A Scotland revival

SCOTLAND did it at last. Against the odds, after a shocking losing streak, they went to Reykjavik and beat Iceland 2-0 in a European Championship qualifier. It was a reprieve for Berti Vogts who had been excoriated as an inept manager of Scotland, despite his long years in charge of the German national team. And the win followed hard on the heels of a ferocious denunciation of the Scottish game by none other than Arsenal's highly successful manager, Arsene Wenger.

He will never, he insisted, sign a Scottish player; they are simply not good enough. The youth schemes are inadequate. There are far too many foreign players in the Scottish League. In this he is certainly in accord with many Scottish critics. Even the two dominant Glaswegian forces in Scottish football, Rangers and Celtic, have a preponderance of foreign players. And to think that when Scotland so triumphantly became the first ever British team to win the European Cup when they beat Internazionale 2-1 in Lisbon, practically every single player was not only a Scot but from the immediate Glasgow region!

Just remember some of the names. Jimmy Johnstone, the dazzling little red headed outside right, a classical Scottish winger with pace, marvellous control, the ability to speed past an opposing defender on the outside. Bobby Murdoch, such an elegant, creative right half. Bertie Auld, restored to Glasgow after an indifferent spell with Birmingham City, converted from an outside left into a highly influential inside left. In a team which not only displayed the traditional Scottish ball playing skills but used them at high speed.

And what of the Leeds United team which at the same time flourished in English football and lost in such an exciting two legged European semi-final to Celtic? What would that Leeds team have been without the fierce drive and technical flair of little red headed Billy Brember? Or the left wing skills of Eddie Grey? The right wing prowess of Peter Lorimer with his devastating right foot? All three players came straight from Scotland to Leeds as schoolboys. They never played for any Scottish club.

That victory in Iceland followed six games without one under Vogts whose appointment seemed increasingly mistaken. After all, in recent years, since the German victory in Euro 96, what had he achieved? Germany had been enfeebled both in the 1998 World Cup, when Vogts had to apologise after a paranoid outburst following a humiliating defeat by Croatia, and in Euro 2000. There was, you might think, some sort of an analogy with what he would encounter in Scotland in that he deplored the look of young German players coming through.

But what of his own contribution? Removed as manager of Germany he didn't last long as manager of Bayern Leverkusen where he lost his job after a series of poor results. So to Kuwait, but there too things went wrong and after an embarrassing defeat in an Asian tournament it was reported that Vogts had been sacked again. In the event he survived but only it was whispered because the Kuwaitis know that Scotland wanted him, and they could therefore pocket hefty compensation.

Scotland and Vogts had to live down the appalling previous display away to the humble Faroe Island where they had in a European game actually gone two goals down before recovering for a draw. That recovery was attributed by their experienced Celtic midfielder, once a leading figure in the Bundesliga, Lambert to a more committed, even a harsher approach, which he then called for in Iceland and largely got it.

It was not by any means a vintage Scottish performance. Those grand days of Donia Law, Jim Baxter and the rest seem no more now than a distant mirage. But the Scots did apply themselves with physical challenge and determination. It was especially a day of redemption for the West Ham centre back Christian Dailly. He and David Weir of Everton had been publicly and tactlessly criticised by Vogts for their errors on the two goals which the Faroes had scored. He was probably right in his perception but as Everton's manager David Moyles told him, defending Weir, he was quite wrong to voice such thoughts outside the dressing room.

Perhaps it acted as a goad to Dailly for he had an impressive game, heading the first goal bravely at the far post. The second was impressively put away by Everton's left sided midfielder Gary Naysmith with his usually dormant right foot. With the Hearts centre back Pressley impressively replacing Weir, despite his expressed misgivings, this Wes altogether a better Scottish team.

Yet, how sad that it should have come to this at all, and how much truth is there in the contention that the Scots no longer produce the famed and skilled players that they did for so many generations? It was after all Scotland that invented the so called passing game in the 19th century, the Scots who produced an endless succession of clever, ball playing forwards. What would the inter war Arsenal have been without their superb midfield general Alex James with his left-footed passes to the wings or down the centre? What would their immediate post war side have been without the wiles of little Jimmy Logie at inside-right?

And then there was Billy Steel who electrified Wembley with a glorious performance at inside left in April 1947 against England. Fair haired, fast and so accomplished that he went straight into the Great Britain team that thrashed the Rest of Europe 6-1 the following May, ahead of far more experienced and famous inside forwards.

Why should this great stream of talent suddenly dry up? And mark that it was largely produced long before the days of so called youth schemes. As in sub Saharan Africa today and as in Brazil in bygone times, boy footballers nurture their own skills; they don't keep coaching which can often crush the initiative and originality out of them. Who coached the so called Wembley wizards of 1928 who annihilated England 5-1 at Wembley with a forward line of tiny men?

The left winger, Alan Norton, of Rangers famously perfected his skills endlessly kicking a tennis ball through a hole in the family's coal house door! And there was the great tradition of the tanner ball, the six-penny rubber, which honed the skills of great numbers of Scottish players. Hard to understand why the grand supply has dried up. Yes, foreigners have something to do with it. And how far have they got Celtic and Rangers in Europe?