IT perhaps is not entirely relevant ahead of Friday’s trip to Tbilsi but Scotland supporters will undoubtedly remember their last visit to Georgia back in 2007 as a stark reminder of a potential deja vu.
Picture the scene; a revivalist Scotland are flourishing after a barren period and riding high on the crest of a goodwave. They are on the verge of qualification but a team perhaps in an demeaning way one of the lesser nations then trumps a nation where their path ends in glorious failure
This was the scene eight years ago under Alex McLeish’s stewardship when Scotland crashed 2-0 against a team that contained three teenagers making their debut. That sense of entitlement that Scotland should beat Georgia crushed their hopes with defeat against Italy. Rightly or wrongly the feelings and memory will be buried through the bloodstream of the footballing lexicon on Friday evening despite manager, Gordon Strachan’s statement that “the world has moved on” that is true since then with the national facing similar hopes of ending a chronic absence from a major tournament.
There is a similar scenario compared to them but rather than rewriting the same loop, the factors facing Strachan’s team today are more in their favor.
Scottish Football has come through a major restructure both in lifestyle, economics and components of better tactical awareness and diet. At that point, Scotland had just come through the toughest group in their history, defeating both France home and away with a team that contained a talisman in James McFadden but still boasted a sense of extreme rigidity in terms of their system.
There is a calm measured approach to what Gordon Strachan is doing but in 2007, the system was relying on euphoria, luck and perhaps goodwill from supporters to help Scotland through. A lot of expectations and pressure were inflicting melting heat at a time when Scotland were relying heavily on late bloomers placed in a system of luck; the likes of Paul Hartley, Graham Alexander, Graeme Murty and even David Weir, all players that had ‘come good’ in their late 20’s and 30’s. All were good for the international team but there status in the team was one of relying on stamina and strength and a sense of righteousness perhaps negative that Scotland weren’t good enough yet shouldn’t slip up to teams they felt they should beat.
However the system has changed recently from when a defense was held to extreme effect with the no striker formation in Prague. The national feeling of being competent but not quite good enough to compete resolved to create further anxiety rather results or even happiness. Today Scotland are a far more technical and exciting team to watch even if the actual formation is not too dissimilar. There is more short passing, more flair play and wingers to choose from. Anya, Morrison and Ritchie may not seem glamorous players but all three looked technically honored and comfortable on the ball for space to maneuver. Shaun Maloney is a more matured and sophisticated international player, Craig Gordon and Darren Fletcher have both come through major setbacks in their careers and Steven Fletcher is a better technical striker than Kenny Miller was at his stage.
Today the national team has a better record on diet, technical ability and coaching overall and the players are intrinsically more focused and are not likely to focus on major expectations. The footballing landscape is no longer relying on vast sums of television money, expensive foreign playes, money over ability or a sense of luck to try and create positive momentum.
Two subjects of ‘luck’ and ‘James McFadden’ were major features of the 2007 qualifying campaign but today Scotland rely on a system of competent attacking flair players to produce results. An element of old and new remains but
Rather than a black and white effect of success or failure which was understandable considering the previous hammerings of the Berti Vogts days, they are a more steady unit. The gloom surrounding footballing economics has been replaced with a feeling of momentum that more players are being produced even if the overall product is not appealing. There is something that can be applauded and a sense of calmness too with the overall expectation surrounding Strachan’s team far less.
Once again there is a blend of old and new but it is a leaner and faster approach and a more mature version. Regardless of the result on Friday, there is a system in place.