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Gordon Strachan Exclusive - Euro 2024

Gordon Strachan Exclusive - Euro 2024

Reaction To Scotland 2 – 2 Finland

Gordon Strachan on why he isn’t concerned by Scotland’s friendly performances

The preparation for the EURO’s is fine. I wouldn't take any concerns from the friendlies, and I didn’treally as a player or a manager, because, unless you're playing against top sides like Brazil, England, France, Italy and testing yourself against the best, then they don’t really give you an indication of your level.  

Sometimes you're playing against some utter nonsense. You're playing against really poor players. The Champions League is where you're tested these days. If you'rea good player, you play there. 

The players enjoy getting the caps, it’s a nice occasion for their families, particularly when there’s the excitement of playing the best players, but overall, these last two games from a players perspective are about ticking over your fitness, keeping that sharpness and from a managers perspective, maybe looking at new players and chemistry. 

Footballers are competitive animals. They want to be at their best when the tournament starts on Friday night, so they’ll be glad that the friendless are over and so will Steve. 

You find the true players, the real characters, not in friendlies but in big games. The big games are coming along and the players in Steve's squad, that group, have stepped up to the mark when the real games have come along. They will be excited about the next one. Getting on the plane, going off to Germany is when it will really hit them. This is on. The game's on.

These pre-tournament games are always a little bit tentative because nobody wants to pick up an injury beforehand.

Exactly. If you said to the players, “Do you want to get off the pitch now?” Most of them would. That’s fine, let’s go. Do the fans want to go home now? Yes, because the players are fit and they’re about to embark on something much bigger than a friendly against Finland. Let’s wave them (the players) off and all the rest. 

On Craig Gordon’s swan song

I like what Steve did with Craig Gordon. Credit to Craig, because it would have been a body blow to learn that he wasn’t going to be on the plane, but he’s professional enough to turn up and earn his 75th cap for Scotland. 

He's earned every one of his 74 caps, previous to that, but Steve can only take so many goalkeepers with him. It’s one of the hardest jobs as a manager when you have to tell a player that they will not be required to represent their country. 

I thought it was a great gesture to bring on Craig. The players would have loved that moment for him because he'sa very popular member of the squad. He comes on and concedes two – that can happen sometimes. 


Challenges Of International Management vs Club Management

What’s that like when a player misses out onrepresenting their country at a major tournament? 

I was at the ’82 World Cup when George Burley and Tommy Burns didn’t make it into Jock Stein’s squad. They were great in the warm-ups; both played well. The whole squad really felt for them. They were two top players who gave a lot of time and effort representing their country, and the pinnacle is playing for your country at a World Cup – it doesn’t get better than that. 

You've got to remember that telling international players (they are not in the squad) is a lot harder (for a manager). When you’re a club manager, your players get a certain amount of money, they're there because that's what they want to do. You can tell them what to do. That’s part of the deal and they are compensated for it. It hurts when they are on the bench or aren’t playing as much, but it’s a professional matter. 

I may upset some fans by saying this, but players are generally at clubs for the money – they play for the highest bidder. If a player is going to be kissing the badges and all that, they're there basically for the money, and they’ll kiss another badge if there's a better contract at another club (laughs). 

It's not easy telling a player they're left out of a squad for a key international game, especially if you’ve picked them before. 

International football is completely different. I was speaking to an ex-international player of England, and I asked him, “Did you get paid?” He said, “No, I never got paid.” Players don’t get paid to play internationals. Scotland players do not get paid unless they win a game of football, or they qualify for something. 

Nobody gets paid for turning up. The reason they turn up is because they want to play for the country. Sometimes, these guys are playing for absolutely nothing. With Scotland, I know that for a fact, they play for nothing. They do it because they want to represent the country. They want to do it for their family, friends and anybody who wants to support them.

I find it crazy when the media turns on their players and criticises the performances. International managers should be calling them out on it because it’s hard for an international manager to dig-out his players because they just want to be part of it. You cannot tell international players what to do. 

You ask them to be at a meeting and you ask them to be at the training ground. You don't tell them. It's a different thing.

