Scotland's Decade: 2010-19 - Part Two - Most Capped XI
In Part One of Scotland’s Decade we looked at the numbers behind the last ten years for the Scotland National team: the matches, the managers, the opponents and the attendances. You can find Part One here.
In Part Two we’ll look at the players who have had the honour of pulling on the Dark Blue (and sometimes white, yellow and pink) to represent Scotland.
In total, 117 players have had that honour (85 in competitive games).
Scotland’s Most Capped XI – 2010-19
GK – Allan McGregor – 38 caps (20 competitive)
Don’t call it a comeback. When he was handed a ‘life ban’ from representing Scotland in 2009, few would have expected to see Allan McGregor on a list like this. In the end, he was absent for six games before returning for a friendly in Sweden under Craig Levein. Since, he has shared the gloves with David Marshall (29 caps) and Craig Gordon (16 caps), truly an embarrassment of riches in that position.
While Gordon Strachan preferred Marshall, Allan returned to the side under Alex McLeish for the Nations League campaign before retiring from international duty. One of his last actions could have a lasting legacy, saving spectacularly at the death in Scotland’s final Nations League game against Israel, securing the win that sealed the Playoff place for Euro 2020 in March.
LB – Andy Robertson – 33 caps (22 competitive)
What more can really be written about ‘Scotland’s boyfriend’, Andy Robertson? Some perspective perhaps? He entered the decade aged 15, having just been released by Celtic. He ends it as Scotland Captain, with a Champions League winners medal on his shelf and his club Liverpool on track to win the English Premier League for the first time in 30 years. An incredible turnaround.
He was handed his debut as a 20-year-old under Gordon Strachan, coming on in an away friendly in Poland. This was during his breakthrough season with Dundee United where he would be named PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year. Six months later, he was making his competitive debut, at home to Georgia in a Euro 2016 qualifier. That campaign would see him occasionally benched for the experience of Steven Whittaker or Craig Forsyth at left-back.
Come the qualification campaign for World Cup 2018, the left back berth was his and he has been ever-present since. Made Captain under Alex McLeish, a position he continues to hold under Steve Clarke, Andy’s career continues to go from strength to strength. Under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool he has blossomed into one of the world’s best attacking full-backs and his passion and commitment to Scotland is clear for all to see.
He's added three goals for his country, the pick of the bunch being this curler into the top corner in Lithuania.
CB – Charlie Mulgrew – 43 caps (21 competitive)
2 goals, 3 assists
Since making his Scotland debut under Craig Levein in 2012, Charlie Mulgrew has been a reliable pick for every Scotland manager since.
Selecting him at centre back in the most capped 11 could be misleading, Charlie’s versatility has clearly been something that has endeared him to Scotland managers down the years. He has played at LB, CM and at DCM, although most of his caps have come at CB.
He has offered a constant source of threat from set pieces, his left-footed delivery from free kicks and corners are always dangerous. He found the net twice for Scotland, most memorably with an incredible back-heel that chipped the Nigeria goalkeeper in a friendly at Craven Cottage.
CB – Christophe Berra – 34 caps (16 competitive)
4 goals, 1 assist
Starting alongside Charlie Mulgrew is current Heart of Midlothian player Christophe Berra. Coming into the decade as one of Scotland’s key centre backs under Craig Levein, Christophe played 21 of the first 26 games in the decade.
While the emergence of Grant Hanley and Russell Martin’s partnership under Gordon Strachan saw him sidelined, he returned to start 6 of Scotland’s 10 qualifiers for World Cup 2018. The shot of him and James McArthur catching each other for a mid-air hug after Leigh Griffiths scored his second free kick against England will live long in the memory.
RB – Alan Hutton – 36 caps (25 competitive)
One of the greatest compliments of Alan Hutton’s Scotland career is that in the four years since Alan’s last competitive appearance for Scotland (the final Euro 2016 Qualifier away to Gibraltar), the position of right back remains a subject of fierce debate in the Tartan Army. Since Alan’s last game, a variety of players including Callum Paterson, Kieran Tierney, Stephen O’Donnell and Liam Palmer have attempted to make the shirt their own without the same level of success.
For the first half of the decade under Craig Levein and Gordon Strachan, Alan was ever-present for Scotland when available. Between 2011 and 2014 he started 15 consecutive competitive games for Scotland. Another nod to his importance to the side, when he was playing infrequently at club level he was still trusted to start for Scotland.
