Scouting for Scots

Anya shines in Skopje, but could we unearth further hidden gems?

By Johnny Connelly

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Football has this funny habit of throwing up moments of brilliance, surprise, and shock when you least expect it. Just when you think you’ve sussed out how a team will play or line-up, up pops one of the game’s little surprises to catch you off guard.

Just a few weeks ago, the name ‘Ikechi Anya’ was completely alien to the Tartan Army. Now, plucked from the international abyss, the Watford attacking fullback looks to be amongst Scotland’s hottest properties.

After an impressive half hour cameo against Belgium, and an awe inspiring 90 mins in Macedonia, the Tartan Army are buzzing with excitement about the surprise package that is, Ikechi Anya.

Given that we’re a few days on from the match in Skopje, the dust has settled somewhat. We’re still on a high from Anya’s outstanding performance and wonderful goal, but the question has been whispered among fans, how on earth did we not notice this guy until now?

Despite not having a surname like Wallace or McDougal, Ikechi Anya is as Scottish as Irn Bru, and the guy on the Scott’s Porridge Oats box. Anya was born in Glasgow and bred in Glasgow (albeit to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother). He’s Scottish, and has a wealth of experience playing at a decent level in Spain, almost cracking the Sevilla and Celta Vigo first teams, yet nobody thought to even consider him in a dark blue shirt.

He’s been a real top performer for Gianfranco Zola’s Watford team. With his electric pace, dogged determination, and newly discovered composure when it comes to finishing, Anya looks as though he’ll go from strength to strength, both domestically and internationally. His discovery is a huge benefit to our national side, but our failure to discover him until the age of 25 should send alarm bells ringing through the current player identification setup.

If he could slip through the net and under our radar, how many others are out there?

We’re no strangers to making the most of the options presented through things like the Grandparent eligibility ruling. The likes of Neil Sullivan, Don Hutchison, Nigel Quashie, and Kris Commons (to name but a few) all made the grade as Scottish internationalists in recent times, despite not being technically Scottish.

With the Scotland side being somewhat rejuvenated under Strachan, players are enjoying being a part of the international setup. Hopefully this puts an end to players pulling out of squads, masking their apathy to play with dubious ‘injuries’.

Barry Bannan was quoted in the PLZ Soccer ‘Boot Room’ saying: “There’s a great buzz about the Scotland camp. Everyone wants to be involved and play for Scotland.” Perhaps this buzz will help us unearth some eligible players like Anya, that we may have previously overlooked.

As much as the purists of international football hate it, the Grandparent rule has become part and parcel of the modern game. Even the heavyweights of the world utilise it to the Nth degree. Take Germany for example. As much as their style of play is a joy to behold, they’re far from a starting XI of pure blood Germans.

  • Miroslav Klose – Polish
  • Lukas Podolski – Polish
  • Sami Khedira – Half Tunisian
  • Mesut Ozil – Turkish
  • Cacau – Brazilian
  • Jerome Boateng – Half Ghanaian

The stereotypical German efficiency seems to go beyond their endeavours on the park, and into their identification of eligible players for their national side, earmarking the best ones from a young age. We should be doing the same.

It’s a bonus to the purist when the player, like in Anya’s case, turns out to be born and bred in Scotland, but there’s no shame in going further afield, and using the rules to your advantage, as the Germans and many other top sides have done in recent years.

The alien concept of having to send out scouts to identify players eligible to play for Scotland may well be the right road to go down. Scotland has never been a nation resplendent with special players, so the addition of another one or two players like Anya could make all the difference. What lurks in the English Championship? Or further afield across Europe? The discovery of a Scottish grandparent for an uncapped player could make all the difference, especially when we get to add the likes of Steven Fletcher back to the squad, and can harness the developing skills of younger players like James Forrest.

It’s a no brainer; players want to play in successful teams. Success breeds success, and there’s a real feeling that Scotland can go places with Gordon Strachan at the helm. There’s only one place the Tartan Army would like to go, and that’s France again in 2016.

It’d be quite fitting for the long-suffering Scotland supporters to make their return to the big-time in France, for Euro 2016. By then it’ll have been 18 years since they last made the trip to France for a major finals.

Maybe now is the time; Lord knows it’s been long enough, and a little help from the right scouts could go a long way.

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