THE NEW UEFA rankings come out, either later today, or tomorrow, and this month's rankings are more-important than most, since this will be the basis of the positions which each of UEFA'S member nations will occupy in the new Europa Nations League.
The new UEFA Nations League logo
This will come into effect in September next year, and will have far-reaching consequences for the UEFA members. Basically, the 55 countries will be split into four groups: Group A will comprise the top 12 nations, who will be split into four groups of three teams. Group B will comprise the next 12 nations, again split into four groups of three teams.
Scotland look certain to be placed in Group C, which will comprise 15 nations, split into one three-nation group and three four-nation groups, with the bottom 16 nations in Group D, which will comprise four four-nation groups.
As things stand, and while they might change, any change will be slight, League C will comprise: Romania, Scotland, Hungary, Slovenia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Norway, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia and Lithuania, although, with which nations we are drawn in the actual groups will not be known until the first draw is made in Lausanne on 24 January, 2018.
The league matches will then be played over six match-days, which will include double-headers, between September and November 2018; and, if Scotland manages to finish top of our group, we will be promoted into League B for the next running of the League.
Winning our group, as well as earning us promotion, will provide Scotland with a “safety belt” option for qualification to the European Championships in 2020. The 16-group winners, if not otherwise qualified via the normal Championship qualifying groups, will go into the play-offs for the final four places in the 2020 finals.
The League groupings – A, B, C and D will also provide the nations in each pot for the 2020 qualifiers, so, a group win would lift us into the B League – Pot Two If you like.
The new league will mean fewer international friendlies will be played, which should be a good thing for Scotland. Since the start of this 21st century, Scotland has played 154 internationals. We have won 64 of these games – 42%. Eighty-nine of these games were competitive – World Cup or European Championship matches, of which we won 40, or 45%. The other 65 games were friendlies, or if you like “International Challenge Games” (I include the Celtic tournament in Dublin in these figures). We won 24, or 37% of these games.
So, we do better in games which are truly competitive, we should embrace the change to the new National Leagues.
James Morrison - one Scotland captain who is Scotland-qualified via grand-parents rights
However, and this I believe is one of the fundamental weaknesses of the way the SFA currently manages our international teams – I believe, while we should never close the doors on “grand-parents rights” bolstering the number of home-grown Scots whom we can cap, we MUST improve our grass roots and see more technically-proficient Scottish-reared players coming through.
We need to have a clear pathway towards the international team, am I alone in believing we need to see players, whether home-born and bred or what I call Diaspora Scots, given a means of proving they are Scotland-class, before we throw them in to sink or swim in a meaningful game?
South African-born "Long" John Hewie (left) came through the Scotland B team while Eric Caldow (right) came through the Under-23 team to form the Scotland full-back partnership in 11 internationals
The SFA has toyed with this idea since the early 1950s. A Scotland B team was introduced in November 1952, so long ago, television had only just reached Scotland. They then shut the B team down in 1957, after a mere five matches, although, to be fair, “League internationals” were running then. The B team was briefly revived in the late 1980s, again to a distinct lack of enthusiasm from SFA suits, the clubs and the fans, before Berti Vogts tweaked the notion slightly with the short-lived “Futures team” - an idea which has worked well or Germany, but, was quickly dropped by the SFA once Berti left.
Berti Vogts thought he had seen the Futures, but the SFA coudn't see the same thing
Age group internationals arrived with the first Under-23 game, in February, 1955. Under-23 games gave way, in 1976, to Under-21 games, but, of late, the players in that squad have proved to be a long way short of readiness for the A team.
We need a means of bridging that gap, if we are to get out of League C and up through the rankings. Other wee countries have found a means of going from minnows to contenders – how can Scotland do this is is now a huge question for the SFA.
The SFA has just shy of a year to sort themselves out and lay the foundations for the Nations League and the future. How they use this period is crucial.