THERE is something in the Scottish psyche which seems addicted to inquest and recrimination when things go wrong in sport. It is almost like we wait for things go to awry. Then we can all say I told you so.

We are, of course, in the midst of one of these periodic bouts of navel-gazing again right now, with the old football scattergun brought up to survey a demoralising run of four humbling defeats to Belgium and Russia. Rugby isn’t much better, as devotees of the oval ball game sift through the wreckage of a catastrophic Rugby World Cup campaign which ended in the face of a Japanese onslaught on Sunday in Yokohama.

Let’s stick to the football for now, though, where everyone with half a brain cell knows that our structures could be far better. Way, way too many of our most talented footballers fall off the grid between the years of 17 and 21, with too many careers lost to the internal politics, greed and desperation of certain football clubs.


READ MORE: Celtic youngster Karamoko Dembele opts for England over Scotland

Our biggest sides – the ones with the most resources to develop them – do sterling work up to a certain age then often find they have nothing to do with the players who come out the other end. While there are promising results at younger age groups, a combination of these shortcomings currently mean that our academy system currently seems incapable right now of providing Steve Clarke with too much in the way of central defenders, centre forwards and right backs to play with.

But all this is for another day. Because it occurs to me more than ever that road mapping an upturn in the fortunes of Scottish football requires a twin track. Asking our players to be able to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Belgium or Russia the long-term part of this process, one which requires sharper focus on giving our young players the chances they need to develop as aspiring athletes.

While we’re on this subject, I would bring back regulations to ensure that clubs are actively forced to play a certain number of players under the age of 21, but plenty of other things should be on the table, including the number of teams in the top flight, what we do with the reserve league, improved facilities and even shifting to a summer season to ensure better pitches and a style of football which translates better to continental play.

But it is the short term I want to focus on today. Because quite simply, Scotland’s men’s football team have just six months until they are pitted into hopefully two of the biggest matches in this country for the past couple of decades. I am talking here, of course, about the Euro 2020 play-offs against first either Bulgaria, Israel or Romania, then hopefully a final against either Serbia or Romania. Win through them and Scotland will have qualified for its first major finals in 22 years, with matches being played at Hampden no less.


READ MORE: SFA performance director Malky Mackay tips Rangers starlet Kai Kennedy for the top

Although it isn’t really six months. Currently, it is 180 minutes of real playing time against Cyprus and Kazakhstan in November, working with a group which could be vastly different from the one he has available to him in March. And maybe a maximum of around ten training days. Surely we can do better than that?

Lord knows there are impediments to it, especially when you consider the stranglehold which the club game has, and the fact a handful of key men are sprinkled across big clubs in England. But surely the SFA should be doing everything in their power to try to allow Steve Clarke to maximise the training time he has with his players going into those games, helping them to do the work on the training ground which made Kilmarnock such a coherent unit?

Could the SFA look at getting players together during the January break? It is the kind of idea which isn’t unheard of across other nations, the likes of the US national team and others get a camp together each January where they reinforce the strategic goals and tactics of a manager.

While clubs would obviously be resistant to lose key players from their foreign training camps, and would jealously guard their time off, even a couple of days together ahead of those March fixtures could pay dividends for Clarke. The Scottish top-flight is off from Sunday December 29 to the midweek of January 22, although the SFA could perhaps free up another couple of days on the weekend of January 18, when the Scottish Cup fourth round is scheduled to take place.

There could also be an opportunity to get players together around the time of the first-ever English winter break in mid-February, with one week of Premier League fixtures being spread across two weekends. While which matches are played when will depend on TV selections, now would be the time for the SFA to start examining the issue and asking nicely.

By all means, let’s indulge our inquest and recrimination mode, if it helps get us closer to a long term solution for Scottish football. But the biggest crime of all would be failing to do everything we can in the short-term to try to give our game the shot in the arm which appearing at Euro 2020 would be.