5 SPFL Players Who Should Have Made the Scotland Squad
With Sunday's Euro 2016 qualification draw placing Scotland in a particularly difficult group, Wednesday's friendly against Poland in Warsaw has taken on a new level of meaning.
Gordon Strachan's side were drawn alongside their upcoming opponents in Group D, where they will also face Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar.
The forthcoming game against Adam Nawalka's men—who boast Bayern Munich-bound Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski as their star player—now represents an early testing ground for both coaches before qualifying gets under way in September.
Until Sunday, the match was simply a chance for Strachan to continue to solidify the improvement the national side has made under his leadership.
Now, however, it is unquestionably a chance for him to begin the process of selecting squads geared towards making it to France two years from now.
As such, there is little logic in selecting the likes of Gordon Greer—the 33-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion defender who will almost certainly not play a part in the tournament should Scotland get there.
Debate also surrounds the presence of Aston Villa right-back Alan Hutton. The former Rangers man has lost much of the pace which characterised his best years and has not featured at all for Villa's first team this campaign.
Celtic utility man Charlie Mulgrew continues to be a victim of his own versatility. Although classed as a midfielder in Strachan's squad announcement—and he has indeed performed admirably in a holding role for both club and country this season—his best position is surely centre-back.
There is also a derth of attackers in the squad, and with 20 of the 24-man squad for Wednesday's match playing their football in England, Strachan continues to apparently place more faith in the quality of England's second tier than Scotland's first.
Here, we take a look at the domestic talent he could have selected.
Statistics via TransferMarkt and Soccerway.
In Mark Reynolds, Strachan has at his disposal one of the most consistent and accomplished centre-backs in the country.
Despite a poor spell in England with Sheffield Wednesday, the 26-year-old has regained his confidence and form with the Dons as they chase a cup double and enjoy their best league season in years.
He has flourished this campaign since Derek McInnes appointed him vice captain—a responsibility he appears to have embraced with open arms.
Along with Hearts defender Danny Wilson—who, despite fighting relegation at the opposite end of the league table has shown himself to be maturing greatly in his role as captain—Reynolds is surely a better option, both now and in the long term, to the likes of Greer and Christophe Berra.
Left-back continues to be a problem position for Scotland.
Former Hearts defender Lee Wallace would likely be first choice under Strachan were he not plying his trade in Scottish League One with Rangers.
Phil Bardsley and Steven Whittaker have been utilised there to good effect, though neither is a natural left-back.
Dundee United youngster Andrew Robertson has been included in the squad to face Poland, which is surely a step in the right direction for the national side.
The 19-year-old has been in scintillating form this season—his first in the top division—and has picked up both a young player and player of the month award already.
Graeme Shinnie's progress, therefore, has been shifted into the shadows somewhat.
The 22-year-old has improved every year at Inverness, has already captained the side on occasion and has proved himself a versatile, as well as consistent, performer.
Indeed, STV reported that his manager, John Hughes, believes he must share some of the blame for Shinnie's lack of international recognition—for playing him in several different positions this season:
Graeme has only played at left-back three times since I came to the club—he's so versatile that he's been playing right-back or in midfield, but he's been getting man of the match awards in those positions.
Now we're seeing him playing left-back again and he's just a great footballer.
I have been in the game for 25 years and I will say it: Graeme Shinnie is one of the best left-backs in Scotland.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Despite having just turned 23 years old, Peter Pawlett has already made over 100 appearances for Aberdeen and recovered from three serious injuries.
The midfielder has shown remarkable mental strength to return from each setback—which collectively have robbed him of over nine months of his career to date.
This season has been his breakout campaign.
Vital goals against St Johnstone in the League Cup semi-final and Celtic in the Scottish Cup, as well as a sizeable number of assists, have solidified the as-yet-uncapped Pawlett's growing reputation as one of the Dons' key players.
More than that, most of the midfielders who have been selected in Strachan's squad for Wednesday—such as the returning Darren Fletcher, Charlie Adam and Scott Brown—are predisposed to playing far deeper than Pawlett's natural central attacking midfield position.
Robert Snodgrass and James Morrison may be the exceptions. Though the former, while effective in that position, is far more comfortable playing as a winger.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Dundee United
Despite spending the equivalent of just over 18 games on the pitch this season, 18-year-old Ryan Gauld has clocked up seven goals and 11 assists.
But is it too soon for the Dundee United playmaker to make the step up to the senior Scotland side? It could be, but a case could just as easily be made in favour of having him there.
He has only represented the under-21 side once despite his obvious talent, suggesting the national team hierarchy would rather err on the side of caution with his development—players can, and very often do, burn out if played too often at a tender age.
The rebuttal to that viewpoint is obvious: "If they're good enough, then they're old enough." The adage attributed to Matt Busby surely still has substance.
And the modern Scottish national side has had very few players with the flair, natural dribbling ability and obvious eye for a pass in the final third which Gauld has demonstrated in abundance this past year at its disposal.
Having Gauld involved with the senior set up—even simply as a squad member—would surely have been beneficial to his development, especially considering there was no clash with under-21 fixtures.
Club: St Johnstone
Getting into the Scotland squad seems like the natural progression of things for Stevie May.
Two loan spells at lower-league clubs Alloa and Hamilton proved rewarding as the young forward bagged 45 goals in just 57 matches.
Since returning to St Johnstone, he has become the star of the senior side and one of the best strikers in the country.
A return of 21 goals and nine assists in 32 matches this season has surely caught Strachan's eye, and his constantly improving link-up play suggests May is far more than just a goalscorer.
Where he falls short—for the time being, at least—is that he is unlikely to be paired with a strike partner at international level and his credentials as a lone forward are yet to be proven.
Still, given the derth of goalscoring strikers in the squad—only the so-far underwhelming Steven Fletcher and Leeds United's Ross McCormack can be termed as such from Wednesday's group—a senior call-up for May may not have been totally out of the blue.