Gordon Strachan Exclusive - Euro 2024

In an exclusive interview Strachan gives his verdict on the Euro Championships so far:

- Scotland were the better side against Switzerland

- Victory against Hungary should see Scotland through

- Ronaldo still has something to offer

- England need to let themselves go


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On Scotland vs Switzerland

What are your thoughts on the Scotland performance?

It was a very positive performance. I thought that we were the better side and were a little bit unlucky not to nick it in the end. It was a very different performance from the one we saw against Germany. We showed our true colours last night. I liked everything about it.

Strachan on the difference between the performance against Switzerland

In the game against Germany, the players went out there and they never really determined the outcome of the game.

Of course, you’re hoping for Germany to have a bad night to give you more of a chance, but it’s like Sir Alex Ferguson used to say to us players, “go and find out how good these lot are.” Scotland didn’t find out how good Germany are because they didn’t test them out, but they found out how good Switzerland are because they challenged them.

It was a much more positive performance and typical of the displays that have been a hallmark of Steve Clarke over the last eighteen months. We did the things that we’re good at. We tested the opposition.

I've said all along, our midfield four are better than Switzerland and Hungary's midfield players. We didn’t see much of Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler, Scotland won that battle.

The Swiss wingbacks couldn’t get out. Whatever happens on the field is usually dominated by what goes on in the middle, and we were the superior team in that area of the pitch.

There are many different ways to win a midfield battle. Gunn went long quite often and we won most of those knockdowns, then the ball gets recycled into the midfield four. It was direct at times, and off the ball we pressed with a lot of intensity, which we didn’t do against Germany.

Positive with and without the ball

We were at it from the first whistle. Lots of energy, lots of pressing. In the challenges, it was good to see the players standing up and enjoying that part of the game.

Without the ball we were excellent. We didn’t engage the German defenders when they had the ball – we let them knock it around and we put the breaks on the press. We held our shape and allowed them to dominate the ball, but it was totally different against Switzerland. McTominay was harrying players and closing things down, and when the ball was passed back from the Swiss midfield to the centre back, he chased after it.

We were being positive. McTominay didn’t worry about the consequences of what might go on if he is bypassed when pressing, he was more interested in what he could do if he won the ball back.

Let’s see how good you are

The Scotland performance drew parrels to when Atalanta beat Leverkusen 3-0 in the Europa League final recently. Atalanta went right up against them, one for one all over the pitch. They put the Leverkusen defence under so much pressure because they pressed and isolated players, winning those individual duels.

Atalanta decided that's what they've got to do (to win). Scotland were similar last night.

Andy Robertson’s impact

Andy Robertson was a menace, but he was only allowed to be a menace because Scotland were able to control that midfield. We had the ball, so he could get forward and was able to keep putting in those deliveries.

As I've said many times, you cannot do anything as a wingback or a fullback until your midfield has the ball.

Were there any individual performances that caught your eye?

I think it would be unfair to highlight an individual performance for praise because there were about five or six players that played at the top of their game and the rest of the players backed them up nicely.

There was more energy in this Scotland performance. What were the main factors of that?

Against Germany, we were too worried about the consequences of the press being bypassed and we were static. The intensity wasn’t there without the ball. It was totally different against Switzerland, the starting positions form the players were better.

Scott Brown used to be good at leading the press for me – making things uncomfortable for the opposition – he went and pressed somebody with no inhibitions about what was on behind him. When players do that, it sends a message: “I’m off, will you join me?”

McGinn and McTominay were like that last night. It sets the tone for the team.

Describe what the feeling was like in the Strachan household when Zeki Amdouni missed that header for the Swiss at the death?

No nerves. I was watching it with my wife Lesley, and over the years she must have seen over 2,000 live games of football (laughs). We’ve seen it all before – no worries.

Listening to Steve Clarke pre and post-match, he doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low – I liked how he dealt with the media around this game and tournament. How would you assess his press management skills? It would be fair to say that you were a little bit more jovial with the media.

I think Steve’s got a fantastic handle on the media. He handles things a little bit differently to how I did, but he still wears that exasperated and unimpressed look that I had when somebody asks him a daft question that is self-explanatory or irrelevant.

