James McFadden
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James McFadden says Scotland can go deep into Euros, reveals his biggest regret and England’s problem at major tournaments

| 14.06.2021

James McFadden played 48 times for Scotland and was part of the squad that narrowly missed out on qualifying for Euro 2008.

With Scotland preparing for their first major tournament appearance since the World Cup in 1998, we caught up with the former forward to get his take on the current Scotland team, what he makes of England and his surprise at Everton teammate Mikel Arteta stepping into management.

Euro 2020 has been built up perfectly for Scotland

We’ve had a lot of good players over a number of years now. Going back to the last time we qualified for a major tournament in 1998, we’ve had some great players and we’ve pulled off some massive results but haven’t quite made it. It’s tough to compare eras, but I really like this team. I like the position we’re in, I like the balance and the age of the group. It’s quite simple; if they qualify from this group, they’ll go down as the best Scottish side ever. You measure teams on their success, and people will always have opinions, but you’ve got to measure it on facts.

It’s almost like this tournament has been built up perfectly for Scotland. It was supposed to be played last year, and we know the reasons why it was moved to 2021. If it was last year, I’m not confident we’d have even been there. I don’t think we were in as good shape as what we are now, so it seems to have worked in our favour. I’m confident.

We have to be aware that we’re not the favourites in the group – we’re probably the least favourites. We have to do the basics well, we need to be switched on in set-plays, especially against Czech Republic.

I’d have loved to have been involved in this team. Just stick me on the right-hand side; I don’t fancy going for that left wing-back slot!

Scotland can progress deep into this competition

Scotland generally always win a group game, which could be enough in this tournament because of how qualification works. The importance of winning this first game against Czech Republic really gives us an advantage. We’ve got two home games, if we can get off to a good start, then it gives us a great chance within the group. When you get out of the group, you just never know. I’m confident we’ll do well.

Scotland have just been building up to this point. At times Steve Clarke came under a bit of stick for not carrying much of an attacking threat, but we’re there now. We showed against the Netherlands that we’re not afraid to put pressure on those big teams, and in the end we came away from that game disappointed not to have won.

If we can get a favourable draw early on, I don’t see why we can’t progress deep into this competition. We’ve shown we’re difficult to beat, we’ve shown that we’re good on penalties, not every nation is…

Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed into a team with top, top players all over the park. John McGinn, Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay, Kieran Tierney, they’re top-class players who are at the highest level. We’re not overly reliant on them to be producing match-winning performances either, because the rest of the team has strengthened as well. Tierney and Robertson are crucial; Gareth Southgate’s obviously seen that threat and originally went with four right-backs!

Go back maybe a year or so ago and people were saying it doesn’t work, you can’t play Tierney and Robertson together; we need to change formation. But they’ve built that relationship and it’s been excellent. I think we’re in a good way, in a great shape heading into this tournament.

Biggest regret playing for Scotland

I think your first goals are always the ones you remember most. It’s not that you’re not expecting to score, but you’ve never done it before, so they always stay with you.

If I was to think about my favourite goals, though, there’s the one I got against the Netherlands in the play-offs. I think I was 20 at the time, lining up against absolute legends. When I first starting playing football, you’re watching some of these guys at tournaments, Jaap Stam, Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars – the whole team was littered with absolute stars and we beat them.

I scored the goal and the noise around Hampden was incredible. When I watch it back, you see the camera shaking. My goal for Everton against Charlton was technically the best goal I’ve ever scored, but the feeling after scoring against the Netherlands was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.

The goal against France, again, is one of those where you have to remember you’re playing against a top-class team who’d just recently been in a World Cup final. You’re playing in their back yard, so that was a special night for me.

It’s funny because you’re asked quite a lot about the goals you remember, but in the same 2008 campaign, we played Italy and I had a glaring opportunity to score and I missed. I think about that more than any of my goals. If I’d have scored it, we’d have gone 2-1 up, defended for our lives, qualified for the Euros and would’ve beaten world champions to do it. I think about that more than any of my goals.

I actually watched the game back for the first time ever last week. I always thought that when I played it wide to Kenny Miller he was going to shoot, so I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to follow in for the rebound, but I won’t bust a gut to get there’. But I’ve seen it back, and I actually do bust a gut, I just get my feet wrong. It just goes beyond me. I’ll lie in bed tonight thinking about it.

I don’t really regret things from my career and I’m grateful for everything I’ve got. But those ones niggle away at you. I can’t help but think about what happens if I score that goal. I know we’d have defended for our lives. We’d have seen that game out and we’d have been at Euro 2008.

