National youth team coach Brian McLaughlin declared himself delighted with his new-look Scotland Under-17 squad after their back to back friendly wins over Russia.
The Russians became the latest big-name scalp for Scotland youth sides over the past year, with the two games staged at the Pinatar Football Centre in Murcia on Sunday and Tuesday.
With 13 of the squad making the step up from the Under-16s, a header from captain Jamie Hamilton was the difference between the two teams in the opening contest.
Newcomer Thomas Dickson-Peters and Kai Kennedy found the net in the second instalment, with the latter scoring a screamer that underlines his potential.
Brian, how would you sum up the trip to Spain and the two wins from two against Russia?
It was great, from start to finish. A very successful week. It was good for new players and staff to familiarise themselves with each other. The boys trained really, really hard and played well – which led to two wins and two clean sheets against a nation of 144,000,000 people. That’s not bad.
You’ve also deliberately lined up fixtures against the bigger, tougher nations…
That’s important to us. I don’t want the boys to be in any sort of comfort zone and I think the progress speaks for itself. In the last calendar year we’ve beaten some of the game’s leading nations and manage to dominate possession at the same time, which has been pleasing. We were conscious going over there that Russia had a strong team and were well drilled. We wanted to try out two different systems while staying true to our style of play. They’d never played against Russia and we want to expose them to different types of opposition. So between that and the tactical tweaks it was a real learning curve for those involved.
You made the point regularly about your last Under-17 group that they really seemed to buy into the idea of being Scotland players. Judging by the social media output of the current crop, they seem to be following in the same footsteps.
I think that’s important. As soon as the boys meet up the first thing they see is a massive Scotland badge on the screen. They should feel proud to be playing for Scotland. They need to realise who they represent and they do. When Kai Kennedy scored the second goal we saw the full squad – including two injured players – joining in the celebrations. It wasn’t just that it was a great strike. It was about celebrating a Scotland goal. Regardless of whether or not it came in a friendly, or whatever age-group it is, that should mean something. The week was key for them to become a team on and off the pitch. I think we achieved that.
Brazil, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain are just some of the nations that the various Scotland youth teams have managed to beat in the last year or so. Those involved with Scotland don’t seem to possess any sort of fear factor going up against the established superpowers.
I’ve worked with this group of players five times now. They beat England, Uruguay, Qatar and now Russia twice. They’ve scored a few goals along the way and not conceded any. They should feel good about themselves but they’re just at the start of the process of what it will take to become a Scotland player. It’s a good start but just the start. We’re trying to embed the habits that they will have to take with them throughout their careers.
Another good trip with the boys to beat Russia in both games, also class to get Scotland’s player of the tournament🏴👏 pic.twitter.com/0tPE62V20j— Connor Smith (@connorsmith_xx) August 22, 2018
One of Scottish FA Performance Director Malky Mackay’s recent ideas was to establish a Spanish training base for the national youth teams that would ensure a quality training environment and a neutral venue to attract diverse opposition. How did you find the experience?
I think it’s a great idea. I’ve worked with the company who set this up twice and on both occasions it has been excellent. The training you can do over there is fantastic. We did three training sessions a day over three days. The pitches are magnificent. You only have to wave at the groundsman and he starts watering it there and then. I’ve always like my teams train with intensity rather than long sessions for the sake of it. That setting allowed us the perfect conditions to do that. We would train hard in the morning, rest, recover and have a laugh with the players to help the bonding process. Then there’s the second session and recovery exercises later on. It was quality round-the-clock time away. Everything was just spot on. You know and trust the quality of the food, the accommodation and how far you’ll have to go to get to training. All little things that add up to make a big difference. The level of opposition is always superb. That’s us played Spain, France, Poland and now Russia on Spanish soil. It’s a great base to play that sort of opposition, who are way bigger than us. We can’t always afford to travel to play all of these teams so it’s an inventive way of getting around that. It’s all part of getting the most out of these boys and helping boost their development.