Someone asked him about the little argument he had with his set-piece coach Austin MacPhee during the Germany game, that’s the sort of thing that frustrates managers because it’s so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. That’s a silly question, and if that’s the only thing that you want to ask, then you haven’t seen anything else in the game and you’ve got limited knowledge.

Football isn’t a day out at Disney Land – it’s not a place filled with fluffy cuddles – disagreements happen just like they do in real life. Top level sports is littered with conflict because of the commitment that it’s taken everyone to get where they are and the because of the desire to win. The number of times those kinds of arguments happen is incredible.

Steve, when he was asked that question, he'd go: “Really? We've just been beat 5-1 by Germany, my world's falling apart, and you want to ask me about that?” He would have forgotten about it.

What about Anthony Ralston. How much credit does he deserve for coming back from his early error?

Steve Clarke was right after the game when he said there probably wasn’t another player on the park in a Switzerland shirt that would have been able to finish that first-time.

Ralston made a mistake, but there was a lot for Xherdan Shaqiri to do, and he did it exceptionally well.

I could play the game. I've scored about 160 goals, but no way would I have thought about hitting the ball from there. It was a wonder strike that not many players are capable of. 99 times out of a 100, unless your Messi or Ronaldo, that’s not going in.

Footballers will always make mistakes, it’s about whether or not you’ve got the character to deal with the setback. If you look at Tony’s character, he’s been dealing with these (setbacks) throughout his career. He went on loan to Dundee United and wasn’t a big success – he’s had to fight for his Celtic career at times and accusations of whether or not he is good enough to play for that club.

He has worked hard for everything he gets at Celtic. He’s had plenty of knockbacks in his career, and those stood him in good stead for what happened last night. If he didn’t go through all that, he couldn't have dealt with that.

It would have been rotten. It would have been horrible, and when it happens, you feel like you're on your own. Somewhere in the back of his mind, you draw on all of those character-building moments and subconsciously you deal with them.

There were a few other little errors – one from Kieran Tierney and one from Grant Hanley – that didn’t get punished.

Tony was unlucky, but he dealt with it brilliantly. If somebody crumbles at that point, and becomes your weakest link, your teammates can fall down to that level. 

There are some players in Clarke’s squad who you awarded first caps too. Players like Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, captain John McGinn, Stuart Armstrong, Kenny McLean – you handed international debuts to arguably Scotland’s two most important players.

John McGinn was playing for Hibs in the Scottish Championship when I first picked him. There's a long story about how I picked him, but that’s for another day. I knew all about his ability and I knew what he was like as a person.

KT, he got in the Celtic team right early. I think he was about 18 when I gave him his debut. I also picked Robertson when he was young (19). People criticised the decision to bring these guys into the senior team without following the youth team pathway. Do me a favour. It’s a giant waste of time; if you’re good enough, age is irrelevant. Some players have the character to play at a senior level early in their careers.

With Robertson, he caught my eye playing for the U21s. I needed a player to join the senior lads in training and suggested Andy. I think he had only been a professional for a month or two, but he came into the group in October and immediately impressed. Within 10 minutes, the coaches and I started to think that there's a player here.

KT is such a humble guy. Like most all the young boys at Celtic, he wasn’t given any special treatment because of his talent. He worked for everything.

It’s amazing that McGinn, Tierney, Robertson and McGregor, who was in amongst the squad, but never capped by me, have had such wonderful careers.

How proud are you of those guys after last night and what they’ve achieved over the last few years.

I wouldn’t say that I’m proud to have given them their introduction to senior men’s football playing for their country, because someone would have picked them anyway.

I’m delighted for them as people because they’ve all worked so hard to get to where they are. Whether they would have picked them that early, who knows.

We saw Kieran Tierney stretchered off with a hamstring injury. He’s suffered so much heartache over the years with injuries, are there any words of encouragement that you would like to give him?

First of all, we don't know how bad the injury is yet. We’ll find out in a day or two and I’ll have my fingers crossed for him. He’s had these problems a couple of times before during his career, and when you talk about a player’s character, these are the moments when its on display.

Kieran’s character can never be doubted. His character will get him through this again. I've always said to players that have been out injured for long periods – six months or whatever, and Kieran’s had a couple of those – don't think about it as you’ve lost six months, just add it on to the end of your career. If you're thinking about packing in at 33, pack in at 33 and a half.