It was Alan’s cross that found Kenny Miller at Wembley for one of Scotland’s best goals of the decade:
CM – Darren Fletcher – 33 caps (20 competitive)
1 goal and 3 assists
Darren Fletcher entered the decade as an established lynchpin of Scotland’s midfield. While illness would rob Darren of much of his playing time this decade, he hangs his boots up as Scotland’s third most capped player with 80 caps, only behind Kenny Dalglish and Jim Leighton. The games he missed due to ulcerative colitis in this decade would surely have pushed him second ahead of Leighton.
It speaks to the strength of Darren’s character that he could return from such a crippling condition to not only play at the highest level in England but lead his country as captain as well. One of Fletcher’s finest games for Scotland in the decade came on one of his comeback games from illness against the Czech Republic in a Euro 2012 qualifier where he returned a goal and an assist.
This site has made the case for Darren as the first Scottish football Legend of the 21st century and now he has officially hung up his boots, recognition in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame is surely not far away.
CM – James Morrison – 39 caps (25 competitive)
3 goals and 5 assists
Handed his debut in 2008 by George Burley, the Darlington born midfielder became a key part of Scotland’s midfield under Craig Levein and then Gordon Strachan. He scored his first competitive Scotland goal in a defeat in Cardiff during qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, a powerful drive into the corner after a flick-on from a long ball had sent him clear.
His most memorable moment for Scotland came in the friendly against England at Wembley. Controlling a clearance from a corner, James sent a rasping drive towards goal that Joe Hart palmed into the corner to give Scotland the opening goal. It was the first time the Auld Enemy had played each other in 14 years and a huge contingent of the Tartan Army (myself included) traveled down. James’ goal sent the travelling support wild up in the rafters at Wembley.
James recently retired after a career of 341 appearances for West Bromwich Albion.
CM – Scott Brown – 36 caps (21 competitive)
3 goals and 2 assists
Celtic Manager Neil Lennon recently described Scott Brown as a “modern day Celtic great” and it’s hard to disagree. His impact for Scotland over the decade is so keenly felt that many fans and pundits refer to the ‘Scott Brown shaped hole’ he left in the midfield on retiring from international duty.
Already an important player for Scotland, he was made captain by Gordon Strachan and led the team through the qualifying campaigns for World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016. Known for his ferocious style in midfield, it’s striking that one of his most memorable moments of the decade is his most artistic, backheeling the ball into Shaun Maloney’s path to score the crucial winner against the Republic of Ireland in 2014.
LW – Shaun Maloney – 29 caps (18 competitive)
6 goals and 5 assists
Another player who has recently retired from football, Shaun Maloney will be remembered as a great modern Scotland player. Technically excellent with a wide range of passing, Shaun became a mainstay in the team under Craig Levein and later Gordon Strachan.
Under Strachan, Maloney would show his best form for Scotland, especially in qualifying for Euro 2016 where he scored five goals and incredibly had three more efforts that would go down as own goals. His finest goal was of course the winner against the Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park, a perfectly executed training ground move (from the note-pad of Stuart McCall) that started from a corner kick and ended with Scott Brown teeing up Shaun to curl the ball into the far corner.
From a personal perspective, his goal away to Poland in Euro 2016 qualifying may be even more pleasing to re-watch, a perfectly executed team move sees the ball switch from one side to another before being laid off to Shaun to calmly finish into the corner.
Shaun recently returned to Hampden in the opposition dugout as Assistant Manager to Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side. Should his coaching career progress in a similar vein to his playing career it would be great to see Shaun in the Scotland dugout one day.
For more on Shaun’s Scotland career, listen to the excellent interview with Andy Bargh from the Hampden Road Podcast here.
RW – James Forrest – 33 caps (25 competitive)
5 goals and 3 assists
A player who has always had a lot of promise, James has really blossomed in recent seasons into a pivotal player for Celtic and a key player for Scotland under successive managers.
While Brendan Rodgers unleashed his form at club level that has seen him return double digit goal hauls in the last three consecutive seasons, Scotland fans are now seeing this attacking form. When Scotland needed two wins in a week to win their Nation’s League group and secure March’s Euro 2020 Playoff place, it was James Forrest who stepped up with a brace against Albania and a hat-trick against Israel at Hampden.
One of his goals in Albania was rightly named as Scotland’s goal of the year for 2018:
CF – Steven Naismith – 47 caps (27 competitive)
10 goals and 8 assists
While many have led the line for Scotland this decade, none have been called upon as many times as Steven Naismith. A mainstay under every manager Scotland have had this decade, Steven has brought incredible intensity, work-rate and real quality to Scotland’s attack.
