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You can take the Scottish striker out of German football . . .

IN the summer of 1984 Hamburg, the deposed champions of Germany, needed a lift and they needed goals.

Mark McGhee spent 18 months at Hamburg and has remained in contact with German football since then. Picture: Bob Thomas
Mark McGhee spent 18 months at Hamburg and has remained in contact with German football since then. Picture: Bob Thomas

They had finished level on points with Stuttgart but lost the league title on goal difference having scored fewer than any of the other top five clubs. Their solution was to look to Scotland. They signed Mark McGhee from Aberdeen, the powerful ram of a striker they had recently faced in both the Uefa Cup and Super Cup.

McGhee made his debut in a game at Borussia Dortmund, in the very stadium he will return to as Scotland's assistant manager on Sunday night. Hopefully this visit goes better. A problem with his toes meant McGhee barely trained in the days before his debut and on the eve of the game he had a stomach upset which kept him up most of the night. "I didn't play all that well. I was playing when I probably shouldn't have. I was booked in the first two minutes for cementing the goalie. I explained to the referee 'that's what we do in Scotland'.

"The thing that always sticks in my mind is a quote from Klaus Fischer [the former West Germany international striker]. He said he thought Aberdeen had sent over my brother. That was his appraisal of my debut. I felt that was a bit hard!"

It did not need Scotland to draw Germany in this Euro 2016 qualification group for McGhee to become an evangelist for the world champions' football. He has been an enthusiastic admirer of the Bundesliga and their national team since spending 18 months with Hamburg, which ended when he returned to Scotland to join Celtic in 1986. Like most who have played or even spectated there, Dortmund's vast Westfalenstadion left a profound impression.

"I know what a fantastic stadium it is to play in. It's fabulous. The noise is brilliant. It's one of those I've always felt where the noise seems to be orchestrated. It's the first place where the chanting originated when they read out the players' names. It's just brilliant."

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan never played in Germany although he did sign for a German club, Cologne, at the same time as McGhee went to Hamburg. Alex Ferguson angrily intervened and eventually the deal was annulled and Strachan joined Manchester United instead.

What did he miss out on? "The thing I remember most about German football is just the difference in the professionalism," said McGhee. "There was a different level of commitment to everything whether that be training or playing. People prepared for training. They didn't train any harder than us, but they prepared harder. That was another level for me and was right through the game and culture.

"It's taken a long time to get to that point, but I think we are more like that here now. That was a long time ago and they were already miles ahead of us in many respects.

"Over the years whether Germany have won things or not there has been a consistency in their ethic. There is a fantastic work ethic in everything they do in life. They won the World Cup because they had better players than everyone else, but ultimately they won because those players worked harder than any other team. Their attention to detail was superb. That requires dedication and hard work. They put more into it than anyone and it's not a surprise that they have had more success than most."

On the eve of the World Cup final their manager, Joachim Loew, predicted that Germany were about to begin a period of domination in international football. Saturday is the start of chapter two for them in that respect, as they attempt to build on the glory of Brazil by laying the foundations for an eventual triumph at Euro 2016 in France.

Philipp Lahm, Misolav Klose and Per Mertesacker have retired from international football but, on Sunday, their loss will be cushioned by the return of further stars. "One or two missed the World Cup and they will be important players on Sunday," said McGhee.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if Marco Reus and Mario Gomez featured against us. They were injured and will be up for this match. Germany don't lose anything by the likes of Lahm retiring, even if he was fantastic at the World Cup."

McGhee never lost touch with Germany. He has frequently returned, most recently to watch their friendly against Poland in May (a 0-0 draw) and is in regular contact with the likes of Bernd Wehmeyer, the Hamburg chief executive, and current Fulham manager Felix Magath, his former team-mate.

As for the current German national management, his only experience of Loew was once meeting him in a lift at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge. The next few months will reveal whether Scotland, like Germany, are on the way up.

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