On the face of it, Sbragia’s justification does seem to hark back to an outdated style of football favoring graft over talent. Graham Hunter bemoaned the dropping of Harper stating:
“This is a horrible day for the future of Scottish football – if we want to play well, intelligently, maturely, in a cosmopolitan, European style.”
Of course, everyone associated with Scotland wants to see the team play well, intelligently and maturely but do they necessarily want it done in a ‘cosmopolitan, European’ style?
Ian Cathro, the Scottish assistant coach at Valencia, warned against his country trying to copy the model of other nations:
“History says that Scottish football does have a tendency to shy away from the technical players in favor of the more physical. We’re Scottish. We should not try to be Portuguese or Spanish because we will just get beaten. Scottish football has its own values and there are ways of making progress with a particular type of football. But you must always respect who you are, what you are”.
Scottish soccer needs to figure out its values though and what it wants to pursue on the pitch. Realistically, Scotland is not going to compete for major titles any time soon. So do the powers that be focus on athleticism over technique as the future of the Scottish game and get the likes of Jack Harper to conform within the system? Do they want to play a more progressive game and let players express themselves? Can a convenient middle be found? Scotland, at the moment, will not produce a similar number of players with the same technical ability as Spainish so Cathro is right insofar as warning against copying the styles of other countries. That said it still seems strange that a player of Harper’s skills can be overlooked.
The focus has been on Jack Harper’s omission but it does the whole debate reflect fairly on the abilities of the other player within the squad? Harper was labeled a ‘luxury’ player with the inference that he is tactically ill-disciplined but inadvertently the rest of the under-19 squad have been tagged as just tall, physical runners which seems hardly fair on them either.
It just goes to show how a few words, no matter how well intentioned, can change the perception of things. Sbragia deserves credit for being honest and after seeing Scotland beat Austria and draw against Italy his young team could seal a spot in the European Under-19 Championships if they can get a positive against Croatia. However he has painted himself into a corner not only by seemingly abandoning technique in preference for athleticism but also the need now to produce the results to justify his decision.