Why has it all gone so horribly wrong for this seemingly-jinxed generation of Scottish footballers?
As Craig Gordon revealed the desperately sad news that he may never play again, it represented another savage blow for a crop of talent that reasonably big things were expected of as they emerged in the early part of the Millennium. The best of the Scottish footballers in their late teens or early 20s when Berti Vogts was national team manager were never likely to form a vintage Scotland side, but they would certainly have been entitled to expect greater success than they have had.
The two jewels in the crown of this generation were Darren Fletcher and Gordon, yet both are staring at the harrowing prospect of having their careers stunted at an early age.
When Sunderland paid Hearts £9 million for Gordon in 2007, the big Balerno boy looked destined to end up at one of Europe’s top clubs. Mainly due to injury he didn’t and now, having just turned 30, it will be a miracle if he dons his gloves again professionally. If he doesn’t, his last first-team game will have come as a 28-year-old.
Fletcher, the Scotland captain and long-serving Manchester United midfielder, is in a similar boat. Stricken by illness over the past few years, and with no timescale put on a return, there is serious doubt over whether he will play again, certainly at the level he was operating at around three years ago when he was considered one of the best holding midfielders in Europe. Like Gordon, there’s a possibility he will have kicked his last ball aged just 28.
And then there’s poor John Kennedy, the Celtic defender whose career was effectively ended at the age of just 24 after he failed to recover from a shattering knee injury incurred on his Scotland debut in 2004. James McFadden, the darling of the Tartan Army as recently as three years ago, is also in grave danger of going down as an unfulfilled talent. Now 29 and struggling for form and fitness, the Sunderland player faces the prospect of having made his last Scotland appearance at just 27.
I interviewed Kevin Thomson a year-and-a-half ago and he reflected then that time was running out on his ambition of playing in the English Premier League. Now, having been hindered by injuries, he is a free agent and miles away from his promised land. At 28, it is something of a travesty that this once-exuberant member of Hibs’ golden generation has only three Scotland caps.
When referencing that vibrant Easter Road crop, it is impossible to escape the wretchedly unfulfilling years endured by Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan since they first left Edinburgh in 2006. At 29 and 30 respectively – and, unlike their contemporaries, without the excuse of chronic injury troubles – both find themselves on the scrapheap and more renowned for off-field misdemeanours than on-field accomplishment. The demise of former Old Firm players such as Kris Boyd and Stephen McManus since leaving Glasgow has been similarly startling.
On a lesser scale, Michael Stewart, Ian Murray, Andy Webster, Russell Anderson, Scott Severin, Craig Beattie, Kevin Kyle and Lee Wilkie – who have all endured untimely injury problems – would have hoped to have done more with their careers, while once-promising SPL youngsters like David Clarkson, Zander Diamond and Garry Kenneth can’t have envisaged spending their peak years in League Two. The hope is that the currently-stagnant David Goodwillie won’t go the same way.
In sustaining Scotland careers for more than a decade, Kenny Miller and Gary Caldwell, two players largely taken for granted on these shores, deserve credit for having the longevity to buck a depressing trend among their ill-fated peers. Of course, there are tales of woe in every generation in every country, but, in proportional terms, this batch of Scottish talent appears to have been dealt a particularly bad hand.