The wealth of options in Scotland’s midfield has often meant that the demands on Scotland’s central striker are to act as a pivot for others to play off – to take the ball in, hold it up and flick it on. Steven’s ability to drop into space between the lines suits this remit perfectly, not to mention his prowess in the air far exceeding any assumptions based on his height.
Another aspect of Steven’s game that showcases his importance on and off the pitch is his leadership. Watch Steven closely during a game and you’ll see his mouth move almost as fast as his feet, constantly communicating with his team-mates. His role as a coach on the pitch was recognised by Steve Clarke who made Steven captain in his 50th and 51st caps at the end of Euro 2020 qualifying.
Picking a moment of the decade for Steven is tough. His diving header past Spain’s Iker Casillas was excellent although for me, the goal away to Poland in Euro 2016 qualifying was even more impressive. He applies the deftest of touches to James Morrison’s free kick to send it into the corner past Wojciech Szczęsny.
Steven has attained the most caps of any Scotland player this decade. He also scored the most goals (10) and provided the most assists (8), making a convincing argument to name him Scotland Player of the Decade.
On the Bench
Some players missed out on this most-capped eleven due to the constraints of picking a regulation formation. It’s only fair that these players are awarded the recognition of a place on the bench of Scotland’s most capped XI of the decade.
GK – David Marshall – 29 caps (22 competitive) The current Scotland #1 was just pipped to the gloves in the most capped XI by Allan McGregor. David has been a reliable keeper for Scotland and were it not for the choice between him, McGregor and Craig Gordon he would surely have had far more caps.
CB – Grant Hanley & Russell Martin – 28 caps (17 competitive) – Grant has 1 goal and 2 assists Seems perfectly appropriate that these two players are considered together given their identical cap count and the fact they were the preferred centre back pairing for most of Gordon Strachan’s reign. Grant is currently back in the English Premier League with Norwich City while Russell Martin recently retired to move into management with MK Dons in England.
RB – Steven Whittaker – 27 caps (12 competitive) – 1 assist Another reliable option for Scotland, Steven has played in both full back positions during his international career. Steven recently returned from England to re-join Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership.
CM – James McArthur – 32 caps (19 competitive) – 4 goals and 2 assists The former Hamilton Accies man just misses out on inclusion in Scotland’s most capped XI. Given his debut by Craig Levein he played most of his 32 caps under Gordon Strachan. His finest moment for Scotland came in qualifying for Euro 2016 when he scored past Manuel Neuer at Hampden against Germany. A fine half volley from the edge of the box.
RW – Robert Snodgrass – 26 caps (14 competitive) – 7 goals Always the joker in the pack, Robert recently announced his international retirement. He scored some really important goals, none more so than the away winner in Scotland’s last real ‘statement’ victory away from home, when Croatia (then ranked 3rd in the world) were beaten 1-0 in Zagreb.
LW – Ikechi Anya – 29 caps (18 competitive) – 4 goals and 3 assists Ikechi Anya is another who just missed out on inclusion in the Most Capped XI. He has the exact same number of caps as Shaun Maloney but the former Celtic man’s involvement in more goals tipped the balance.
Ikechi came from nowhere (well, Watford), taking many Scotland fans by surprise when he was called up by Gordon Strachan. Born in Glasgow to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother, the Tartan Army quickly fell in love with Ikechi’s dancing feet, rapid pace and enviable afro.
He scored a really impressive goal from a tight angle on his first start in Macedonia, but it would be the first game in Euro 2016 qualifying in Dortmund where he would enjoy his finest moment in Dark Blue. Sent clean through from the half way line by Steven Fletcher, Ikechi had an age to consider his finish and pick his spot, bearing down on one of the best goalkeepers in world football, Manuel Neuer.
Keeping his cool he slotted the ball home sending the Tartan Army (myself included) wild in the Westfalenstadion.
CF – Steven Fletcher – 26 caps (19 competitive) – 9 goals and 3 assists Steven Fletcher is another Scotland striker whose influence is measured in more than goals and assists. In Gordon Strachan’s Scotland team, Steven Fletcher was the perfect focal point, comfortable dropping deep to receive the ball and allow the midfield trident of Naismith, Maloney and Anya to make runs beyond him.
He returned to the side under Alex McLeish for the final two Nation’s League matches and again showcased his strengths. Watch Scotland’s second goal, it’s Steven Fletcher who comes deep to flick on Andy Robertson’s long ball out of defence into the path of the on-rushing Ryan Christie. Christie then squares to Forrest to score. Neither the goal or assist is Steven’s but the goal doesn’t happen without him.
While he hasn’t officially retired from international duty, he hasn’t been involved under Steve Clarke making it unlikely he’ll return to the set-up. A great shame.