The Rise and Rise of David Marshall

Did an early exit from the Old Firm goldfish bowl help his development?

By Johnny Connelly

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Result apart, there were few positives to be taken from Scotland’s 1-0 away win against Norway earlier this week, but few could dispute the plaudits received by David Marshall for his heroics between the sticks. 

A string of terrific saves, and an overall competent performance secured a clean sheet for Strachan’s resurgent Scotland side, and has further cemented the general opinion that Marshall has become a top goalkeeper.

It’s a far cry from the shaky teenager that emerged in a Celtic jersey in 2004 in the most bizarre of circumstances in the Nou Camp. That night against Barcelona, presumably running on adrenaline, the young ‘keeper gave the performance of his life, and replicated the feat in the home leg to help Celtic knock-out the Catalan giants. 

Things at Celtic quickly went sour for Marshall. Conceding 5 against Artmedia Bratislava, and 4 against Motherwell in quick succession left then Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, of the opinion that Marshall was surplus to requirements. 

How ironic now that Strachan is the man to thrust Marshall back into the limelight on the international scene. Marshall has now secured two consecutive clean sheets for Scotland, and has been at the heart of a robust Cardiff unit in the English Premiership.

The development in the keeper, who’s still just 28, is remarkable by comparison to his Celtic days.

I’m sure many football fans back in 2005 would’ve written Marshall off as a sub-standard keeper, but is that a failing of the pressures attached to being thrown into the Old Firm goldfish bowl at a young age? The pressure to perform without any modicum of weakness or nervousness for Celtic has proven to be the undoing of many players over the years. 

When Marshall was cast off to Norwich to carve out a career in England, few expected him to re-emerge as a contender for the Scotland jersey. 

Years of developing his game in the English Championship in his early 20’s was arguably the best thing for him. Playing for Norwich, in such a competitive league, where there was no expectation of a clean sheet every week, perhaps allowed Marshall to develop naturally, at his own pace, and fulfil the potential that Celtic identified in him as a lad. 

He’s now approaching 150 appearances for Cardiff, through the good times and the bad. He’d never have been allowed that development time at Celtic, so should Celtic be factoring in long term outbound loan deals when developing youngsters? The Marshall case backs this theory, and perhaps there are other examples too.

Charlie Mulgrew’s story echoes this idea. Mulgrew left Celtic as a rough-around the edges 20 year old who wasn’t good enough to hold down a first-team slot. To keep him in the squad for 4/5 years beyond this in the hope that he comes good would be folly, but look at how things have panned out. Mulgrew spent a handful of years playing first team football at Dundee United, Wolves, Southend and Aberdeen, before returning to Celtic as a completely different player. 

Just under 5 years of first-team football, cutting his teeth, has helped Mulgrew become an accomplished professional, worthy of being a Celtic and Scotland regular. 

There are so many examples of promising young former Old Firm players who disappeared off the radar, that a longer, or more complicated development period is surely something worth considering. 

Sometimes throwing a youngster in and expecting a hero to emerge is asking too much, even in the idealistic world of the Old Firm fan. As football grows and develops, we can expect approaches to player development to grow and develop too. Surely it’s worth reviewing this process to maximise the potential of players, both for the good of our game on the domestic, and international front?

Bring on the English! – After Brave Scots Lose At Wembley, The Tartan Army Want A Rematch!

by Johnny Connelly

Scotland players applaud the crowd after a 3-2 defeat against England at Wembley
So near, yet so far. Scots have come a long way in a short time…

12 years, 8 months, and 29 days had elapsed since Scotland last took to the field against our auldest of enemies on the football field; but when the players lined up, the national anthems boomed out, and the kick-off finally arrived, the excitement and passion around the match was so overwhelming that it was hard to imagine how the sides had ever been kept apart.

An explosion of energy right from the word go was a welcome change for the long-suffering Tartan Army. Gordon Strachan’s side, psychologically charged by the deafening noise from the 30,000 travelling supporters, the players lay siege to the England side, battling far harder than we’ve been used to seeing in recent years. It was always going to be an uphill battle, and nobody in the football world gave Scotland a hope against the highly ranked England, yet the Scots managed to take the lead on two occasions, before eventually succumbing to a 3-2 defeat.

Both the euphoria of putting the ball past Joe Hart twice; and the agony of watching Ricky Lambert’s bullet header crash into the top corner leaves the Scotland fans with a gaping hole to fill, a hole that can only be filled by the promise of another chance to take on England again in the near future.