If you say to your missus, “Listen, I'm off for two weeks. You look after the kids, look after the house, make sure everything'salright. I'll be back in two weeks. 

She'll say, “Oh, that's fine, but how much are you getting paid for going away for two weeks?”

Then you’ll say, “Oh, nothing, completely nothing,” imagine if you signed up for that with your missus (laughs). 



Scotland At EURO 2024

Steve Clarke has backed his team to qualify from the group. Do you share that confidence? 

It'sa great group for him. We are so fortunate as a nation - the fans, the manager, the coaching staff, the players, the backup staff - we have got to play in the first game of the tournament against the hosts. The eyes of the football world are on you on that first game. Everybody's going to be watching. 

Is there individual talent in there? Is there somebody that can leave a mark forever in history? Opening game, in front of the German crowd, 80,000 people. It’s a wonderful occasion. 

The third, fourth and fifth games, the second and third games in the group… nobody's really bothered. There's that many games that you pick and choose but everybody watches the first game.

For the players, you are the first on. You set the standard for the rest of the tournament, and you can make yourself known all over the world. It’s an opportunity to leave a mark. 

Group A

Then in the other matches, I've watched a bit of Switzerland and Hungary and there is nothing for Scotland to be scared of there. 

A good thing for Scotland is that both of those sides have recently played in the same formation as Scotland. There’s not too much to think about in terms of their approach - it'sbasically the same shape. Can we do a wee bit in between? Invariably it'll come down to a player doing something brilliant, somebody making a mistake, or a set play.

People talk about this, that and everything, but set plays are huge in this and Scotland have a good physical presence in attacking free kicks and corner kicks. If you look at the Champions League final last week, for all the talent on show, the first goal comes from a corner kick.

That's what you need sometimes, isn't it? These big games are tight affairs and it's a moment.

Absolutely. As I said, it'd be a brilliant moment, a mistake or a set play that wins games. 

It's never really about the build-up for the goal.


Germany vs Scotland

As you mentioned, all eyes will be on this game. Germany don’t look as imperious as the sides we’ve seen from them over the years. They were poor in the World Cup. 

Perhaps thisisn’t an all-conquering German team, but they’ve got some players in there. Thomas Muller is still a menace and Toni Kroos is still a big player for Germany. They were there years ago – I played against them when I managed Scotland – and they were unbelievable then. It’s amazing really. 

I love Thomas Muller. He's not quick, but he scores goals. He sees things, he's clever. He defends from the front, so they've got these experienced players in there to teach the youngsters like Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala all these lessons. That German squad has a nice blend of youth and experience. 

The German clubs have shone this year. Dortmund were excellent in Europe. Leverkusen, they produced an unbeaten season. Bayern, not as prolific by their high standards, but still made it to the semi-finals (of the Champions League). That’s a decent endorsement of the standard they have. Most of their players, even the younger guys like Wirtz and Musiala, have played in big games this year.

Could the German players’ big game experience be a difference-maker? 

Absolutely. Knowing the big games and handling the big games. So, when it comes to that big game experience, even Germany’s younger players, they’ve had that type of pressure all season. 

We've seen Scotland pick up some big results against big nations, Spain particularly.

That's what you've got to do when you qualify. You've got to get one big result. One big result. It was the same when I was in charge. We were trying to get to EURO 2O16, and Ireland beat Germany, which was enough for them in the end. If you looked at the game, Germany absolutely annihilated them, but they got a goal, and you need to get that one big result. Scotland did that. They beat Spain, and then they dealt with the rest of the teams. 

What's the approach and the message to Steve and the boys before they step onto the grass on Friday night? 

It could be that this group arethe luckiest footballers in Europe. They get to play at the opening game of a major international tournament against the hosts. The world will be watching. That’s a big bonus. The players ability has got them there, and the luck of the draw has put them in the first game of the championship. 

Go and show the watching world what great character we have; what great resilience we have.

The midfield, can you keep keeping that ball? Can you keep tight? Can you pressurise them? Can your wingbacks get forward and do things? It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone associated with Scottish football. 

