Which Scotland stars can make Premier League step up after Hendry comments?
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 7, 2016
Go back to Colin Hendry’s heyday, and Scotland were much more of a force on the footballing international stage.
It just so happens the Tartan Army last travelled to a tournament back in 1998 at the World Cup in France, with Gordon Strachan’s present side coming close but ultimately failing to reach Euro 2016 across the Channel.
Hendry feels the current Scottish crop are suffering from not playing in the Premier League and against Europe’s elite in continental competitions.
“When we were qualifying for tournaments, we had squad players at the top of the tree,” he said. “They were either playing against the best in the Premier League in England, or at Rangers and Celtic and playing in the Champions League.”
“So much money in the Championship”
Moreover, Hendry feels “there is a comfort zone” for Scottish footballers in the Championship, with second tier wages bolstered by the parachute payments on offer to sides that lose top-flight status.
“There’s so much money in the English Championship that these players are multi-millionaires,” he continued. “That’s great for them, but the money’s so good they don’t need to step up.
“They are quite content and quite happy. But the problem is they won’t win anything, they won’t play in the Premier League, and they won’t play for their country.
Perhaps Hendry has hit the nail on the head. Are Scotland’s best and brightest challenging themselves enough?
His words got our football experts thinking and, after some extensive digging, we discovered there is more than a tournament squad’s worth of talent in the Championship eligible to play in front of the Tartan Army.
Marshall and McGregor have both performed at higher level
Alongside currently injured Burnley stopper Matt Gilks, who has rather lost his way since leaving Blackpool in 2014, two of Strachan’s three regular called up keepers play second-tier football.
David Marshall has shown remarkable loyalty to Cardiff City, despite arguably being the only star of their sole Premier League campaign (2013/14) which culminated in immediate relegation.
Making more saves than any other custodian on show that term, Marshall has remained as Bluebirds stopper since 2009, but the Welsh capital club resisted clear interest in the player from West Bromwich Albion this past summer – when the Baggies sought cover for the injured Ben Foster.
Allan McGregor, meanwhile, saw injury in an Old Firm fixture deny him the chance in net during Rangers’ run to the old UEFA Cup final in 2008. He had been first-choice throughout that campaign and played in Europe up until the quarters.
Despite playing two terms with Hull City in the Premier League, he remained loyal to the Tigers after they went down last season. Hendry’s critique can hardly apply to McGregor, who is part of a squad under Steve Bruce that is well-equipped to make an instant top-flight return.
Hull a hotbed for homegrown heroes
Top scorer Abel Hernandez (Uruguay), dynamic Senegal midfielder Mohamed Diame and Egypt’s right-sided player Ahmed Elmohamady apart, the first-team picture at the KC Stadium is comprised entirely of British Isles talent.
McGregor is one of four Scots that Bruce can call upon – students of history will appreciate the irony. By far the most exciting of this quartet is left back Andrew Robertson who, at still only 21, has limitless potential and one certainly capable of playing at a higher level.
Wide duo Robert Snodgrass, finally fit and back from a career-threatening knee injury, and Shaun Maloney, a key player for Scotland netting five times in Euro 2016 qualifying despite an ill-advised move to the MLS, are more established internationals.
Snoddy’s skillful wingplay is much like elder statesman Maloney. Both are adaptable attackers, capable of operating out wide or off the front, though the latter knows his better days are behind him at 33.
Yet Maloney produced in the Premier League when used regularly by Wigan Athletic, scoring seven and making 10 other goals during their FA Cup winning and relegation season (2012/13). Snodgrass may do the same, now in his prime at 28, should he help take the Tigers up.
Should Hanley follow Rhodes out of Blackburn?
Look to the high-profile winter window transfer deadline day move for striker Jordan Rhodes to Middlesbrough from Blackburn Rovers, and you see the kind of ambitious drive Hendry hopes to see from Scotland’s current crop.
Yet this deal to take Rhodes to the Riverside is among the most protracted of sagas, stretching over at least two windows. While at Ewood Park, where he maintained the prolific scoring rate from his Huddersfield Town days, several sides when in the Premier League showed interest in Rhodes.
Wigan Atheltic, Fulham and Crystal Palace were among those teams linked with taking him to the top-flight for eight-figure sums. All Rhodes led to Boro, though, with a £9m payment upfront, which will rise to £11m if Aitor Karanka gets the Teesside team back to the big time, enough to finally prise the player away.
