Possibility. It is the word that best describes the events that have counter-balanced the disappointment of not reaching the FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.
It says a lot for the enduring optimism and enthusiasm of the Scotland supporters that the start of the UEFA European Championship campaign cannot come quick enough.
Tuesday’s 2-0 victory against Croatia ensured a respectable final placing in Group A but the manner of the result – and, indeed, the preparation for the game – is the real reason for hope as we look to France in 2016.
The devil is in the detail. I was delighted to see Gordon Strachan, his backroom team and the A squad attend the under-21s’ 2-1 victory against Slovakia at St Mirren Park. With the aim of Creating Heroes, the presence and support of our best players was both aspirational and inspirational to the players.
So, too, was Gordon’s invitation for some of Billy Stark’s team to train with the first-team at Hampden Park on Saturday. Imagine how young Andrew Robertson, for example, will have felt to hear the Scotland manager speak so highly of him on national radio, especially considering the young full back’s meteoric rise from the excellent Queens Park youth system, to Dundee United in the SPFL Premiership, to being name-checked as one of the star players in the Scotland A squad’s training session at the national stadium.
The philosophy of working together is key to our Performance Strategy and while the real fruits of the labour will be harvested longer-term, it is important that we record the success stories that unquestionably show a forward momentum.
Last night, Scott Booth’s Victory Shield team made an impressive start to their campaign with a 3-0 win away to Northern Ireland. Alistair Coots took the plaudits with two excellent goals but of wider importance is seeing the improvement in our play and commitment to our attacking philosophy.
I would like to congratulate our coaching staff for taking the under-19s and under-17s respectively into the elite rounds of their European Championships campaigns together for the first time since 2009. It shows that our youth teams are progressing and that a more intense programme of international matches is starting to pay off. The women’s game continues its own terrific growth, and as well as Anna Signeul’s side making an empathic start to their campaign with two resounding victories, the women’s under-17s have led the way by qualifying for the European Championship finals in England later this year while the under-19s continue to impress.
It is our ultimate objective to have all of our National Youth Teams competing in major tournaments on a regular basis and while that is a long-term project, we must recognise and encourage the successes that happen on the way.
I am a great believer in the development of strong relationships between the national teams and the club coaches. Whilst at times there can be a feeling that young players are not being treated with the kid gloves that clubs would like, nevertheless I believe clubs should also be proud of watching their players represent their country. It is an acknowledgement and endorsement of the work undertaken by their clubs and rest assured we do our utmost to ensure players are returned enriched by the experience and able to add value to their club side as a result of the opportunities they have been given.
Through our own Performance Information Management System, we can now evaluate that progress from all of our National Youth Teams in a more scientific and technological way: evaluating pass completion rates, possession retention, opportunities created in the final third, goals conceded and other KPIs that we can measure on a regular basis to provide evidence of improvement.
These components are all part of The Scotland Way: developing and harnessing an attractive and purposeful style of play throughout all our National Youth Teams. Ultimately, we aspire to have all our teams confident in attack-building from defence, quick and incisive midfield play, exciting wing play and, of course, clinical finishing.
While the World Cup in Brazil will be a poorer place without the Tartan Army, we should at least be heartened by a future of possibility.