So, it’s getting towards that time again. On the 22nd of March, Scotland take on Canada in a friendly. Scotland have started their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign poorly having won just once in four matches and many have argued that qualification is already out of reach despite there being six games left to play, however, whether making it to the World Cup is still possible or not, it’s clear that something needs to change for Scotland to once again begin regularly qualifying for major tournaments. The Republic of Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland all made it to the most recent Euros in 2016 so there really are no excuses for our failing national side.
The match against Canada represents a chance to give young blood an opportunity to prove itself. The Scotland team that lost 3-0 to England last November had an average age of 29.4 years in the starting line-up which is symptomatic of the ageing squad we currently have. The team have been relying on older players to provide the goods and a team that is full of players nearing the end of their playing careers will soon find themselves in a place where they no longer have those players but have failed to introduce younger talent to take their place. I definitely feel that there are places for veteran players in the side, in fact, I think it’s key that we do have some experience in the squad so that the young players that come in can learn from there predecessors but not enough has been done to ensure those youngsters are ready to step in. I think that even simply having some prospects in the squad would help them get used to international football even if they’re not playing.
Recently there have been more young players in the squad. Oliver Burke, John McGinn and Kieran Tierney are examples of just that but there is more that can be done. I am a Partick Thistle fan and although the pipe dream of seeing cult heroes Kris Doolan or Chris Erskine playing for Scotland is long gone I feel we have a perfect example of a Scottish youngster that’s been overlooked because of his club rather than his talent. Liam Lindsay is a 21-year old, 6 foot 3 centre-half who I feel should be in the next Scotland squad and in this piece I’m going to explain why.
First of all, I’ll give a little back story. Liam Lindsay is one of a few Thistle players who have come through the ranks at Firhill. With the implementation of the new youth academy I’ll be hoping to see some more success stories that are grown with Thistle. He signed his first professional contract with the club in the summer of 2012 and made his debut against Dumbarton in the final league game of the Jags’ promotion campaign in the 2012/13 season where he coincidentally kept a clean sheet on an extremely windy day. He then spent time on loan with then-second tier side Alloa Athletic and Airdrieonians. The defender got his big break in the 2015/16 season when he was thrust into Premiership action on the opening day of the season. With Dan Seaborne unavailable, Lindsay had to start the game alongside Frederic Frans. An already daunting task for a 10-year old was made even more difficult when Frans was sent off just 25 minutes in and Lindsay had to play along Jack Hendry who was just a few months older than Liam. The ten-man Thistle team held on for a 0-0 draw with Lindsay putting in a good performance, showing aerial dominance and restricting Hamilton to shots from outside the box for the most part. This would be an early taste of the success he would have with the Jags. He became a fairly regular starter for Thistle, playing 25 times in that season scoring once in the process and being part of the fifth best defence in the league. He signed a two-year contract extension in October 2016 meaning his contract now runs until the end of the 2018/19 season boosting his market value substantially.
Lindsay has continued as a regular starter this season but we’ll get into that later. A big problem I’ve had is that Lindsay has not been called up to the Scotland squad at any level. Despite playing at Premiership level for the past couple of seasons, Lindsay has been ignored in the u21 set-up in favour of players like Zak Jules or Alex Iacovotti who but a handful of professional games between but have somehow been playing for Scotland from the u17s through to u21s.
Anyway, now that I’ve given a brief summary of Lindsay’s rise and his situation with Thistle and the national team we can get into the reasons that he deserves a chance.
First and foremost, he’s aerially dominant. As I’ve already mentioned, he’s 6 foot 3 and this is obviously a terrific attribute for a central-defender. One of his biggest strengths is his ability to win challenges in the air, being able to head clear dangerous crosses and high balls. He’s also plenty strong meaning he’s a match physically for almost any striker he could come up against. His aerial ability is not only useful in defensive situations though, it’s also a great attribute in attack. So far this season, Liam Lindsay has bagged six league goals. Whenever he’s in the box he’s a threat, he has learned how to make runs off his marker and with a bit more fine tuning he could have been on ten goals for the season already. The goals have been important for Thistle too, taking a little bit of pressure off an attack that has generally struggled this season. For example, he scored a crucial opener away to Ross County in late December as well as the equaliser in the final ten minutes against Kilmarnock earlier in the season. Having a goal scoring defender is a huge attribute for any team, it gives the opposition more to worry about from set pieces and even if he is tightly marked, it means that other players can slip under the radar when attacking a corner or free-kick.
