I think it’s time to take stock and review the state of our game in a rational and moderate way by searching for Scotland’s Player of the Century. Yes, let’s take a look back through the first ten years of the millennium and determine which player best represents our very own lost decade.
I’ve picked my top ten… so in the memorable words of a kid in my brother’s year at school, “see you dae better” – in the comments please, during playtime or after school.
And as an added bonus: who did Scotland play in the first game of the 21st century, and what was the lineup? Answer at the end.
#1 – James McFadden
One of Berti Vogts original “cheeky boys”, back when people still called him “Jamie”. McFadden will forever be remembered for that one incredible night – that evening in 2002 he went on the lash in Hong Kong and missed the plane home the next morning. Carrying on the tradition of great Scotland players past, all the way back to Hughie Gallacher in the 1920s, through Jinky Johnstone’s hijinks on the Clyde in the 70s, and to be copied with less panache and flair later in Faddy’s decade by the Boozegate duo.
Oh yes – there was that goal, too. “Quelle frappe,” the French boy says, and he doesn’t mean a cold drink from Starbucks.
#2 – Darren Fletcher
How many Scottish players would have started a European Cup (*) final in the 21st century, had they not been sent off in the semis? Need I say more. Captain of Scotland at 21 – the youngest Scotland captain since John Lambie (no, not that John Lambie); mainstay of English champions Manchester United Inc.; almost respected by their fans; and even has Roy Keane backtracking over his comments (October 2005: “I can’t understand why they rave about Fletcher”; November 2006: “If you listen to any of my comments over the last two or three years, if I’ve given any player credit over the years it would be Fletch.”).
So Fletch has to be a contender because he’s a great footballer, a dedicated Scotland man, and has shown that Keane is a bigmouthed wanker. Only downside – scoring a 25-yard belter in Slovenia while I was stuck in the queue outside.
(*) Let’s all refuse to call it the Champions League, eh?
#3 – Steven Fletcher (no relation)
Maybe a candidate for next year’s SCOTLAND’S PLAYER OF THE CENTURY, as his national cap count is so far quite small, but if he’s good enough for Real Madrid scouts to watch then he’s good enough to play for Scotland. Someone who is starting to bang a few goals in down south and who I like because he shares a similar characteristic to Steven Thompson – willing to belt the ball towards goal as soon as he gets it – but without the downside of being a diddy. A promising youngster, but unlike so many we have seen (Maurice Ross? Stephen Crainey?) it seems like he’s starting to fulfill that promise.
#4 – Derek Riordan
Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” is chosen not because they’re the best, or the nicest, or the most important, but because they’ve done the most to influence the events of the year. Riordan is picked in a similar vein – he represents young Scottish talent that goes to waste on the Recaro seats that are now the benches of Parkhead and Ibrox. A prolific youngster at Easter Road, one trip along the M8 to sign up for bags of cash and that’s three years of his life he won’t get back. How many times have we seen it happen? At least this one seems to be having a happy ending with young Riordan managing to rekindle the old flame in Leith. A shame the nightclub owners of Lothian Road aren’t allowed to relieve him of some of his West Coast earnings (he’s barred from every club in Edinburgh, the story goes).
#5 – Kenny Miller
“Close but no cigar” is how I think of Miller. To be fair, he has broken a few barriers – a successful transfer from the East Coast to the West Coast; and then playing for one half of the Old Firm, then the other, and then back again, albeit with a few stops in middle England in between. But can you honestly say, hand on heart, when it comes to crunch time, that it’s KM you want to be bearing down one-on-one with the keeper? There are other players you’d put your money on. And that’s how it is following Scotland these days – when it comes to the crunch, we fall short. [Maybe that’s why Kenny’s an automatic pick when he’s fit.] So represents Scotland in many ways.
#6 – Craig Gordon
Most expensive British goalie ever – GIRFUY, Jimmy Hill.
#7 – Barry Ferguson
Besides being listed here to annoy all Aberdeen fans, Fergie easily justifies his inclusion. Captaining your boyhood heroes? Check. Lifting trophy after trophy for them? Check. Captaining your country? Check. Forming a dressing room clique to get rid of a manager who attempted to clean up the pizza-and-bevvy dressing room culture? Check. All-night drinking session after an international defeat? Check. Sine die international ban? Check. Or maybe not, it’s hard to tell these days.
In an online discussion near the beginning of the decade I suggested Fergie was one of Scotland’s genuine world-class players. It was in turn suggested that I had been reading too much of the Daily Record, which to this day stands as one of the finest insults ever directed against yours truly.
#8 – Andy Webster
The most influential player of the ‘90s wasn’t Ronaldo or Zinedina Zidane or Alex Clelland or Roberto Baggio – it was Jean-Marc Bosman, whose lawsuit completely altered the economics of football. While not on the same scale, Andy Webster’s departure from Hearts to Wigan Athletic was the first transfer to use an obscure provision of FIFA’s transfer regulations enabling him to do what you and I take for granted – leave our employers after a period of notice. This created a legal precedent and further increased player power over clubs, and might just be the single most far-reaching thing any Scottish footballer has done in the last ten years. Sad, really.
#9 – Paul Gallacher
Back in 2003 Paul Gallacher was Dundee United’s number one keeper, up there breaking through with Craig Gordon, and starting to earn Scotland caps (tragically Rab Douglas was our first-choice keeper at the time). Then he chose to move to an English second-tier club as their second-choice goalie. At the time, I thought this was a very bad move for Gallacher – and I was right. Before he played a competitive game for his new club, Norwich signed yet another goalie pushing Gallacher to third choice and wiping out any hopes of further Scotland caps.
More significantly, for a top-tier Scottish player to actively choose to sit on the bench for a second-tier English club… it might just be that Gallacher needed the money, but it was not a positive statement on our game.
#10 – Christian Dailly
For being the only Scotland player to have his own church
The gospel of Christian, from the book of Germans:
“Cheats! Fucking cheats! Fucking diving cheats!”
The gospel of Christian, new testament:
“We’ll play our way, the Scottish way, the best way.”
OK maybe not “best” in the strictest, most technical sense… but we won’t cheat. Much.
Ineligible – Aiden McGeady
He’ll be watching on TV like the rest of us.
Seriously considered for inclusion – Robbie Stockdale, Scott Dobie, Gary Holt, Chris Iwelumo
Because. Just because.
First game in 2000 was against France at Hampden.
Team: Neil Sullivan, Paul Telfer, Callum Davidson, Christian Dailly, Colin Hendry, Paul Ritchie, Billy Dodds, Barry Ferguson, Kevin Gallacher, Don Hutchison, Colin Cameron.