Genetically modifying Scottish footballers isn’t what Scott Booth believes is required to alter the qualifying fortunes of the country. Change should be resisted on all levels in the Scotland set-up is the firm belief of the 22-times capped former SFA youth coach.
Booth, now head coach of Glasgow City women’s team, would welcome Gordon Strachan remaining in charge, despite his Scotland team falling short in their bid to make the World Cup play-offs this week. And the 45-year-old also considers it imperative to stick to the strategy for developing young players that came on stream during his period at the SFA between 2011 and 2014 and that has been crucial to Scotland impressing in finals at under-16 and under-17 levels.
The fact that Strachan can’t select a team of strapping six-foot-plusers can bring issues, Booth acknowledges. It is not the be all and end all, though, and neither is changing the manager in the event of an unsuccessful qualifying campaign.
“I think he’s done really well with the players that have been available to him in this period he has been the national team manager,” said Booth of Strachan’s four-and-a-half years in charge. “He’s been really creative about how to try and bring in players and introduce new players, which is important, and I don’t like this chopping and changing of managers. I don’t think it is good for football, I don’t think it is good for international football, in particular, because I think that needs to be a stable philosophy over a period of time.”
The future of Strachan, whose contract expires next month, has been thrown into doubt following the inability to deliver the victory in Slovenia on Sunday that would have taken Scotland into the play-offs. The 2-2 draw did extend the country’s unbeaten sequence in qualifiers to six – the longest across a campaign since 2001. However, all that grabbed attention, apart from the consequences of the outcome, were Strachan’s post-match comments that “genetically, we are behind” and that the relative small stature of his players meant they had to “jump higher and fight harder” than most opponents, which was set in the context of having conceded two goals from set-pieces.
Booth has certain sympathies with this lament – and certain problems with it, too. “It becomes an issue if you have six or seven tall players who are all going to go and attack the ball at set-pieces. So it is there, but, at the same time, it’s not the moment to bring it up when you’ve just gone out of a tournament.”
There is more to players than bone structure and sinew and Booth believes that Scotland are beefing up their approach where it counts.
“The physicality aspect is always there. It is an aspect in football. There is no point in ignoring it, but whether we can do something about genetics, I don’t know. I don’t know genetics in that way, but what I do know is that we have created some of the best smaller players in international football over the years.
“Yeah, it is helpful to have some big tall players in the areas where aerial battles are important and when defending your box. Tactically, you need a good mix. In Scotland we have created some really good small players and it is important we keep bringing them through and they have a chance to go and play, because there is no doubt that we have created some really good players at the youth levels, but it’s getting them from that under-19, under-21 age group where we can develop them not into youth internationals but full internationals.
“We need to look at the teams over the last 25 years that have reversed the position they were in within international football by their decision to follow a route that they previously hadn’t in order to be successful.
“They have followed it, and they’ve followed it, and it has become their philosophy. From youth teams all the way through to the A squad. And because of that continuation over a number of years, they eventually get there.
“We never do that. We start something and then stop it. About four years later.
“In my time with the SFA, there was a structure in place and that never changed. The things that I took from the boys at 16s and 17s, right through to being involved with the under-19s and under-21s, in that two-year period things were really moving in the right direction and I could see young players getting better, getting game time in competition at every international level.
“The amount of competitive games and competitions was so much more than had been previously. They were geting tested and their development was happening so much quicker. They were getting best-versus-best experience at international level and that, for me, is key.
“That needs financial backing; money to be spent on going to all these tournaments, getting coaches to travel. It doesn’t just happen.
“A plan and philosophy is needed to make it happen.
“Getting those players to the A squad is the most important thing, which requires dealing with the issue of getting game time at club level.
“What’s important is that we have enough good young players coming through and that there is a pathway for them to develop in first teams.”