Why a Scotland victory is not as unlikely as some may think

Simmo looks ahead to the England vs Scotland game, and discusses why Scotland could cause a huge upset. 


England versus Scotland. It’s the oldest fixture in international football. Ever since its first contest way back in 1872, the two Auld Enemies have faced each other with unprecedented passion and pride.

Tonight’s encounter will be the 113th contest between these two great footballing nations. England lead the head-to-head 47-24 and are expected to increase their lead. Yet whilst England go into the game as overwhelming favourites, the Tartan Army travel south with great hope and anticipation. It could be argued that this confidence is somewhat misplaced.

The importance of tonight’s fixture is further exacerbated by the fact that neither team can really afford to lose. Scotland know that this game is crucial if they are going to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Both teams are in the middle of poor runs of form. Scotland arrive at Wembley on the back of a terrible 3-0 loss in Slovakia, a result that left them three points behind England in Group F. England did not fare too much better last time out either, escaping  with a point during a dour 0-0 draw away in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.

Prior to that, England had claimed two underwhelming victories away to Slovakia and at home to Malta, results that hardly washed away the pain of the dismal Euro 2016 campaign. Scotland on the other hand won convincingly in Malta but then suffered disappointment as they could only muster a  1-1 draw at home to Lithuania.

These recent results have left both teams in difficult situations. Internal investigations have yielded more questions than answers. Neither team has been able to find a remedy to the problems they currently face.

However, the problems facing Scotland are certainly of a different nature to those that England face. A quick examination of both squads would lead most footballing ‘experts’ to conclude that there can only be one winner. England’s squad beats Scotland comfortably, on paper at least. However, football matches aren’t decided on paper – if they were then England would have comfortably defeated Iceland back in June.

For Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan, the dearth of talent available will be a real concern. Indeed this has been an inherent problem for Scotland managers for the last 10 to 15 years. There probably has not been a single Scotland player, barring Darren Fletcher in his Manchester United heyday, who would have got anywhere near the England team since the turn of the century. The chasm in quality between the two teams has never been wider.

The reasons behind this are perhaps not as simple as one might think. The difference between the players is certainly not down to England’s exceptional pool of talent; no, it is more a result of  Scotland’s extraordinary lack of.

A quick glance through the Scotland squad reveals a stark reality. Just over half of those selected by Strachan ply their trade in one of Europe’s top tiers. Six play in England’s Premier division, but none for a team in the top half of the table. A further seven play in Scotland, of which four play for reigning champions and runaway leaders, Celtic.

Of those four only two can be considered first team regulars, one being Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, whose retirement from international football lasted only marginally longer than Sam Allardyce’s reign as England boss. Ollie Burke, the only player to play outside of the British Isles, features for RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga, but even he has only started one match since his big money move from Nottingham Forest. Of the remaining twelve, eleven play for clubs in England’s second tier, and one, John McGinn plays for Hibernian, in Scotland’s second division.

That compared to the group of players which England’s interim manager Gareth Southgate has been able to call upon. His squad of  25 consists of 24 players in England’s top flight, with Joe Hart, on loan at Torino in Italian’s Serie A, the only exception to the rule.

Certainly the two squads differ in quality. There can be no doubting that England have a very good group of players available, yet they seem completely incapable of gelling as a team.

This lack of unity and cohesion has never been more apparent than when England have played at Wembley. Indeed, the last time that Scotland visited the self-proclaimed ‘home of football‘ they led twice before eventually succumbing to a 3-2 defeat. That night, like many others at Wembley, England players seemed incapable of dealing with the pressure of playing there.

There could be no serious suggestion that the players felt intimidated by the raucous crowd. Since reopening, Wembley has become notorious for its mellow and subdued atmosphere. It has even been argued that this may well have an adverse affect on those playing there. In other words there are those who believe that the tame atmosphere transmits itself onto the pitch affecting the players, the intensity of their game and vice versa. Yet to believe that would be an implying that correlation equals causation. Footballers are professionals, and they ought to be able to adapt to the the situations in which they find themselves in.

A stronger argument would perhaps be England’s inability to deal with situations in which they are the overwhelming favourites, as evidenced by the Iceland game. Whilst the following statement might sound clichéd, England players must endeavour to play the opposition rather than the occasion. They have to show bravery, strength, and most crucially, not wilt under pressure.

