Having revealed the nominees for Player of the Season from the SWNT & Scotland Youth sides, attention now turns to Steve Clarke’s men.
The 2019/20 season is a difficult one to evaluate. The season was supposed to hinge on March’s Nations League Playoff Semi-Final v Israel and then (all going well) a Playoff Final v Norway or Serbia to decide whether Scotland’s Major Finals drought would end at 22 years.
Before the rug was pulled from under the 2019/20 season, we released this video asking if now was the time to lay the ghosts of the past to rest?
With the big finale of Scotland’s season on hold, we can still reflect on the six matches that were played. Scotland entered the 2019/20 season with a small chance of qualifying automatically for Euro 2020. Defeats to Russia home and away and Belgium at Hampden quickly re-focused attention on the Playoffs.
Steve Clarke’s side did rally and put together a morale boosting run of three consecutive wins, beating San Marino 6-0 before closing the group with a 2-1 win in Cyprus and a come from behind 3-1 home win v Kazakhstan.
Scotland finished the group 3rd (where we had been seeded), 9 points away from second place Russia.
For this award, I (Gordon Sheach) consulted with the co-hosts of the Hampden Roar Podcast Andy Bargh and Ben Ramage, who contributed their suggestions for who should be shortlisted for Scotland Men’s Team Player of the Season.
Ryan Christie, 25 (Celtic)
Scotland starts this season (sub appearances): 4 (2)
Ryan Christie has enjoyed a stellar year for Ladbrokes Premiership leaders Celtic, his season exploding into life with a hat-trick and an assist in an opening day demolition of St Johnstone. By then, he had already hit the ground running with three goals and two assists in the first two rounds of Champions League Qualifying. When the season was halted, his record was 19 goals and 16 assists from 43 appearances, comfortably the most productive season of his career.
For Scotland, Christie had missed Steve Clarke’s first two squads, but his early season form ensured a return for the first games of 2019/20. While he did not start at home to Russia, his appearance off the bench injected fresh intensity and forward momentum into a side that had retreated after taking the lead.
He was a pivotal part of Scotland’s improvement between October and November, providing two assists against San Marino and curling in an excellent opening goal in Cyprus. With the wealth of midfield options at Steve Clarke’s disposal, Christie has excelled when played wide on the right, cutting in on his left foot as his goal in Cyprus demonstrated.
Liam Palmer, 28 (Sheffield Wednesday)
Scotland starts this season (sub appearances): 4
Scotland goals / assists this season: 1 assist v Kazakhstan
Liam Palmer arrived into international football later in his career. The Sheffield Wednesday right back made his debut for Scotland in the 0-3 defeat in Astana at the start of Euro 2020 qualifying. His second cap didn’t arrive until the trip to Moscow under Steve Clarke. Since then, Palmer has played the full 90 minutes in Scotland’s last four competitive games and appears to have taken ownership of the position from Stephen O’Donnell.
Right back has been a position of instability for Scotland. Since the most capped RB of the last decade, Alan Hutton’s last cap in 2015, the position has been held by many including Callum Paterson, Kieran Tierney and O’Donnell.
Palmer has impressed defensively and going forward this season, providing the assist for Steven Naismith’s goal against Kazakhstan. He's also an all-round good guy as this clip shows!
John McGinn, 25 (Aston Villa)
Scotland starts this season (sub appearances): 5 (1)
It may seem hard to believe, but at the start of the 2019/20 season, John McGinn had never scored for Scotland and never played in the English Premier League.
McGinn had collected 15 caps since being given his debut by Gordon Strachan in 2016. His form for Scotland has flourished since being given the licence to roam closer to goal under Steve Clarke. Since giving Scotland the lead against Russia at Hampden, McGinn hasn’t looked back.
A hat-trick of opportunistic finishes against San Marino followed, before a goal and an assist v Cyprus and a brace at home to Kazakhstan. A return of 7 goals in six games is remarkable at international level for a top striker, let alone for a midfielder.
Beyond the goal-scoring, what has been impressive about McGinn’s play is his physicality and drive to get Scotland moving upfield. Watch Ryan Christie’s goal against Cyprus again and you’ll see McGinn receive the ball in midfield with his back to goal, one touch later he’s rolled his marker and is driving upfield to supply Christie with the assist for the goal.
At club level, McGinn took to life in the English Premier League with ease until his season was ended by an injury at Christmas. In 18 league starts, McGinn had collected three goals, two assists and many admirers of his all-action style.
Steven Naismith, 33 (Heart of Midlothian)
Scotland starts this season (sub appearances): 2
Scotland goals / assists this season: 1 v Kazakhstan.
While Steven Naismith only started two of Scotland’s six games this season, the impact he made was memorable. With Andy Robertson unavailable through injury for Scotland’s final Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Kazakhstan, Steve Clarke needed to fill the leadership void he left behind. He turned to Steven Naismith.
Naismith led the team out as captain for both games and led from the front. His playing style is to be always in the ear of his team-mates, encouraging them while demanding more. It could be argued that Naismith’s playing style helps bring out the best in Scotland’s myriad of midfield attacking options, he excels at taking the ball in and allowing wide players to pivot around him. He is also deceptively good in the air, with an excellent record at winning flick-ons for team-mates.
Against Cyprus he collected his 50th cap, ensuring his place on the Scottish FA’s roll of honour, while in his 51st cap at home to Kazakhstan he scored his tenth international goal, showcasing his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
In our retrospective on Scotland’s Decade (2010-19), we noted that Naismith had collected the most caps of any player in the decade, scored the most goals and provided the most assists. A convincing argument for him to be Scotland’s Player of the Decade.
But is he your Player of the Season?
And the winner is...
With a resounding 51% of the vote, the winner is none other than 'Super' John McGinn!