EXCLUSIVE: Pat Nevin Interview – The Future is Bright for Scotland

Former Scotland, Chelsea and Everton striker Pat Nevin speaks to NetBet about his hopes for Scotland at the next World Cup and how the Tartan Army are doing in qualifying after a couple of encouraging results in recent weeks.

How important were the past two games in terms of Scotland qualifying for the World Cup? 

It’s about getting the results and not the performances at the moment for Scotland, which they managed to do.

The game against Israel at Hampden Park, I’m not exaggerating when I say that is one of the best atmospheres that I’ve experienced at a football game.

The fans were right behind the team which in a way helped to get that last minute winner, the players had to do it some way.

Scotland have slipped up in games like the Faroe Islands previously, but once again a late goal did the job.

We might be getting put through the ringer, but we don’t care because it’s the results that matter.

Against Israel it was a good performance, but now Scotland have a great chance to clinch second spot.

We’ve got Moldova away and Denmark at home, we’ve got to win one of those games and Scotland will be through to the playoffs.

It was gigantic for us as a nation because it’s been a long time since we’ve qualified for a World Cup and the team, along with Steve Clarke, have given us a great chance to do so.

With limitations, Steve Clarke has done a fantastic job and I think most people would agree with that.

How do you see Steve Clarke’s way of playing, particularly without wingers given you were one?

It’s the only way forward for Scotland at the minute and even when I was playing it was something we used to do, playing three at the back.

The reason for it was we didn’t have two good enough centre backs, so we had a third added on.

It’s a defensive setup unless you get your wing backs flying forward and fortunately for Scotland, we’ve got three of the best for the system, certainly in Tierney and Robertson.

They switch it during games, one will be at left-centre back and the other will go to wing back, which I think is really clever from Steve Clarke, he’s organised that well.

The only problem was that both of those players are on the left and we’ve needed someone on that right hand side.

Fortunately, Paterson has come in and although he made some mistakes against Israel, he is the future of Scotland in that position.

System wise, it’s perfect for Scotland because we are limited in our centre back pairings, however putting three in there makes it a lot more secure.

Then with the wing backs, we have class on both sides now.

In midfield, we’re fine and up until recently the problem was putting the ball in the back of the net, but Lyndon Dykes has scored four games in a row.

They may be going in off all parts of the body and of course he had a missed penalty, but Scotland fans absolutely love him because of his work rate.

If you’ve got Tierney and Robertson providing crosses and McGinn supplying in behind, then you will always get chances and goals if you don’t lose confidence.

I’m quite excited about Scotland at the minute.

How important are the wing backs as a result and how important is it that we nurture young wing backs coming through?

I think Steve Clarke realised that he had limitations in this squad, and he needed to add a couple more things and it still needs to improve further.

However, if you look at the squad and what it looks like from before the Euros, there’s a lot of improvements.

Billy Gilmour wasn’t in the squads before the Euros, but that game at Wembley against England made him, he was brilliant that day.

He’s got that position locked down and it won’t lose it unless he gets injured.

Paterson’s come in who’s another young player and it’s exciting to see.

The talents come through in dribs and drabs in the past few years, but if you look at it now it’s exciting.

There’s a lot of players not only playing at the top level, but they’re so important to their clubs at the top level.

Billy Gilmour is probably the most important because of his technical ability, I know he’s out on loan but he can control games at this level.

Hopefully there will be one or two more players coming through, I do think Scotland could do with a natural goal scorer but give me an international country that doesn’t feel that way.

Should Chelsea start Werner, if so how would you fit him into the team? Are Chelsea better suited to a back 4 or 5 (therefore one or two up front)

It’s a funny one with Timo Werner because his goal scoring ratio hasn’t been what it was over in Germany.

His chance conversion isn’t great for a centre forward, but Chelsea fans love him.

Even though there’s been mistakes and missed chances, his work rate is astonishing and if you play with players who work that hard and make life difficult for defenders, it can make a lot of space for someone else.

Whoever that may be, it doesn’t matter because Werner will make those runs to create space behind him.

His grabbed a goal against Southampton and we have to remember he’s the main man for Germany at the moment.

He’s starting to come on, he’s still young so there’s a lot to learn, but he’s someone getting better all the time.

He’s been subbed once or twice after putting a shift in for Chelsea and Stamford Bridge erupts so the Chelsea fans appreciate his work.

They don’t just gauge on goals and assists, it’s the bigger picture they see and this last week or two has been a massive boost in his confidence.

The first game with Lukaku didn’t work against Manchester City, they were very close together but not quite linking up.

Tuchel knows his stuff, so he’ll be working on that, it’s not a natural partnership but it may well be what we need.

The two of them can drag defenders out of position which will help the midfield players arrive in the space to make the most of it.

