Attack like it's 1982

Posted by Derek Rae

I'm of a generation that grew up idolising the gifted Johan Cruyff. For me and many others who received their football initiation in the early Seventies, there was no one more captivating than the ultimate Dutch master.

So when the great man went on to become a 'can't miss' punditry figure on television at major tournaments, it was natural to hang on his every word. I can remember Cruyff's comment after the group stage at the 1982 World Cup like it was yesterday.

"I feel particularly sorry for a team like Scotland who always tried to attack but did not get the reward they deserved."

Now some of you might have jumped out of your chair reading that quote. Scotland - and attacking football - in the same sentence?

It used to be that way with the national team. Honestly! Go back and look at DVDs of the '82 finals and you'll find a team that put the emphasis firmly on forward going football. Played 3 Won 1 Drawn 1 Lost 1. Goals For 8, Goals Against 5, in games against New Zealand, the USSR and Brazil. For anyone born after say 1980, it's not really the Scotland you know, is it?

Of course it helped that such talents as Gordon Strachan, John Robertson and Kenny Dalglish were at the forefront of the late Jock Stein's plans back then. It's not as though the defenders were nitwits either. Willie Miller, Alex McLeish and Alan Hansen would have graced most national teams of the time. (Mind you Stein had a strange flirtation with Allan Evans and let's not dwell on the now infamous Hansen-Miller mix-up in the USSR game.)

The point is, Scottish football was synonymous with the bold approach. Going into the decisive showdown with the powerful Soviets, conventional wisdom even had it that in requiring to win the game, Scotland actually were better off than if only a draw were needed.

Flash forward 30 years as Scotland prepare to embark upon a World Cup qualifying campaign that will certainly have its challenges: Serbia, Croatia, Belgium, Wales and Macedonia. There are no cheap points there.

But is the time right for a change in philosophy? Since, what in retrospect, seems like an extravagant '82 campaign, Scotland have morphed into something quite different: at their best, organised and obdurate, usually relying on one significant moment of inspiration.

Under Craig Brown throughout the Nineties, the Scots became masters of the crucial 1-0 qualifying win. It was entirely understandable that Brown played his cards in line with the overall squad strength. We now reflect on a period that saw successful qualification for Euros '92 and '96 and World Cup '98, as something of a golden era.

Now with a different Craig (Levein) at the helm, Scottish football fans are thirsting for the feel good factor again. The importance of getting off to a flying start in a qualifying group can never be overstated.

There's an argument that Scottish strengths and weaknesses are shifting. Parsimony is no longer the watchword. A clean sheet is fast becoming a luxury item and you would be hard pressed to make the case that Scotland's most able players at the moment are to be found at the back.

What has changed for the better is the situation in the midfield positions and in attack.
We were given a glimpse of what might be possible in last month's 3-1 victory against Australia.

Steven Naismith is surely ready to become a consistent match winner for Scotland. Flexible and fearless, he has made a magnificent start to life at Everton. Robert Snodgrass, who scored for Norwich in Saturday's 1-1 draw away to Tottenham looks as though he has a bright international future ahead of him.

Charlie Adam? Yes, he has his critics and Liverpool have deemed him surplus to requirements but at international level, Adam offers something distinctly different and has the capacity to prize open any defence.

Then you have James Morrison, Graham Dorrans and Jamie Mackie, three of the eleven in Levein's squad who ply their trade in the Premier League.

Most exciting of all for me, is Jordan Rhodes. While it's too early to anoint him the second coming of Denis Law, Rhodes looks sharp, quick and eager. Plus he wants to be there, in contrast to Steven Fletcher. It's a crying shame Fletcher elected to make himself unavailable long ago and it's easy to lay the blame at the manager's door. It's takes two to tango.

Rhodes deserves another opportunity on the heels of his sparkling first start against the Socceroos. Kenny Miller has been a wonderfully selfless servant to Scotland but three months short of his 33rd birthday and playing in MLS these days, does he represent the best striking option? Miller has always been there for his country but I feel it's time to let Rhodes loose. Indications are though that Miller will play from the outset.

I'm expecting higher scoring games in this campaign as opposed to the old way of grinding out results. Adapting to the men in the squad and using them judiciously is a responsibility that falls on every manager.

Now, how are we doing with those DVDs from '82?

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