his place in the XI- he’s by the far the best forward available to Strachan. In central defence, Strachan could opt for Charlie Mulgrew who left Celtic less than a year ago.
Between them there’s a mixture of experience, energy, composure, penetration and genuine goal threat as well as the understanding they have with one another. Of those six Celtic players, five are having their best season yet at Parkhead and as a collective the Hoops have been immense under Rodgers’s stewardship. “That’s why I’d get as many of them into Sunday’s starting line up as possible,” ex Scotland skipper Ferguson admits.
In a must win encounter Strachan shouldn’t just go back to using players he trusts but players who have absolute trust in each other. The Celtic Bhoys should be the heart of the national team.