He won the Champions League playing an adaptable 3-4-3, but he wants to play a 3-5-2 which does raise eyebrows.

But I’m with him, if you can make the 3-5-2 work with the personnel Chelsea have, then I think they’ll be better than they were last season.

Is Pulisic’s injury record a cause for concern or has he just been unfortunate? Given the competition for attacking spots, is he in danger of slipping down the pecking order? 

There’s have been periods of time at Chelsea where you think he can be world class and be one of the best players on the planet, but it has been very stop-start.

If it was the same type of injury all the time, then you’d be saying there’s a weakness there and that he’s injury prone which players hate being dubbed as.

I think he’s been very lucky because he keeps picking up different and strange injuries at unfortunate times.

The long-term injuries are something you can’t do anything about, but the little niggles are infuriating.

When he’s got over them, he hasn’t been able to work back into the team because other players are playing so well.

It’s been frustrating for him, but if you ask any of the US supporters, they will tell you he’s capable of all sorts.

But it hasn’t happened for a long enough period of time, and you have to admit that as a Chelsea fan.

Everyone knows he’s got ability; it’s just getting him through these injuries and if he has a niggle maybe keeping him away and don’t take that chance.

I’ve known a lot of players like him, he needs that six to eight game run where he can get over these niggles and start to flourish.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pulisic and Lukaku up front when he’s fit because he’s capable of doing it.

Another of those with plenty to prove is Saul Niguez, are you confident that he will come good given the pedigree he arrived with?

I was really surprised when he was brought in, I have to be honest.

There’s Kovacic, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Mount and Chalobah who can play in there along with Reece James and they’ve allowed Gilmour to go out on loan.

You’re thinking ‘why do we need another midfield player’, but Tuchel made it clear he was trying to get three in the middle, so it does make sense.

The starting three will always be Kovacic, Jorginho and Kante if all are fit and available.

If you’re rotating all three then bringing in Saul coming in makes sense, his first game wasn’t a cracker being taken off at half time.

The problem is getting him in and getting him game time because there isn’t an easy game anywhere.

You look at the Southampton game which is supposed to be an ‘easier’ game, but at 1-1 Chelsea were second best.

That’s what it’s like in the Premier League, so you have to be up to speed quickly and there’s no easy game for him to break in.

There isn’t a run of three or four games to bed him in because those fixtures don’t exist.

It’ll be hard for him to hit that top form, but I can understand why he was brought in.

Where can Chelsea improve in January?

It’s a really good question because I’m looking at the backline, but it’s absolutely phenomenal at the minute.

Christensen is glowing at the moment, Chalobah has come out of nowhere and he’s been amazing.

That’s before you get to Rudiger who is one of the best pure defenders in the world and Thiago Silva of course, who is one of the best of his generation.

Wing backs we’re fine, midfield there’s enough and there’s a lot of forward players who poses creativity.

It’s difficult to see where you can add, but at an absolute push, if we could bring in someone to break the lines a little bit more.

Ziyech was brought for that, but he hasn’t had a run in the team to do that role and it can be difficult coming in and out of the team.

You’re talking about a Fabergas type player or a Hazard who can beat people one on one, but there’s not many of those guys around.

To make the team better, you’ve got to bring in someone who’s a very special player and to be honest there aren’t many available.

I wouldn’t put it past Chelsea because I never do, but this squad as it stands is capable of competing in every competition.

It went a little under the radar, but Charly Musonda’s return with the U23s must have been a great lift for everyone at Chelsea. How much of an impact around the club will Charly’s playing return have made given everything he’s been through? What can you tell us about him as a player? 

It’s a massive ask for him to come back and muscle his way into this Chelsea team with all the quality there.

Charly’s got a big job on his hand and all he can do really is his best and hope he’s one that can break through.

Players in the academy should be looking at Trevor Chalaboh who was so far out of the picture but is now a regular in the squad.

I think for Charly he will need a loan move away once he’s fully up to speed and ready and he’s someone who has real quality.

Like many coming through that academy, he will make it as a top professional, but the question will be where?

I hope it’s at Chelsea, but you never know.

Watching the work of the academy at Chelsea, how do you think the staff take seeing talent like Tomori (AC Milan), Abraham (Roma) and Musiala (Bayern Munich) being so successful elsewhere? We’ve even seen Clinton Mola (Stuttgart) get a first call with the England U21s. Is this a positive for Chelsea and the staff – or is there frustration that they couldn’t do it by staying?

I think from Chelsea’s point of view, the academy is producing fabulous football players.

When you go to the academy at Chelsea, one of the first things they say is ‘you may never play for Chelsea, but we will make you a good player’.

You may not end up at Chelsea, but you’ll end up somewhere and there’s plenty of examples.