I shouldn’t be saying it… but I’m looking forward to watching England

If I was English, then I’d be saying ‘we’re going to do it’. I would have confidence, because just look at the players they have and the threat they carry. Yes, there are question marks around their defence, but we’re still talking about Premier League-winning, Champions League-winning, title-challenging players.

The thing that has always been the case for England is can they get the best players working for the team? That hasn’t always been the case; there’s been an overreliance on certain players. Club divides have hindered their chances over the years. I don’t see that now. But on the flip-side, I don’t see a lot of leaders in there.

They’ve obviously got Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson, you’d put Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford in that category as well as Harry Maguire, so it’s not like they’re lacking leaders or club captains. It’s just that certain type of leader people look for that guy who puts in a tackle when it matters, who takes control of the game. But it’s a dying breed; there aren’t many that do that now.

It can be annoying when your neighbours are a bit noisy, but you understand their belief. Listen, I’m sat here thinking Scotland are going to do well, so why not back your country?

We’ll go into our game against England as the underdogs. We can channel our inner spirit and togetherness and let them come at us, because the pressure is on them at Wembley. Over the years, thinking about Iceland and Croatia, in the last two major tournaments, it doesn’t suit England to take the game to those sides. It’s nothing to do with the players as individuals because they’ve got players who can do it. But it’s very difficult when a team sits in front and frustrates you. The longer it goes on, the defending team gets a lift.

In that run-up to the Croatia semi-final in the World Cup, it was a fairly comfortable draw for England; it was fairly favourable. There was no test for them until the game against Croatia. OK, they played Colombia in the first knockout game, but even then, when you’re talking about the big South American sides, you don’t think about Colombia.

Certainly in the World Cup, there was an overreliance on Harry Kane, and that becomes a problem when you’re facing sides who are happy to sit back and let you come at them. If you can’t get him the supply, you’re not going to win games.

But the main thing that’s changed for England recently is the introduction of those younger players going forward. They’ve got those throwback kind of players in Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. These guys don’t care; they don’t feel pressure. They just want to get ton the ball and they’ll find a way to make things happen. I shouldn’t be saying it, but I’m looking forward to watching them, because they’re players you want to watch.

They play the game how I liked to play the game; they’re players who aren’t afraid to try things. They don’t just conform. That’s a good recipe if you can get it right.

I never thought my old teammate Arteta would step into management

I didn’t see Mikel Arteta ever stepping into management, to be honest. Not because I didn’t think he’d be good enough, I just never looked at him and thought ‘you’re a potential manager’. But what he is, is a fantastic professional; an unbelievably talented footballer and a good guy.

His start at Arsenal was great, he won a couple of trophies, then he had a tough couple of months earlier on in the season but the team have been on a good run of form since Christmas.

It’s tough because when you go into a club like Arsenal, historically they’re a big club who have always challenged for titles. But they’ve not won a title for a long time. They don’t invest as much money in their squad as their rivals do. They’ve just missed out on Emiliano Buendia, and maybe they had a budget in mind that they were willing to spend on that player, but you don’t get outbid by a club like Aston Villa if you’re Arsenal. That shows you where the club is right now.

Look, Buendia isn’t going to come in and transform Arsenal, they need a lot more than that. So maybe they had a set amount they were willing to pay, and Villa have beat them to it. Maybe Buendia is one of a list of players of that ilk that Arsenal are looking at, and I suppose we’ll see whether or not that was the case in the coming weeks. I don’t know the ins and outs, but I would suggest they have a list of players they’re looking at. Arsenal need more than Buendia to turn things around.

There’s a lot going on at Arsenal at the moment. You’ve got takeover talks, a lack of communication from the board and fans are quite rightly frustrated. But I think all of that will help Mikel as a manager, because what he’s had to put up with in the short time he’s been in charge, that will make him a better manager going forward.

Kieran Tierney will go down as one of Arsenal’s greatest left-backs ever… I have no doubt about it

Kieran Tierney, without a doubt, one-hundred per cent fits the bill of the kind of player and character Arsenal need around the place. If you look at his all-round attitude, his desire in training, his commitment. He’s a fantastic player, but his attitude is what sets him apart. He does everything to the absolute maximum.

Depending on how long he stays there, there’s no doubt about it; he will go down as one of Arsenal’s greatest left-backs ever. I look back at Ashley Cole and Nigel Winterburn, and I put Kieran Tierney right up there. He’s made such a big impact and he’s still so young. He’s a top, top player.

