Football won’t be the same when play resumes. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in all areas of life, and it’s been a particularly strange time for football fans. Leagues grinded to a halt all around the world and even when play does resume, there will be no fans – perhaps the most important ingredient to professional football. Problems are bound to arise.
This will be particularly evident in Scotland, where clubs lack the financial power found in other nations, and it’s likely that the game will suffer in the short term. The vast majority of media coverage regarding these effects has already reported on potential negative outcomes, but is there light to be found at the end of the tunnel? Could the lockdown actually benefit the Scottish game in the long run? I believe it could.
Why? Because of the increased opportunities for young Scottish players.
Scottish football clubs will take a while to recover from the financial impacts brought on by lockdown. This means they’ll be unlikely to splash out on big signings for the foreseeable future, but this could be a good thing. While fans will bemoan the lack of action of the transfer market, it will open up opportunities for more young Scottish players to break through to first team level.
Smaller Scottish sides already rely heavily on their youth academies, with Motherwell and Hamilton among those setting the benchmark over the past few years. However, with new signings on the decline and first team players leaving for pastures new, there will be an even greater emphasis on giving these players extended runs in the first team. While there may be a slight decline in overall playing standards for a short while, it will certainly benefit the Scottish game in the long run.
With more players from youth sides being given opportunities to impress, there is a greater chance that we will discover previously unearthed gems. With competition so high at professional clubs, it can be challenging for players like this to forge a pathway to the top of the game. A lot of them slip through the unforgiving fingers of professional football and we are left forever asking as to what could have been.
In the coming season in particular, these chances will be at a premium for young prodigies. They may never get a better chance to showcase their abilities on the big stage, and if they are motivated then there’s no reason why they can’t establish themselves.
It’s no secret that the Scotland national team has struggled over the past two decades, failing to qualify for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. At the moment, Scotland have more than enough when it comes to midfielders and full backs; players such as Andy Robertson, John McGinn, Scott McTominay and Callum McGregor form a good core for a competitive side.
On the other hand, Scotland are severely lacking when it comes to centre backs and strikers. The only current Scotland striker who can be classed as regularly prolific is Leigh Griffiths, but his physical and mental problems have reduced his playing time recently. I think we all know, as well, that we won’t get anywhere with defending epitomised by the likes of Grant Hanley.
In short, Scotland are in desperate need of a new generation of defenders and forwards. That’s the difference between an average side and a good one, and who’s to say that the chances given to young players in the coming seasons won’t provide us with the answer? It may be a slow burner, but it could definitely help in the long run.
If Scotland really do want to start qualifying for major tournaments on a regular basis, they need to sort out their defensive and goalscoring issues. By increasing game time for youngsters in the coming seasons, we might come across a ready-made solution.
Lockdown will cause a lot of problems for Scottish football, particularly in financial terms. It will take a while for normality to resume. In the meantime, however, we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. By giving more chances to young players in the next season or two, teams may unearth the next big player that can propel our national team back into the big time. It will be a steady process and it may not seem immediately obvious. With the right club and the right mentor, however, it could be our saving grace. Lockdown hasn’t been fun for anyone, but in ten years’ time we may look back and thank it for handing us our next generational talent on a silver platter.