If I was in there, I’d focus on the first bit. I’d remind this group how lucky they are to be opening the tournament. The players will have all of their family and friends there, the people that have supported them throughout their entire careers. Go out and enjoy yourselves because you’ve earned the right to be on this stage. 

It's not enjoying yourself by being a clown by jumping about. When I say enjoy yourself, enjoy the fact that you've got to feel tired, you've got to feel under pressure, but deal with it and enjoy that pressure that comes with playing against good players.

If Scotland were to lose the opening game, they've still got two opportunities against Switzerland and Hungary. It wouldn’t be a disaster.  

I don't think the other teams (Switzerland and Hungary) will beat them. It would be far from a disaster if Scotland lose on Friday night. 



Steve Clarke’s Squad

Let's talk about some of the players then. One player that won't be on the plane is Lyndon Dykes. Will he be missed? 

Lyndon offers that physical presence which gets you a lot of fouls, gets you up the park.

Defenders get anxious when they have that kind of challenge. 

He can score goals. He has nine in thirty-six appearances, so one in four, which is not bad at the national level.

We have other players who can play up there in Che Adams and Lawrence Shankland, and I think that will be enough. I don’t expect to see both of them start, that’s very unlikely with the way that we play. Both of themhave got a physical presence, which is great. They are good enough to play people in and act as a focal point. 

Scotland’s most prolific scorers are midfielders. McTominay has scored seven goals in eight qualifying games. We don’t need a prolific striker when a midfielder like Scott is registering those kinds of numbers. 

John McGinn is capable of doing the same thing. He scored three in eight games, so that’s ten goals between them. We have players that can score goals, they just happen to be our midfielders. 

Shankland’s numbers in Scotland are ridiculous. He's had two back-to-back seasons where he's been phenomenal. He got his goal against Finland and you could see what that meant to the players around him. There's been question marks about whether he can cut it at the international level.

What is international level? Hungary and Switzerland, what level do most of their players play at? Where do most of those guys play and for what clubs? There are a couple if that in each team who play at the top level. Granit Xhaka is one of them. Dominik Szoboszlai is another, but the rest? Where are they from? 

Are the clubs that most of these players play for as good as Celtic and Rangers? Shankland scores goals against Celtic and Rangers, so I think it’s unfair when people say that a player can’t play at an international level. If you’re talking about the biggest and he best nations, the nations with the best players, your Brazil’s, then I think you can talk about international level. There are grades to international levels, which is shown by how international teams are grouped in the Nations League. 

If you’re talking about the top grade, then maybe some people have a point. Would Shankland play for Brazil? Probably not, but if you’re talking about the grades below that, then, yes, he’sabsolutely ready to play at an international level. 

Shankland is well known north of the border, could he enhance his reputation at the tournament? 

If you score a couple of goals for your country at a major international tournament, you’ll always have a place in history. 

I like Shankland as a player. I think he’s intelligent. That intelligence has helped him as he’s got older. He’s twenty-eight, so coming into his prime. His body shapes become stronger; he has upper body strength. He uses his body well and he can work with midfield players in terms of his link up play and movement. He's improved immensely over the last four years.

He understands what he's good at and what he's no good at. He finishes all sorts of goals: right foot, left foot. He can head the ball as we saw against Finland. 

Who do you think is Scotland's most important player or will be the most important player for Scotland at the tournament? 

It’s hard to single-out one player as the most important in this Scotland team. I think it will be the guys that have performed brilliantly for Steve Clarke, so the midfield four for me are as important as each other because they all do something a little bit differently and each player has his own individual qualities. 

The wingbacks are a very important part of the way that Steve sets up his team. Andy Robertson is a marvellous player, but if you don't have the ball in the midfield and bring it out from there, if you can’t control that part of the park, then your wingbacks can’t hurt opponents. 

Robertson is a world-class player, with and without the ball. But he needs that support to be able to impact the game as effectively as he can. 

McGregor, Gilmore, McTominay and McGinn. They're the four most important players. The performances of those players will decide how far Scotland can go at the EURO’s. 