He was linked with Arsenal a year or so before he actually joined, and there was talk of a £15m move. People were laughing at me when I said that he was worth more than that. That was an absolute bargain. And then when he went for £25m, I said the same thing.

If they were to go and sell him now, they’d double their money, absolutely no problem. Anybody in world football that needs a left-back, Kieran Tierney is the man. He’s just a top player, and his humility is what sets him apart.

If he stays at Arsenal for the foreseeable future, he will go down as a legend; I have absolutely no doubt about that.

Birmingham v Arsenal 2008

That game at St Andrews against Arsenal in 2008 was a really strange one to be a part of. The tackle on Eduardo was horrendous, and I wasn’t actually too far away from it so I saw what happened. I don’t want to sound like I’m defending it, but it didn’t look as bad a tackle as the outcome of the injury.

It was just the worst timing ever. If it would’ve happened to one of my teammates, I’d have found it difficult to continue playing the game. I can understand the emotion, but I look back at how we played with 10-men and we dealt with that brilliantly.

I actually had another chance to score in that game so I could’ve had a hat-trick. Arsenal were going for the league and we were down at the bottom of the table fighting for our lives. I’d just signed for Birmingham in the January and I’d already gotten my first goal for the club in the previous week. I had to literally fight with my teammates to take the penalty against West Ham at Upton Park – it was 0-0 at the time, about 25 minutes into the game so there wasn’t as much pressure on that penalty, so everyone wanted to take it. Then I thought I’d have to fight everyone off once again in the last minute against Arsenal but I turned around and everyone was just stood at the other end of the pitch – nobody wanted to take it!

We were down to 10-mean early on against one of the best sides in the division, but we pulled together and worked hard as a unit. The William Gallas stuff after the game… when you’re playing against some people, it’s not like you don’t like them but you’re competing against them so you have a feeling of just wanting to beat them. You look at the result in that game, and the performance, and people definitely made more of it than what needed to be. But the injury to Gallas’ teammate clearly had a massive impact on him and the rest of his players. It’s horrendous and I’ve seen loads of teammates get injured over the years, and that maybe played with his mind a little.

Arsenal had more of a mental battle than we had in that game. We just had to put everything into the game. It was probably a soft penalty which wouldn’t be given in today’s game in hindsight. Everybody looks back on that day and sees a weakness in that Arsenal side. They’re not up for the fight and they’re not together. The spotlight was on Gallas at the end of the game and it showed a real distain for the rest of his team. It showed everyone that Arsenal weren’t up for the fight and weren’t all in it together.

Martin Taylor’s didn’t mean to hurt Eduardo… his nickname was Tiny

You hear the phrase “he’s not that type of player” whenever there’s a serious injury; you hear it a lot. But Martin Taylor’s nickname was Tiny. He was a big, gentle giant who was clumsy at best. He wasn’t a guy who ever set out to hurt anyone. Technically, he was actually really good. He was maybe taller than he wanted to be, but he was far from a bully. He was obviously built, but he wasn’t an imposing centre-half. His game wasn’t really about tackling. He did not mean to hurt Eduardo. I’ve no doubt about that.

You have to try and support the player in the aftermath of it and that’s what we did as a team. There were death threats and different things that were sent to him and the club had to deal with that. There’s only so much you can do as teammates though; we don’t know what he’s thinking about it all.

Back then I don’t think there was as much help out there for him as there would be if it had happened in today’s game. There’s far more available to players nowadays, but certainly as a group of players we tried to support him. Any chance we got, we defended him. We weren’t defended the outcome of the challenge, but we were always going to defend him as a person.

Arsene Wenger said something like he should be banned for life, and yes, it was a distressful challenge. But I don’t care what anyone says, he didn’t try to break Eduardo’s leg. I wish it didn’t happen because the player struggled after that for Arsenal and you don’t want to see that as a fellow professional. Martin didn’t deserve the backlash he received.

I get it; Arsene Wenger is emotional after the game, he’s dropped two points, he’s concerned about his injured player and he’s got the stuff with Gallas to deal with. There have been one or two incidents over the years where players have intentionally gone out to hurt opponents, and how those players deal with that in their conscience, that’s up to them. But that was not the case with Martin Taylor.

I think Martin tried to reach out to Eduardo. My memory is a bit sketchy, but I think he might have gone to the hospital to see the player.

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