“They say ‘let’s play from the back’. There are not many teams that play from the back now, maybe the top four or five. They launch it and play off the second ball.
“Set-plays are a big part of it now. We lost a set-play against Finland and one against Norway. At that time, we were on the edge of maybe being too small and it was a concern.
“I looked at what I saw in Austria, Italy and Croatia – and they are big, physical teams – so that is the idea behind the squad I have got now.
“If it had been different depending on the draw, it might have been a different squad.”
Sbragia’s observation about the game becoming more direct could be interpreted in a couple of ways. Is he simply being pragmatic to the changing nature of soccer? Is he being reactive rather than trying to forge his own path? To be fair, the game has been favoring teams that are quickest to transition from attack to defense and vice-versa though his description of sides launching and playing off the second ball does suggest that he’s looking to go direct.
However judging from his quotes, Sbragia has clearly decided to take a pragmatic approach rather than an ideological one. As he admitted if the draw was different his squad make-up may have been too. That again throws up the question of results versus player development and what’s valued more.
Will that style of game suit the likes of Harper, who has been described as an intelligent, technical player? Can the team adapt to Harper’s interpretation of the game? Is the focus on the team stifling the development of individual skill? Former Scottish FA Performance Director Mark Wotte, who labeled Harper as Scotland’s answer to Robin van Persie, has railed against emphasis on results rather than the development of players. In an interview with Inside Futbol, Wotte claimed:
“I’m not sure if academy managers in Scotland have picked up what is essentially the most important aspect for current football youngsters: to be recognized as individuals with their own potential and DNA, to be treated as football pupils/students, to be educated as world-class footballers and prospects for their clubs and to become part of a better future within the first team or somewhere higher up with a decent return on investment”.
He went on to elaborate his fear that Scottish football would stagnate or even go backwards when it comes to developing talented players.