Apart from Tierney’s injury, were there any negatives to take from the performance? Did you see anything to give you any concerns?

No. There were no negatives to take from the performance, apart from Kieran’s injury.  I'm happy with it all. I still think we'll score from a set play somewhere along the line. We're big enough and strong enough to do that – we nearly got one against Switzerland with Grant Hanley.

That is one thing I would like to see us improve upon. Let’s see if we can use that physical presence and power to our advantage at some stage because we’ve got guys with good aerial ability. The back three that finished the Switzerland game, McTominay, these are good targets to have.



Scotland vs Hungary Preview

Going into the final group game, with your destiny in your own hands, are things ticking along nicely? Would you have taken that before the tournament kicked-off? Are Scotland where you thought they’d be at this stage?

I think so. We said before the tournament that four points will be enough to get you into the knock-out rounds, and that is in our hands if we beat Hungary on Sunday night.

I think we would have all wanted our destiny at this tournament to be in our hands, and that’s where we are.

We’re back to square one after the Germany performance. That has been firmly put to bed and we should go back to being the team that performed ever so well to get us here.

Hungary are a good team, but there isn’t anything in that team that we should be frightened of.

Andy Robertson mentioned little improvements for the game against Hungary, what do you think those could be?

When Andy Robertson is talking about minor improvements, he’ll be thinking about his own and how that can have a positive impact on the overall performance. There were a couple of set-plays that he delivered that could have been a wee bit better, so maybe that’s what he’ll be thinking.

If Andy can get the delivery right, hit those big targets, then that is going to cause problems for the opposition. It will be minor improvements that he is looking at, and it’s good to hear him saying those type of things because we needed huge improvements after the Germany performance.

We saw Gilmour come into the team against Switzerland, did he do enough to keep his spot in your opinion?

Oh yes, absolutely. Billy Gilmour did more than enough to keep his spot in the team for Hungary. I think that all of the players, not just Billy, looked a little bit more comfortable in their positions against Switzerland.

That's not a criticism of Steve, absolutely not, because Germany are a very different team compared to Switzerland and they play in a different way. You have to play to your strengths as a manager, and Steve picks the players based on who he thinks can execute the game plan against specific opposition. He’ll be analysing what Hungary’s strengths and weaknesses are and will pick a team accordingly.

Kieran Tierney’s injury is a major blow. What changes do you expect Steve Clarke will make in his absence?

Steve will stick with Scott McKenna. Before the game, somebody was telling me about six injured players, but that’s irrelevant. You can’t do anything with an injured player and the performance last night was our best for a while. We don’t need to worry about injuries.

What would be your message to this group of players before Sunday’s clash with Hungary?

The message to the players is simple: Determine your own future.

You can either go out there and see how Hungary are going to play, or you can go out there as a group and have that desire to go and challenge and test them. Can you beat them in the individual duels and collectively? Do you have the appetite to run further than you’ve run before? Can you display that commitment to not give your opponent an inch over the course of the match?

It's going to be difficult. There will be spells where you’re going to be under a lot of pressure. Make the difference when you have the ball – create problems by being positive.

Enjoy and embrace the challenge. Your destiny is in your own hands. Don’t have any regrets and trust your ability, because Hungary’s group of players are not better than you.

In the opening matches, particularly against Switzerland, the Tartan Army delivered rousing support as always, what would be your message to the fans before the final group match?

There's 200,000 of them out there. (Jokingly) Who's actually working in Scotland just now and how many people are actually going to school (laughs)?

It’s such a special experience for the fans. Continue to enjoy yourself. It's good fun. You’re radiating such positivity to the people watching at home – you’re filling up the screen. I love seeing the colour and hearing the noise. I think the support is absolutely fantastic.



On Managing Bit Players

I wondered if we could look back briefly to when you signed Roy Keane for Celtic. He left Manchester United after falling out with Sir Alex, joining in 2006 and leaving with a double (Premier League and League Cup) after 10 appearances.

I played against Roy Keane years before when he was playing for Nottingham Forest and I was still at Leeds, but by that stage, towards the end of his career, he had become this huge personality. I don’t think there was a player that was quite like him in terms of that personality and the demands he made of himself and the people around him.

