Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland was a surprise inclusion in the latest Scotland squad, announced this week by national football team boss Steve Clarke.
Shankland is part of the group which will face Russia and San Marino as Scotland prepare for their upcoming Euro 2020 play-off matches, following the current qualifying campaign.
Scotland have had a torrid start to the Euro qualifiers, with defeats to Russia, Belgium and Kazakhstan.
A player plying his trade in Scotland’s second tier should realistically have little chance of getting into the national first team set-up, and yet, it is hard to disagree with his involvement, in the difficult circumstances faced by Scotland.
The talismanic Dundee United striker has already scored 15 goals this season, adding to his 50 goals for Ayr United in the past 2 seasons, catching the eye of Scotland boss Steve Clarke in the process.
Clarke told BBC Scotland:
“He will come into the group with a lot of confidence… He scores goals with his head, with his left foot, and his right foot. He is a natural finisher.”
This is high praise for a player who has just a handful of Scottish Premiership games to his name. But where Shankland lacks in experience, he makes up in natural talent and hard work.
Many of the players in the Scotland team have only experienced top-flight football, shielded from the hardships that footballers face in the cutthroat lower tiers in Scotland. Learning the harsh realities of lower league football has given the striker a grounding in patience and resilience.
Following his release from Aberdeen, Shankland dropped down a division in order to restart his career, by regularly scoring goals at Ayr. This gives Shankland an edge over other forwards in the squad, regularly facing adversity in his career, and coming out the other side stronger.
As Scotland struggle to perform in the Euro qualifiers, experimentation is key with the Euro play-offs in mind, and players like Shankland represent a new approach, fighting against the staleness of recent squads.
In the past couple of years, the forward line has been a trouble area for Scotland. Steven Fletcher, Matt Phillips and Ollie McBurnie have all failed to set the heather alight, scoring just 2 goals between them since 2016.
Shankland offers a different type of option. He is the complete striker with excellent hold up play, an ability to run in behind, and most importantly, an eye for goal.
While many see Shankland’s inclusion as an indictment on the quality of Scottish football, his involvement represents new opportunities for different types of players being involved in the squad, which will undoubtedly benefit Scotland’s Euro hopes.
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