Too often England players seem unable to transfer their often excellent club form onto the international stage. This ultimately leads to accusations that England players are simply not good enough, or that they are overhyped – neither statement has any foundation at all.

If the pressure and expectation inhibits England, then the lack of certainly prohibits Scotland. The mantra ‘nothing to lose’ has never been more apt. A draw would be considered a highly successful result – a win would immortalise this group of players.

For this reason it is perhaps fair to assume that it is Strachan’s ideal fixture. If he could have picked any team to face it probably would have been England. He knows that he will not have to give a team talk. He knows that he will not have to rile his team up. His only job on the night will be to make sure that his players keep their emotions in check when the game inevitably begins to boil over.

If England allow that to happen then they will have really played into Scotland’s hands. Scotland will want a scrappy, fast, and aggressive game. They know that if they go nose to nose with England they will likely end up on the losing side. They will want the match to descend into a feisty and bad-tempered affair. If that happens then Strachan and his Scotland players will know that they have rattled their opponents.

The game will probably lack in quality but definitely not in intrigue. Both teams will approach this game with a certain level of trepidation, not wanting to take unnecessary risks; both know exactly what is at stake.

Defeat for England would lead to an internal inquisition perhaps even more severe than the one that followed the Iceland result. Defeat for Scotland would almost certainly signal the end of another qualifying campaign.

The winner really will take it all; the lose will be left standing small. Having said all that, it will most probably end up being a draw!

Should Arsène Wenger take the England job?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

WANTED – England manager to last more than 67 days. Gareth Southgate has recently taken over England duties and whilst he looks to be a safe pair of hands whispers of Wenger have surfaced stronger than ever. Is he the best choice for England? Is England a good move for him?

Sam Simmons argues…

Yes – The ideal manager of  the England team ideally possesses experience managing in the top-flight; knowledge of the English game; big game know-how; integrity and honesty.Crucially the above description bears no reference to the nationality of this person.

The events of the last week have seen the resurrection of an old question – should a foreign manager be in charge of the England team? It is a difficult discussion to have with patriotic supporters. The heart almost certainly says no. However, decisions made by the heart are often idealist, ill-advised, impulsive and frequently bad. Just ask poor Sam Allardyce. The England job is the biggest job in English football. It eclipses the jobs at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and, dare I say it, Arsenal.

Arsène Wenger stands out as the outstanding candidate.That statement alone is likely to incense a large portion of England’s loyal following. Realistically though, Wenger has to be the FA’s no.1 target. If measuring it against the criteria listed at the beginning of this article, then there can be little doubt that the Arsenal manager is the best suited for the role.

For all of his faults, of which there are many, the Arsenal boss is undoubtedly a great manager. His arrival in north London two-decades ago heralded a footballing revolution. Whether he could have the same effect on the England team now is questionable, however, there is little doubt that he is the most qualified for the job.

Wenger is at the right age for the role. At 66 he it at the end of his career. Taking the England job is not a risk for him in the same way it would be for say, Eddie Howe. Why would the Bournemouth boss walk away from a stable job to take up a position that seems almost cursed?If Howe were to fail, then his career would be forever tarnished. If Wenger were to fail his legacy would still stand. If people insist upon the England football manager being English, then the pool from which to choose from is automatically narrowed. Whether we like it or not that pool lacks both depth and quality.

Whilst football romanticists may envisage a true and proper Englishmen, whatever that may be, lifting a World Cup or European Championship, the hard facts are that there aren’t any suitable candidates.

If people were to look beyond the rather jingoistic and prehistoric opinions of so called experts, then they would realise that the nationality of a manager means little if he is the best man for the job. Wenger certainly is the best man for the job. With 20 years’ experience managing in the Premier League, there is no man, English or otherwise, better suited for the role.

Wenger’s future is entirely in his own hands, He, and he alone, will decide when time is up at The Emirates. The sad truth is that Wenger has probably outstayed his welcome. The last few years have not gone the way we he would’ve liked.
Sometimes he has looked aged, downtrodden, and dishevelled.

