What Scotland needed least of all following a morale-boosting victory over Iceland was a nightmare scenario which sees both the nation’s captain and a promising goalkeeper banned from ever playing for Scotland again.
It was bad enough that Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor were drinking in the hotel after the defeat to Holland, mind you that game was enough to drive anyone to drink, which saw the pair dropped to the bench for the 2-1 victory against the Icelandics. But giving two fingers to 50,000 fans at Hampden was the final straw for the SFA and the pair were rightfully given their marching orders and neither will pull on the Scotland shirt again.
To add to the debacle both were suspended and fined by Rangers boss Walter Smith, who also stripped Ferguson of the captain’s armband for the second time in his Rangers career.
Only last week George Burley told the press how lucky he felt to be able to field Ferguson in the midfield alongside Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown for the first time since he took over. The fact that he had his three strongest midfielders available was seen as the dawning of a new era which so far under Burley has been more miss than hit. But now the Scotland boss will need to find someone else to complete the midfield triumverate which indeed looked strong, at least on paper. Ferguson is a big loss for Scotland in terms of his tenacity and undoubted ability.
Against Iceland, with Scotland lining up 4-4-2, Burley played Fletcher and Brown in the middle with Morrison and McCormack down the flanks, and of course it paid off. But Scotland’s preferred formation is 4-5-1, especially when playing away and against strong opponents, like Holland last week and last year when the Scots took on both Italy and France. Should they reach South Africa next year it seems likely that this will be the formation of choice, and this leaves Burley with a big task of replacing his midfield general.
There are still some positive signs however, with Scott Brown having flourished into a key player for both Celtic and Scotland this term. And Darren Fletcher, with all of his experience with Manchester United, will no doubt step up into the role of the side’s most important player in the midfield engine room.
The loss of McGregor isn’t as big a blow. As long as Craig Gordon can re-establish himself at Sunderland he provides the Scots with a top class goalkeeper with his best years still ahead of him. But the loss of a top-quality understudy is hardly ideal at this time of the qualifying campaign.
Time will tell if the lifetime ban will indeed be just that. Qualification for the World Cup will probably put more pressure on Burley rather than relieve it, with Scotland still desperate to make the second round for the first time. Fans can be fickle, and if pressure is put on the boss to reinstate the pair to give Scotland their best possible chance of making it, the SFA could potentially buckle.
The biggest losers from this entire scandal could well be Rangers, as they continue to push Celtic all the way for the SPL title. Without their first choice ‘keeper and captain, can they keep up their momentum and take the title? This writer, and probably the fans too, doubts it.