Similar to his height, another one of Lindsay’s plus points is something that he has naturally. He’s left footed. According to a number of surveys and data collections, only around 20% off-roaders ions footballers are left-footed. This not only means that left footed players are harder to come by but also that good left footed players are even rarer. In defence, there is a strange stigma around left-footed centre backs. They’re thought of as one footed but in reality they’re no different to a right-sided player. Many people see having two left footed centre-halves as bad but have no problem with two right favouring defenders together which I find puzzling but that doesn’t matter here. Recently, Scotland have been playing with a left and right footed centre half pairing. Grant Hanley and Christophe Berra with the latter being the left sided individual. However, Berra is 32-years old and playing for an Ipswich Town team who aren’t known for their passing game and their pitch has been criticised as one that restricts passing play and I feel that Scorland need to become a more passing orientated team as out-playing teams is the best way to overcome nations like Lithuania or Georgia who will want to take whatever they can from the game. Obviously it’s not as simple as that but I feel introducing Lindsay into the set-up at a young age would allow the team to build a better footballing team going forward and being able to play out from the back isn’t something that most teams can do. I believe any team that is going to succeed needs to be able to pass from the back and Liam Lindsay has been part of a team for two seasons that tries to play passing football when it’s possible and playing alongside someone who is as calm on the ball as Adam Barton has no doubt help the youngster to improve that aspect of his game.
Not that we have discussed his natural abilities we can move onto his skills as a player. Lindsay is a quick learner. He was thrown into the team on the first day of last season and quickly adapted to the physical nature of the Scottish game and cemented himself in the first team. In his first season as a regular, he scored just once but has gone on to score 6 in the league this season already. Goalscoring is something he has clearly worked on and is something that he has become an expert at. Another example of him learning quickly is his lack of mistakes recently. At the beginning of this season, Lindsay was partial to make a number of mistakes, for example, Hamilton’s opener in the Jags 1-1 draw with the Accies last year came after Lindsay failed to clear his lines and the opposition striker took advantage. This is something the Scotsman has taken out of his game, evidenced by the 6 goals conceded in Thistle’s last 12 competitive games. With the Jags keeping 7 clean sheets in their last 9 matches it’s clear that the team’s individual errors have been scored out but also their tendency to concede late goals. They have conceded just one goal in the last fifteen minutes of matches since 2017 began whereas at the beginning of the season where points were dropped to Hamilton, Hearts, Ross County and Rangers to goals late on. As the defence has become more organised and solid, Lindsay has grown with them putting in standout performance during recent shutouts.
Although Lindsay deserves a lot of credit for his improvements much of his growth must be attributed to Alan Archibald. The Scottish Premiership’s longest serving manager was a defender himself as was his assistant manager Scott Paterson was and this has definitely helped his development. Archie has a history of turning initially shoddy back lines into solid defensive units. An example being Conrad Balatoni. Balatoni was a key component in Thistle’s promotion campaign and was an important part of the Jags defence in their first two Premiership seasons. After the second season, the centre-half decided to leave Firhill, joining Kilmarnock. He had a difficult year or so at Rugby Park, failing to nail down a starting spot and failing to impress when given the chance. The spell ended when his contract was cancelled by mutual consent. He has since signed for Ayr United who find themselves struggling at the bottom of Scotland’s second tier showing that maybe it was Archibald’s management that made Balatoni a Premiership quality player. It could be said that Lindsay is benifitting from the Jags manager’s teaching and is improving as a player thanks to it but as such a young player it’s without doubt that with the right man in charge, Lindsay will do better in life after Thistle than Balatoni did.
To conclude, Liam Lindsay is easily Scotland’s best young centre-half. He is a physical match to almost anyone but also knows how to play a passing game. He is being taught by two veteran defenders of the Scottish game and has shown that be can learn quickly and eradicate weaknesses in a short space of time. He’s part of the best defender in the Scottish Premiership, outside the top three, despite a limited budget. So when you consider all of the above factors, is there any logical reason that Liam Lindsay should be overlooked for Scotland once again?