For me, Billy Gilmore, at the last European Championships, I thought he was absolutely sensational.

He’s a clever player, Billy. He reads the game well and intercepts things, so does McGregor. The days of crunching tackles in the middle of the field and stopping someday, that's gone.

When you get the ball back, are you brave enough on the ball not to just dismiss it?  If you dismiss it, it'll just keep coming back at you. What McGregor and Billy are good at in particular, when the ball comes to them, it's never getting dismissed. They can start moves from the edge of their box because they're that brave on the ball. That's important. That's what Billy gives you.

if Billy gets the ball, I would guarantee you that we have possession after that with a minimum of three passes because his passing is so delicate and his awareness is fantastic. That calmness is really important because it can either settle you down when you’re under the kosh or it can help you pick a pass that launches an attack. 

I have to ask as well about Scott McTominay. His goal scoring form in qualification was absolutely ridiculous. He's a guy that has had his doubters in the context of Manchester United. How much will he relish the chance to shine on the world stage?

You've got to remember that Scott’s playing for a Man United side, and everyone in there has their critics. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good you’ve been playing. That is what it’s like to play for Manchester United. 

Let’s be honest, it’s been a difficult season for Manchester United. It’s not like the United team is full of wonderful players and Scott isn’t on that level. This United team isn’t full of great players like the sides we’ve seen down the years with the likes of Scholes, Carrick, Rooney or Ronaldo. If Scott was in a team with those guys, then maybe you could understand the criticism, but at the moment Man United are getting pelters everywhere. 

What you can say about a player like Scott is that you know what he will give you every time he steps onto the grass. You can’t question his integrity. You can’t question his work rate or his character. He’s a good teammate. 

You can have all the technical ability in the world, but it can also be used as propaganda. Who cares what your technique is like if you can’t make the difference in games and that’s what Scott does, he makes the difference in games. 

Another player I'd love to get your thoughts on is Kieran Tierney. He always looks brilliant when he plays for his country. He plays as a sort of left-sided centre-back with Robertson to his left. He's coming off the back of a season where he played out in Spain and he did well for Real Sociedad.

He's obviously going to be on the market from an Arsenal point of view because they're looking at different options there. Is this an opportunity for Tierney to demonstratehe's capable of playing for a top, top club? 

You've got to know Kieran Tierney to understand what motivates him. With Tierney, playing well at the European Championships to show that he’s capable of playing for the biggest clubs, that will never, ever be something he goes into games thinking about. 

Going back to Celtic, or wherever he's played, he's only interested in being a good teammate. He's only interested in what the manager and players think about him. 

He came through with a crop of very talented young players at Celtic. The best players the academy has produced recently: McGregor, Forrest, Tierney, Ralston, I know for a fact none of them were never given any special treatment. 

He’s a humble kid that is only interested about performing. He won’t be thinking that this tournament is a shop window for a move from Arsenal this summer. Kieran will concentrate on his football, and by doing that, his future will take care of itself. 

Let's talk about what Scotland could achieve here then. How far do you think Scotland can potentially go in this championship? 

Listen, I think we will need a bit of luck and we will need our players playing at their best.

That helps. That helps you progress. The margins are fine in international football – games can turn on an instance – and you need to be able to take advantage of the little opportunities that you’re given in games. I think Scotland can definitely qualify from the group we’re in and then you take it game-by-game. 

But you can just say that the games can get changed themselves with things like important things, set plays. I think Scotland can definitely qualify.



England At EURO 2024

How do you rate England's chances at the tournament?

England have got some magnificent players. You look at the attacking talent and think, this is a team that has to find a way to get all of these players functioning well together. 

I think they should play with one holding midfielder. With the talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, England don’t need to play with two defensive midfield players. The modern-day midfielder is capable of doing it all; they are very mobile and England have the players that can cover a lot of ground in that area of the park. 

They should be looking to take the game to opponents with the attacking talent they have. There is a lot of great talent there. 