Tony Watt, a former Celtic prodigy that promised so much, has been drafted in on loan by Paul Lambert in a bid to plug the Rhodes-shaped gap in the Blackburn attack, but has much to prove.
Rovers captain and defender Grant Hanley is another who Hendry feels would benefit from leaving his former club, with Lambert’s lads far closer to the bottom three than the Championship play-offs.
“Grant Hanley has the attributes to become a top-class centre half,” he continued. “He still has to develop, but when you play against better players you try to combat them and become a better player. Players will get better at a higher level.”
Fulham a sinking ship
Had Middlesbrough not successfully concluded their long-time courtship of Rhodes, then another proven Championship performer in Ross McCormack could’ve been charged with firing them back to the Premier League.
Fulham’s influential captain creates as well as scoring goals, but at 29 is yet to test himself in the elite division. How McCormack hasn’t graced the Premier League is something of anomaly after more than 100 Championship goals across spells at Cardiff City and Leeds United before west London.
The Craven Cottage club’s flirtation with relegation to League One is even more serious than that at Rovers, with Fulham 4/1 shots to go down.
Yet parachute payments have meant McCormack and midfielder Tom Cairney, uncapped at senior level but one who showed real promise during coincidental spells with Hull and Blackburn, are retained for now.
Cairney, a midfielder with box-to-box capabilities, will not lack for suitors like McCormack if Slavisa Jokanovic cannot address Fulham’s slide.
Derby disappointments may mean Scots have stagnated
While left back Craig Forsyth is out with a serious knee injury, the other Scotland internationals with Derby County aren’t delivering as well as in the past.
Rams head coach Paul Clement has been backed in the market by the board and boasts an expensively assembled roster that should be well-equipped to mount a serious promotion push.
Strength in depth and a sense of competition should bring the best out of players, but in the case of Craig Bryson, Chris Martin and Johnny Russell it hasn’t.
Centre forward Martin is averaging a goal every three games this season and that means he is unlikely to break the 20-goal barrier for a third successive campaign, unless he steps up again.
Wide attacker Russell and front foot midfielder Bryson are not always first-choice, meanwhile, and the latter’s sensational 2013/14 campaign increasingly looks like a fluke.
Blades old boys on upward curve
One-time Sheffield United teammates Kevin McDonald and Jamie Murphy were sold by the Steel City side, but have gone on to bigger and better things with Wolverhampton Wanderers and high-flying Brighton and Hove Albion respectively.
Deep-lying midfielder McDonald may show little interest in scoring, but 11 assists from his anchorman role at Molineux last term were a sign he could do a job in the Premier League, where he figured for Burnley as a youngster during 2009/10.
Strachan has twice called McDonald into the squad, but is yet to reward him with a senior cap. That will surely change, as engine room operator Darren Fletcher is 32 now.
Winger Murphy, meanwhile, is exactly the sort of industrious outlet Chris Hughton wants in his Seagulls side out wide.
Brighton are a compact outfit, content to defend well and nick matches 1-0 if necessary, so Murphy’s four goals from the flank supplement the more direct Kazenga LuaLua, and striking trio Tomer Hemed, James Wilson and Bobby Zamora nicely.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Strachan call Murphy into his squads this spring or summer, as he looks to test out fresh faces before the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign gets underway. Scotland are 3/1 chances to reach the finals in Russia.
Phillips proven in Premier League
Alongside Charlie Austin (now with Southampton), QPR’s notable performer in another dismal Premier League season last term was winger Matt Phillips.
His eight assists did not go unnoticed, as West Brom reportedly tried to sign the former Blackpool wideman in successive transfer windows since.
Just as with Marshall at Cardiff above, the Hoops rejected Pulis’ overtures towards Phillips. That notwithstanding, one way or another this tricky wide player looks set to be back in the Premier League.
Still only 24, despite a first-team debut with Wycombe Wanderers way back in 2008, Phillips is tall for a winger and quick over the pitch. An incredible Sheffield United loan stint in 2011 where he scored six in seven appearances showed his credentials nicely.
Phillips is out of contract at Loftus Road next summer so, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink unlikely to mount a promotion push with QPR after coming in as head coach mid-season, this coming one is the only time for them to sell him for a profit.