When we first met, I told him how I thought it was brilliant that he wanted to come and play for Celtic, but I had a settled side. If I was picking a team tomorrow, I'd pick the same team, but I'm delighted you've come along. I’m glad you dreamed of playing for Celtic and I want to help you accomplish that dream.

It only took Roy three games or something like that to get in the team. Unfortunately, his first game was against Clyde, and we got beat in the Scottish Cup. My midfield that day was Stiliyan Petrov, Neil Lennon and Roy Keane. How good is that?

Unfortunately, as is always the case when you’re a manager, I got the blame for the defeat, nobody else.

it worked well. I think he liked it in the dressing room. There were people like Neil Lennon and Stiliyan in there who were determined characters, so they had the same mindset as Roy. It wasn't like he was coming in and driving people on. That was already there - it was already in the dressing to a certain extent.

The reason I’m mentioning Keane, with the personality he had, the ego, I suppose it’s quite similar to the situation that Roberto Martinez has with Ronaldo and Portugal. The player almost becomes the bigger than everything else and I imagine that can rub players up the wrong way.

I think that most players understand that when you’re dealing with a personality and a player that has reached the heights of the game that few can, guys like Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo, then they will always take the spotlight.

Players are clever people. There’s always a dynamic in a dressing room, a hierarchy of players. The Portugal players will understand that Ronaldo is going to be the dominant man in the team. It’s happened before with a lot of teams and a lot of managers, but it’s all about how the manager deals with it.

Manchester United had the same thing with Eric Cantona. Special players create interest that goes beyond the average player, that’s always been the case in football.

The players understand that. They will understand how difficult it can be for a manager to have that superstar presence in the dressing room, but as long as the superstar understands that it’s all about the team, then it’s not a problem. That was what Roy was like. He could be a bit more demanding than some other players, but it wasn’t about him, it was all about getting the best results for the team.

It only becomes a problem when your superstar players with big personalities can’t influence what happens on the pitch. When that happens, that creates major problems in a dressing room if a manager doesn’t address it quickly.

Most players realise when they’re time is up, they know instinctively. They won’t need a quiet word from the manager.

Is Ronaldo’s time coming to an end at the top level? Every time he plays and doesn't score, the same questions are asked about whether or not he should still be there.

The manager will know (whether or not Ronaldo can have an impact at this level) by watching how the other players react to his game. Are the players still fully behind him?  It’s not that they will be moaning and groaning, but you can tell by just watching your players.

If a manager can sniff that out, and nine times out of ten, when it’s a player like Ronaldo, he will have to, because there won’t be a player in that team that will knock on his door and tell him Ronaldo can’t do it anymore, then it’s decision time.

What are your thoughts on Ronaldo. It’s a very small sample size, but after Portugal’s game against the Czech Republic, can he still do it at the highest level?

Ronaldo still has something to offer, of course he does. You’ve really got to watch his game if you’re going to consign his career to the scrapheap! He didn’t score against the Czech Republic, but his movement was sharp, and he played well.

He's probably had quiet games when he was 32 and didn’t score too. It’s always been that way in football, you reach a certain age, you’re over the hill, and Ronaldo is an outlier in that sense at the age of 39. If you have a bad game when you’re younger, nobody is bothered, but heaven forbid you to have a bad game at the end of your career (laughs).

Age. That must be the problem. It’s something you have to deal with as a player. Time will always catch up with you. I was lucky enough to play late into my career, but when you know, you know.

I realised playing for Leeds at Anfield. 40,000 people were there that day, and no one would have drawn that conclusion apart from myself, well me and the manager Howard Wilkinson.

There's a point as a player where you've got to understand, you can see it in your teammates eyes when your influence wanes. The funny thing was, my influence waned playing at Leeds, who were competing for titles, but when I went to Coventry as a coach, I started playing again. It came back and the Coventry players felt that – they were listening and reacting to what I was saying.


On England At The Euro’s

I read some comments where you jokingly said, you would move to Shetland if England won the EUROs. Do you think you’ll be rushing to the estate agents after their opening match against Serbia.

You've got to look at the weather in Shetland just now. I think I would prefer to be somewhere a bit sunnier. Shetland's 12 degrees todayday, we're 23 here, I'm not going to Shetland.