That talent pool is highlighted by the fact that Gareth Southgate has made some pretty bold calls that have surprised a few people. Grealish and Rashford not taking part are probably the biggest ones. Maguire would have been there, but he was injured.

Rashford has not had a good season. He'sa good player, but he's not had a good season. If you think about the boy Anthony Gordon, Eze at Crystal Palace, who I think could be the surprise package for England and really make a difference when needed, both of those players have produced better campaigns and are in better form than Rashford this year. 

As a manager, sometimes you pick players because of what they’ve given you before, or because you think they can produce something special, even if they are not in the best form. The reality is that that very rarely happens. Players don’t click into form just because they’ve got on a plane. 

That's the choice you've got to make as a manager, especially with forwards. Defenders can usually keep the level of consistency the same because the game comes at them. For forwards it's different. You've got to pick players who are on form at that moment in time; players that have been performing for the last two or three months. 

I don’t have a problem with Gareth leaving Rshford behind. I don’t have a problem with him leaving Grealish behind. 

Fans and pundits need to remember that Gareth sees things differently. No one can see the England team and the players through Gareth’s eyes. It would have been difficult for him to make the decision to leave out Grealish and Rashford, but these are the calls you need to make as a manager. You need to be stubborn. Stubbornness definitely helps you. Blinkers down, this is what I'm going to do.

It was a bold call to axe Rashford and Grealish.  Gareth Southgate has been accused of favouring certain individuals in the past. 

I understand that. As a manager, you do favour certain individuals, I did. I would favour certain individuals who I knew worked well with the group; players who made other players better. 

International management is a different ball game. Sometimes you need to keep certain individuals in your squad. These are guys who may not be in your starting eleven but who know what the standards are to play for your country and what’s expected of you as an international player. They would still need to produce on the pitch when called upon, that’s for sure. 


On Manchester United

From a manager's perspective, before that FA Cup game there were all kinds of rumours swirling around about the future of Eric ten Hag. When the rumour mill kicks into overdrive as a manager, does it make the job more difficult?

Yeah, it does make it a bit more difficult because you can see players look at the press reports, your subconscious is telling you that the players are looking at you and think, ‘you’re not going to be here for very long; you’re not going to be here next week’.

Are the players looking at a dead man walking? That type of thing enters your head as a manager. It’s hard to deal with that pressure, and even though you’re thinking it, you can’t show that to your players. It has to be business as usual. 

It also affects the other parts of the job. You’re in the press conference, and the reporters are looking at you with a look that says we both know this could be the last one. Again, you can’t let that pressure get to you. Sometimes the journalists will ask if it’s going to be your last game, and that is really unfair. When Erik ten Hag was asked that question, I thought he did really well in that situation. I would have said to the journalist that asked that question, “F**k off!”

There's a common decency in everything. I think some of the journalists were guilty of going beyond that in the run-up to and after the FA Cup final. 

Yeah, I agree.

Erik ten Hag handled those questions about his future with dignity. It was a fantastic result against Manchester City, but I do find it staggering that his future hasn’t been resolved yet. The FA Cup final was two weeks ago. Are Man United waiting for DanAshworth to come in and start making decisions? Surely that’s not the case and surelyhe’s having conversations with the club without being officially appointed to the role of Director of Football anyway. 

If the people running the club genuinely don’t think that Erik ten Hag is good enough, then they need to tell him now, because what’s happening at the moment is unfair. I also think there’s a point here where Erik ten Hag has to say, “If you don’t want me here, if you don’t think I’m good enough, then fire me.”

To get to this stage where the season finished a couple of weeks ago, I think that's enough time to decide whether you want ten Hag to continue in the job next season. The silence is deafening. Everyone will know that he doesn’t have the full backing of the club and that undermines you as a manager. 

I’m surprised that the club have let this drag on. I think that says everything about where Man United are at the moment that they are incapable of making this decision. They can’t make this decision after two weeks. 

Yeah, it's not great.

As you say, the uncertainty around it isn't fair, particularly after the way that he finished the season. All right, domestically he wasn't great, but he lifted a trophy and he’s a human at the end of the day. United should be a little bit more respectful.

