SO, that’s it all over for Scotland at the European Championships, but I don’t think Steve Clarke can look back with too many regrets.
People will debate the systems and the personnel and the way we played, but I thought the way Steve set the team out was suited to the players we have.
Do we agree that we had plenty of chances over the three games? Yes. There were so many nearly moments. Could we have created more chances playing a more cosmic style of football? I’m not sure we could.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what system you play in football, as long as you get attempts at goals. That’s all that counts really.
Did we enjoy the tackling, the enthusiasm, big Lyndon Dykes getting up there and winning headers and Che Adams bringing it down on his chest? I think we did.
Everybody talks about the need for a top-class striker, but what Scotland lack is what I would call a game changer.
Who is the most influential player for Croatia? Who creates their goals and scores goals? It’s Luka Modric, a midfielder.
For Denmark, it has been Christian Eriksen. For Belgium, their matchwinner is Kevin De Bruyne. Gareth Bale started as a left-back, and what is he now? A midfielder? A winger? I don’t know.
A matchwinner doesn’t necessarily have to be a striker, they can play in different areas. Bale couldn’t score a goal the other day against Turkey, but he produced a peach of a pass out of nowhere for Aaron Ramsey to score.
We need to produce a matchwinner like that. The problem is, is there a training plan to produce them, or are they born, and you allow them to progress in all different ways?
There’s not anything that you can point to that says ‘do this and you will produce matchwinners’.
There is a lot of excitement about Billy Gilmour in that context for Scotland, but I think he will need to add more to his game to become that game changer we all want.
What I would say is that Billy, along with Callum McGregor and John McGinn, were really good together in the game at Wembley. If you had asked me who was the most impressive of the three though, I would have said McGinn.
He got forward, he somehow managed to get back when we defended in between Gilmour and McGregor, so I thought he was our best player. But as a three, they were terrific against England.
Their retention of the ball was great. They managed to get four passes in as soon as we got the ball back, which was brilliant, because it allowed us to get into nice positions to attack again.
Because the three of them were brilliant in keeping the ball and rotating it, it was a major factor in our performance.
Game changing players though, with very few exceptions – perhaps N’Golo Kante – are rarely sitting midfield players. It’s very hard to say Billy will be a match winning player.
It doesn’t mean to say he won’t one day be a world class player. Some teams, like Scotland, already have world class left backs. Are they game changers though? That’s the difference. We’re looking for a game changer.
Billy now needs to go out and play regular games. He’s being linked with a loan move to Norwich City, and that might add a wee bit more to his game, and make him a more rounded player.
He might have the chance to get forward, add dribbling and crossing to his game, because at the moment he is in a team that is incredibly focused on passing the ball from the goalkeeper at goal-kicks and all the rest of it.
He is also surrounded by exceptionally good players, so it might be good for him to get out there and add some more things to his locker.
He’s cracked taking passes from the goalkeeper and centre-halfs and moving it on quickly. His reading of the game is terrific. His retention of the ball is exceptional.
But going to a team that maybe isn’t as good as Chelsea may add a couple of things to his game.
Overall though, there was plenty to enjoy about Scotland’s performances.
Stats can be misleading at times, because the ball can be slashed from 40 yards and be counted as a shot and balls slid across the face of goal and being missed by inches don’t count at all.
When you look at the chances Scotland created over the three games, you have to say; well, that was alright. The defence, funnily enough, looked not bad too. It didn’t look as if it was going to be a goal every time somebody attacked us, but then we lost more goals than we might have expected to. It was very strange.
There were some terrific goals scored against us, some wonderful finishes, great headers, Modric’s strike, a shot from the halfway line.
At the end of every tournament, people talk about lessons learned, but I think that’s something we managers just say to finish the interview and get out of there.
What are the lessons learned? Will there never again be an occasion where a cross isn’t stopped against Scotland? Will nobody ever score against Scotland at a corner kick? I don’t think concentration was the issue with Scotland, there were some perfect balls in and perfect headers.
There’s a lot of cliches flying around at the moment and I’ve probably joined in with a few. But did we get performances? I thought we did. In spells in the games we were good.
I don’t think many people would disagree with me when I say maybe that was as good as you could reasonably expect that group to play without getting that wee bit of luck that they needed or pulling out an outstanding finish.
Sometimes, that’s all that is missing, and unfortunately that was the story for Scotland.
AND ANOTHER THING…
As much as it pains me to say it, I think England have a really good chance against Germany on Monday.
Whatever you think about England at the moment, they look really hard to beat. And Harry Maguire coming back has made them even harder to beat.
They don’t make many chances, but they don’t give much away either, as they have always done over the years.
In saying that, when they play the real top teams they seem to struggle, so it will be interesting. The Germans may not be playing great, but they never fail to surprise you.