The powers that be surely must see the light and put this fixture back into the diaries of both FAs on a regular basis.

The positives we can draw from having an annual or bi-annual match against England are too great to ignore.  Speaking on Peter & Roughie’s Football Showlast week, former Scotland ‘keeper Alan Rough stressed the importance of the annual Scotland v England fixture back in his day: “It gave the players something to aim for. Everyone wanted to play in that game.”

Roughie’s point is an excellent one. In a time where we’ve seen players ‘retiring’ from international football, withdrawing from the squad with debatable injuries, and at times showing apathy towards the prospect their own involvement in the Scotland setup, a focal point such as the prospect of getting a crack at England on a regular basis could be enough to get them interested in Scotland again.

Scotland lost the talents of Kris Boyd, Barry Ferguson, Kris Commons, and Steven Fletcher (albeit temporarily) prematurely for a variety of reasons. The disappointment of not reaching major finals may have led some players to feel as though representing Scotland in lower profile matches and friendlies is somewhat meaningless. With no focal point to aim for, it’s understandable to see how this mentality could creep in. The psychology of a player can be a difficult thing to unravel. We’ve seen it 100 times before in the domestic side of the game: players will continue to fight hard and produce top performances in league matches that would be otherwise meaningless, if the club still have a cup final scheduled to take part in later in the season.

A match against England every year or two could be our cup final.

It’s nothing short of scandalous that England and Scotland have been kept apart for so long, and it’s a minor miracle that they’ve never drawn each other in the qualifying groups for World Cups or European Championships. Celtic captain Scott Brown donned the captain’s armband for his country against England, but had he been injured or unavailable, a player like Brown may never have played against his country’s greatest rivals. Brown was just 14 when Scotland played England in 1999, surely it’s only right that the best players we produce get to showcase their skills in what is the biggest grudge match possible for the country? Can you imagine Manchester United never playing Manchester City again? Or Barcelona and Real Madrid waiting 14 years for another ‘El Classico’? Everyone in football would be worse off for it.

As much as almost 13 years is a long time to wait to face England; our wait to reach the finals of a major tournament has been longer still. France 98’ is but a distant memory, Gordon Strachan and everyone at the SFA has a responsibility to do everything in their power to give us the best chance possible of reaching a major finals within the next few attempts. England always qualify, it’s just the way it is. A regular match against them could help our campaign, as it’d serve as a barometer and progress marker, year on year (or every two years).

Our road back to reaching the finals of major tournaments will be a long one, so measuring our progress in a tangible manner is key. England’s performance in major finals is fairly stagnant, and as such serves well as a way of measuring how far away we are from being good enough to qualify.

The timing of these matches could aid us too. World Cup and European Championship qualifying campaigns can be long and arduous. Those big 6 month gaps between competitive matches for Scotland can’t be conducive to forming and maintaining a cohesive unit, capable of challenging for qualification. There’s only so much you can learn from the likes of the recent friendly against Luxembourg. When compared to the heated nature of our 3-2 defeat to England, it’s plain to see that as a team, we benefit more from the experience of being pitted against our neighbours.

Away from our immediate qualification and progress goals, current manager Gordon Strachan made a great point about the financial benefits that could be harnessed from a regular Scotland v England fixture. It’s no secret that developing young players, and getting things right for both Scottish and English players from an early age is an expensive task in this day and age. It’s for this reason that Strachan suggested ploughing all the benefits from the annual or bi-annual match directly back into the grass roots of UK football. Wednesday night’s match attracted around 90,000 to Wembley stadium, before we even look at the TV money involved, we’re talking about gross revenue of £3,150,000 from ticket sales alone. This match could easily raise around £10m for grass roots football, and that’s money that our game could put to very good use.

It remains to be seen whether or not the powers that be will bow to the snowballing pressure from fans both north and south of the border to make the match a regular occurrence, but even if we don’t get the action we’re looking for, we’ve come a long way under Strachan. The team look passionate about playing for their country, and the fans are beginning to believe that we can take on anyone, regardless of stature. Strachan’s infectious attitude and personality is under the skin of the nation.

Just a few months ago we wouldn’t have wanted a regular shot at England for fear of the skelping that could ensue. Now, after our victory in Croatia, and a spirited performance at Wembley, Scotland’s lion is well and truly rampant once more.

Bring on the English.