Let’s be clear, the England job is not easier than the Arsenal job. Far from it in fact. But as a foreigner, Wenger would almost be detached from that pressure. Eriksson and Capello both failed, but neither felt the wrath of the British media like McClaren, Hodgson or even Allardyce. Both have managed to move back home or abroad and resume their careers elsewhere.

Wenger loves Arsenal, but the notoriously stubborn Frenchmen must realise that enough is enough. Longevity is only good if there is an evidential progression. For Wenger and Arsenal there hasn’t been; in fact, they’ve been stagnant for the best part of a decade.

For Wenger the time has come. With his contract up at the end of the season he will have a decision to make. His legacy at Arsenal will stand for an eternity. But now his adopted country needs him.

For England fans there has to be some realism. Whilst having a foreign manager in charge is not ideal, insisting upon having an Englishmen at the expense of the success of the national team would just be absurd.

Mike Franchetti argues…

No – Should Arsène Wenger take the England job? Erm, no – definitely not. I’m sure his appointment would reinvigorate the bumbling England fanbase – I’d certainly love it – but should Wenger walk away from this current Arsenal team to join the mess that is the national set-up? No way.

Let’s first mention the timing of the whole thing. Wenger’s in the ‘last year’ of his seemingly never-ending contract. This could be the perfect time for Le Professeur to cast a look beyond the Emirates and take the reins of the national side. However, on closer inspection, it’s the worst possible time for him to do anything of the sort.

Wenger survived Sir Alex’s supremacy and clawed his way through more than a couple of seasons of Chelsea dominance. Right now, his Arsenal side are better than both of those clubs. They’ve just comprehensively swept aside Chelsea whilst Manchester United, though finally improving, haven’t looked convincing since 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the accent (which gets more French when answering difficult questions), Wenger is a lover of the English game. It’s for this reason that his name and the England job continue to be mentioned in the same sentence. But would the F.A really appoint a man so ingrained in the history of one club? Would England’s Spurs contingent thrive under the man who spent twenty seasons keeping north London red? It seems unlikely a man of Wenger’s professionalism would do anything other than select and nurture the best players, but it’s difficult to picture him with an arm around Kyle Walker.

In truth, the players would probably be fine – but how about the fans? It seems unfair for this to be a factor, but it’s exactly the sort of nonsense the F.A will be thinking about. Look at the recent England managers with their passive personalities and non-reputations; McClaren, Hodgson, Southgate, to some extent even Capello.

But back to the point at hand – why would Wenger do it?! He already cops enough flak from his own supporters; does he really need to be thrown in front of the entire nation? He has a strong reputation and the England job is poison. Even the hardiest of his detractors start their complaining with ‘he’s done well but…’ and there’s no denying his impact on club football.

Even if you are of the mindset that the England situation can’t get any worse, the job remains a gamble. Wenger won’t be able to freely overhaul a national system which is altered only slightly with every appointment. In the mid-90s Arsenal football club was ripe for change and Wenger was revolutionary. England’s needs are far messier. Wenger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve but what will he get out of the England job? Two years of mediocrity and a World Cup quarter-final? Anything longer or more successful than that is hard to imagine.

He’s 66 now and the current England team needs more than a quick fix. The idea of Wenger’s England is exciting to players, fans and probably the man himself – but the same could be said of Pep Guardiola’s Aston Villa. Even with Sam Allardyce doing his best to make it happen, the perfect storm needed to bring Wenger to our national side will pass by as a near-miss. Arsenal are too strong right now, Wenger too old, the risk too great.

Even if you don’t believe in Arsenal’s thirteenth straight attempt to recapture the Premier League, Wenger does – and that’s all that matters. Everything he does – the way he acts, the decisions he makes – reeks of commitment, calculation and maintaining his reputation. If he has one eye on another job, he’s doing a masterful job of disguising it.

There have been no ‘do-or-die’ purchases, no signs of player unhappiness and no interviews conducted in any way other than classic Arsène. If he does eventually take the England job it will have been triggered by a break in the status quo; he’d have just won the League or Champions League, or bombed to fifth and got sacked. It’s autumn now and he’ll be pairing that knitted navy V-neck jumper with a bright red tie long into 2017. I can’t imagine it any other way.