Loftus-Cheek looked as if he would end up elsewhere, but he’s back involved, Tammy Abraham has moved on to a big club in Roma. Who knows with Tammy, he might be back one day, Lukaku came back after going away.

That’s what can happen with Chelsea, but they are producing good players every year.

If they were throwing players away, then I could understand the criticism, but they’re not, they keep on producing a lot of quality players from that academy.

There are players everywhere and really to play for Chelsea and break into the team, then you’ve got to be one of the best players in the world in your position, certainly at the minute.

Nobody has ever produced a full starting XI of academy players, because it’s difficult, the closest to achieving that was probably Barcelona with Xavi, Iniesta etc.

There’s a lot getting games at Chelsea in that first team and there’s a great opportunity at Chelsea because if you’re considered good enough, then you will get a chance.

Fans will always say they want A, B, C players, but you have to remember we’ve got D, E, F waiting in the wings and those guys helped Chelsea win a Champions League.

If you were the manager who would you start at left back between Chilwell/Alonso and why?

With the way Chelsea play, I would comfortably rotate the two from week to week, maybe whoever looked better in training.

They’re slightly different players, but they get into similar positions going forward.

I wouldn’t choose between the two who was better, maybe if we’re playing a more physical team who are better in the air then you might go with Alonso.

Everything else they’re as good as each other, Marcos might have a slight edge on freekicks.

If you put a ball in from the right, you know that both will be waiting at the back post.

It’s not a problem between the two of them, it’s positive to have those interchangeable players in each position.

What have you made of Benitez’s first months in charge at Everton? What do you think he’ll be planning to do in January – especially with some room to work via FFP and Moshiri’s backing?

I had a lot of questions when Rafa came in from various media outlets because of the Liverpool connection he has.

My immediate reaction was to say that he shouldn’t be judged for that because he’s a top-quality manager, one of the best on the planet and Everton were lucky to have him.

This annoyed a few Toffees fans and I still have a lot of feelings for the club, but I wasn’t bothered that it was a former Liverpool manager.

The big reason was because he’s a good manager but for his time at Chelsea as well, the fans couldn’t stand him at first.

He’s had a brilliant start and he’s had to deal with a lot of injuries already.

I’m excited by what he’s done and I’m excited by the players he’s brought in, he gets a lot of belief out of the group.

For all he’s achieved at other big clubs, it’s always what he did at Newcastle that impresses me more than anything else.

He got so much more out of that group than many thought was possible.

Any areas to look at strengthening in January?

He’ll have a number of players he’s looked at, possibly adding some players defensively.

Strength in depth is a big thing, the Everton bench compared to other teams isn’t quite there yet.

They’ve got a long way to go so they need to catch up in that regard, they brought in Rondon who I thought would be a backup, but he’s had to play every game recently.

There needs to be more throughout the team, but he’s getting the best out of the group at the moment. There will need to be some work done in December/January to fill out this squad, which is easy to say, but so hard to do.

There’s money there and you have to consider which players will go to Everton because there will be other teams in the market, especially Newcastle now.

What have you made of Benitez’s push to add another winger to Everton after Townsend and Gray? Is it exciting to see such players valued by an Everton manager again? What have you made of Townsend and Gray since their signing?

I’m glad he brought Gray in because I thought he was a fantastic player at Leicester, and I thought he could become the next Mahrez.

He just needs someone who believes in him and fits him into the right system, so I had complete faith in Rafa to do that once he was signed.

When Demarai does his best stuff, then he is a player of the absolute top level who wouldn’t look out of place in any team.

The Townsend signing was an eyebrow raiser, but he’s done very well so far and Rafa has worked with and watched these players in the past very closely.

Everton needed pace, the midfield was very talented, but it lacked speed.

There needed to be a bit of energy and some speed, so I think he looked at the squad and brought in the two for that reason. Everton have scored goals breaking at pace which is suited to Rafa’s style.

They might not dominate every game, certainly away from home but they can hit teams on the break which is why he’s looked at these types of players.

He can’t be finished in the market yet I’m sure of it and credit to the Everton board for bringing in someone of Rafa’s quality.

There’s a lot of debate around Jorginho and the Ballon D’or, do you think he deserves to win it?

I try not to be biased on these topics, but I have always loved Jorginho as player.

When Sarri brought him in, everyone thought he was ‘Sarri’s kid’ because he played every week.

I felt he was brilliant back then because he was one of few players who could control football games at any level.

Even when Chelsea fans were giving him dog’s abuse, I always thought he was amazing.

I’ve been flying the flag for him for years, the way he plays is the classic modern-day player.

It would be wonderful if someone like him was to win it.

There’s been players like David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, who technically, are better players on the ball creatively.

But having the most effect on a game of football in the past year, I don’t think you can beat Jorginho.

If he got it, I for one would be delighted for him because he would deserve it.