After that first performance, I don’t think you’ll need to call your estate agent anytime soon (laughs). I think you’ll be alright.

You know, I was chatting to my two boys, and we said the same thing. The England game has been the only boring game at this tournament that we’ve watched so far. I watched Croatia, Albania yesterday, that was magnificent, and then the Scotland game.

England game versus Serbia, that was boring.

On England, from what you’ve seen so far, how do you think they compare to some of the other runners and riders at the tournament so far?

I don't think England have let themselves go yet. They haven’t let themselves go and enjoyed the occasion and all the rest of it. It’s hard to tell after one game about how they compare to the other nations you would tip to do well, so we’ll see what kind of performance they deliver tonight.


On His Connections

Talk to me about John McGinn. You worked with him in the international team, did you think he would have such a stellar career when you first saw him play?

You must be delighted that McGinn’s talents will be gracing the Champions League next season.

I thought he was terrific last season for Aston Villa and has been since he joined the club. He’s definitely one of the most influential midfielders in the Premier League in terms of what he does on the pitch for his club.

He plays without fear. When I brought him into the Scotland set-up, young kid, playing in the Scottish Championship, he didn’t have any fear at all. He was humble and he respected the people he was playing with and against, but he also had fun and enjoyed playing in front of a massive crowd.

When St. Mirren were relegated from the Scottish Premiership in 14-15, John was available on a free transfer. I was telling anybody I could In England to take him. I always rated his ability and knew that he was capable, so I pleaded with the people that I knew to give him a try because he would offer value, not only as a player, but financially too.

I think he joined Villa for about £4 million from Hibs. Funnily enough, my granddaughter works at the club on the comms side, and she tells me how much of a lovely guy he is. I’m a massive fan of John’s for numerous reasons and I can’t wait to see what he can do in the Champions League next season.


On Manchester United

You were critical of Manchester United’s treatment of Erik ten Hag when we last spoke and told them to decide on his future. They have and he’s staying, are you surprised by that?

With ten Hag’s future, I thought that the longer it was unresolved, the less chance that he had of keeping his position as the Manchester United manager. Then I thought to myself, surely Manchester United can’t be mentally torturing this fella by keeping him on tender hooks like this if they weren’t going to keep him. Football management can be a cruel game, but nobody is that cruel surely.

So, I changed my mind. Then you start to hear things about Jim Ratcliffe, and that he’s a decent bloke. You speak to a few people in the game and then you assess what’s happening. After everything that I had heard about Jim Ratcliffe, there was no way that he would have left his manager hanging like that if he didn’t think he was good enough. He would have made the decision to fire him quickly.

He's keeping his job, which is great.

From Erik ten Hag’s point of view, he's going to want to shore up his own position now. Will he get a long-term deal?

I’m sure Erik ten Hag would love a new five-year contract, who wouldn’t. There will always be speculation about your future when you’re the manager of Manchester United and you don’t win every game. I’m sure there will be more speculation over the next few months, despite the club’s decision to stick with him.

As for a new deal, I don’t think it’s likely, and certainly not one for more than a season or two. They would be wise to see how Erik ten Hag gets on for the first six months of the season.

I think ten Hag is always going to have those doubts about his future now. What would happen, for example, if there is a player that he really wants and he doesn’t get him – will he be thinking that he’s being undermined?

Whether or not Erik ten Hag will feel undermined if he doesn’t get the players he wants depends on the assurances that he would have been given in his meeting with the club after they decided to stick with him.

Manchester United are going to be working with a new executive structure above him this summer, so ten Hag’s role and responsibility on recruitment could be significantly reduced. We don’t know the ins-and-outs of the conversation.

Sometimes a club will veto a signing a manager wants for a number of reasons, not because they don’t believe in or see a long-term future with the manager.

Recruitment is always dangerous for a manager. If you really, really push for a signing and they flop, that’s a blot on your record, and it happens. Your heads on the line in those situations, and to be fair to ten Hag, he’s made quite a few bad signings in his two years at the club so far. Perhaps it’s better to let someone else take the lead on recruitment.

Manchester United are building an executive structure to support the manager. They will have experts handling the recruitment, so ten Hag doesn’t have to take all the responsibility on signings moving forward.


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