Adding a trophy is fantastic, it really is fantastic. Does winning a League and FA Cup in a two-year spell mean a great deal? I think winning the cups only become a big deal if you're winning them as part of a double or treble. It doesn't mean that much on its own because all the top managers are judged on what they do in the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League and that's it.

The purists may see it differently, but I don’t think there is the same gravitas in winning the League or the FA Cup now as there was previously. It'sa nice day out.  

I suspect that given what we've just spoken about, your answer to this would be slim, but what do you think are the chances of our ten Hag going into next season as the Manchester United manager? 

Everything kind of indicates that… I hope I'm completely wrong. I'd find it very hard; very strange if Erik ten Hag is still managing the club next season. To make this guy go through this mental torture and then ask him to go and manage again… He knows that over the last two or three weeks, the people that run Manchester United are not sure if they want him to be the manager. There's no doubt about that.

I don’t think it’s a secret that they’ve been talking to potential replacements. If they don’t bring in a new manager, and when you think about all of the stories that leaked before the FA Cup final, Erik ten Hag would be starting the season by default. 


On Southampton And Leeds United

I just want to ask you about how the Championship season climaxed. The playoffs had two clubs in the final that you had a connection to, Southampton won, Leeds were disappointing in that final.

We saw Saints struggle the season before in the Premier League. They swapped managers quite a bit, the style of play flipped and flopped, but do you feel like with Russell Martin in there, and his defined style of play, will next season be a little bit brighter for the Saints?

Well, there's two things to consider when answering whether Southampton will be better equipped for the challenge of the Premier League and that is the club and the manager. 

Will the club allow Russell to stick to his principles and play the football he wants to play against a higher level of opponent if things aren’t going well? Will they keep the faith?  

Russell has set-up his teams like that throughout his management career. He did the same thing at MK Dons and Swansea. I think he even mentioned that Southampton took a big chance on him because he only finished 10th with Swansea. You wouldn’t say that was a particularly brilliant season for Swansea to be fair. 

Southampton’s ownership like his style of play. He's stuck to that, and he's stuck to what he thinks is right. Do I think that'll be right for the championship? You could probably say that Burnley were a better side going into the Premier League than Southampton currently are, and we all know what happened there. 

That's the decision that both the club and Russell have to make. Burnley ran away with the Championship (in 2023), Southampton finished third, with a similar style of play. He’ll either stick to his guns and they will survive, or he’ll get them relegated and end up with the Real Madrid job next year (laughs)! 

What about Daniel Farke then? At one stage Leeds looked like they were going back to the Premier League.

Leeds got off to a poor start, and then they flew. It got to the stage, a little bit like last season, when it was crunch time, they failed. Leeds United failed at the crunch period. In between it was fine. 

As for the manager, Daniel Farke, I think he's a top manager. Leeds should keep him and go again next season because his record is phenomenal. Some managers are getting pigeonholed now in terms of where they should be. Farke is like playing your joker card if you want to get out of the Championship. He'll do it next year.

Archie Gray is a very young, promising player. He's been linked with a lot of big, big clubs. How exciting a prospect is he? Is he ready for a move to the Premier League?

I've known about Archie and his brother for a long, long time. His brother is meant to be every bit as good as him. I know the Gray family very, very well. The Gray brothers have been on my radar because people I respect have told me about them; they’ve gone on and on about them. 

I’m thinking to myself, I’ve been hearing about how brilliant Archie could be since he was twelve. Your natural instinct is to question what you’ve heard because everyone always tells you stories about this youngster who is thirteen or fourteen – all of my mates at school were going to be professionals too (laughs) - but then I saw the boy play with my own eyes. 

Wow. It doesn’t matter where you put him, he can play there. He hasn’t been brilliant in every single game, but then that’s what you would expect from an eighteen-year-old. He’s a fantastic prospect. I like his intelligence. He's got the ability to play in different positions.

This guy has got everything you want from a prospect. I can see why there are a lot of Premier League clubs that would like to take him. 


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