With qualification for Brazil 2014 already impossible, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has decided to use the forthcoming game against Croatia next month as a test bed for potential new international stars. After an impressive season with Celtic where he scored a total of 10 goals including a fine winning strike against Barcelona in the Champions League, young striker Tony Watt is promoted from the youth team to Strachan’s main squad as one of six changes. Joining him will be Hibernian striker Leigh Griffiths, who on loan from Wolves, has been in blistering form with 28 goals this season, capped off with a much deserved SPL Player of the Year nomination. Alongside Watt and Griffiths, Strachan has called up the untried and uncapped quartet of Stuart Armstrong, Gordon Greer, Ryan Jack and Gary Mackay-Steven in a very much changed Scotland squad.
But it’s the inclusions of Gordon Greer that raises a few eyebrows. Greer has been in fine form for Brighton this season, which made it to the Championship playoffs before eventually falling to a Wilfred Zaha inspired Crystal Palace. But at 32 years young his call up, unlikely Watt or Armstrong who are just starting their careers, seems late in the day and less forward thinking. Whilst Scotland historically have been strong in the centre back position with the likes of Hansen, Bremner, Hendry and Calderwood all pulling on the dark blue over the years, recent years have been somewhat lean with an over reliance in the Caldwell brothers and an inconsistent Christophe Berra. Greer could help in the short term but long term Scotland need to find a suitable replacement to build a defense around. Strachan has clearly rewarded Greer with a call up based on form but from the players prospective, will this mean a regular place in the squad going forward or more likely a solitary cap that he can tell his grandkids about one day.
Yes Greer is not the only player to be capped at international level in his 30’s and will certainly not be the last so touting his call up as a token gesture may be wild of the mark. But history suggests that, excluding goalkeepers who can play into their forties, outfield players in their 3o’s have started the quick decline towards retirement. There have been recent examples of other countries handing international debuts to older players such like England capping Kevin Davies or Chris Powell, with both players well into the latter part of their careers. Spain did perform a masterstroke with the call up of 30 year old Marco Senna just before World Cup 2006. Senna, who was born in Brazil but chose to play for Spain after gaining citizenship, went on to become the player of the tournament at Euro 2008 as Spain triumphed in what would be their first of three back to back international titles. Senna however is the exception to the rule with most players over 30 having only a bit part career at international level.
For Greer, the hope is that this will be the first of many call ups to represent his country. Having played already at B level, he will be excited to make his full debut if given the chance against Croatia next month. However the player is likely to be realistic about his chances of gaining several caps especially given his age. With the World Cup dream now buried alongside other failed qualification attempts, Strachan will now be focusing on his Euro 2016 campaign, which will start in earnest in September 2014. By that time, Greer will be 34 and edging closer to retirement unless he can find a second wind like former Scotland players David Weir and Graham Alexander and play till he is forty. Regardless to pull on the shirt of your country of birth is a major honor and one that Greer will savior for the rest of his life, even if it’s a onetime only event.