Scotland coach James McFadden excited by trio of in-form wingers

It might seem like wingers have become the equivalent of buses for Scotland. There has been a long wait for a wide man to excite as James McFadden did on the international scene a decade ago. Now there are three with genuine potential to be pivotal performers for years to come.
Scotland assistant coach James McFadden. Pic: SNS/Ross MacDonaldScotland assistant coach James McFadden. Pic: SNS/Ross MacDonald
Scotland assistant coach James McFadden. Pic: SNS/Ross MacDonald

Already, James Forrest and Ryan Fraser have been crucial components of a Nations League success that has guaranteed Alex McLeish’s side will have the fall back of a play-off place for Euro 2020 should they fail to earn a berth from the forthcoming group qualifying phase. A campaign that will begin with trips to Kazakhstan and San Marino in a matter of weeks.

And though Forrest – with a double and a hat-trick to down Albania and Israel respectively in November and so bank that play-off – and Fraser are the men firmly in possession, the loan spell that Oliver Burke is enjoy at Celtic has puts the West Bromwich Albion man in contention for a place in the squad for the opening double header of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

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Burke may have been utilised as a central striker by Brendan Rodgers, but his pace and power still means he could be considered an option for wide.

Yet what Scotland coach McFadden believes that the development of Forrest at Celtic and Fraser for Bournemouth has demonstrated is that there is so much more to wing play than mazy runs and skipping past markers.

For McFadden, the burgeoning status of both the pair has shown the importance of mental fortitude; of taking the knocks and standing tall. In the case of the diminutive Bournemouth man, when there can be a 15-inch height disadvantage, that is especially true.

“When we watched him at Bournemouth, he was wing-back against Peter Crouch,” said McFadden. “He couldn’t be any more different but it didn’t faze him. That is the kind of characters that we need.

“I read about how when he was in League 1 with Bournemouth and how he wasn’t ready for it, so it shows you how far he has come in terms of his strength. His ability is there too and he has been excellent for us. The impact he has had in the Premier League has been incredible.

“With James, he has done it year on year for Celtic. He has hit real form and it is difficult. At times he wasn’t in the team but he has waited for his chance and he has taken it. That is what you need to do at international level. He has done it for Celtic and then gone out of the team but he is good professional.

“Together they give us pace and directness and we have players that can get them on the ball. There is no point in having wingers if we can’t get them on the ball.”

Yet, Forrest and Fraser must serve a structure set out to afford Scotland defensive protection first and foremost. “If you get a chance, you need to make sure it counts,” McFadden said. “When I was young I used to try and make something happen every time I got the ball but you learn as you go on that you need to try and protect the ball, keep it simple and wait for your chance. But they are experienced. It is not young players that we are talking about.”

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At 27, Forrest is three years the senior of Fraser, and deploys his experience to be a secure presence on the right. He rarely concedes possession, and certainly doesn’t do so by haring for the byline when it’s a doomed enterprise.

“When you are younger you want to get on the half turn, you want to run forward and take people on – I did anyway – but it is not always the best option,” added McFadden. “I think his maturity is there for all to see. Certainly in the last six months, and I know he has scored goals before, he is getting into the box a lot more. I think when you are playing as a wide man you don’t always need to touch the ball to affect the game. He does look after it. If you are making good movements and getting into the box your first touch is your last touch and it’s a goal. You don’t always have to take people on. So he has an intelligence to play the position. It is there for all to see and we are getting the benefit of that.”

Scotland can also derive benefit from the precious commodity that is being given to Burke in Scotland that had previously been denied the 21-year-old despite £28m worth of moves taking him from Nottingham Forest to Leipzig and then to West Brom in the past three years.

“The biggest thing that was stopping him was he wasn’t playing,” said McFadden. “The way he has been playing since he came up has been brilliant. You can see that he is developing a game sense. Some of his play has been, maybe not eye-catching, but he is holding it up, he is bringing others into play and he is making good movements that you would expect a striker to play.

“I know he has played wide in the early part of his career but he has come up here and Brendan sees him as a striker. When you watch him he has those movements and you don’t look at him and think it is a waste playing him there. He has those movements and he will get better. It is basically just playing games.”