IF any Scot should confront Gareth Bale without trepidation, it is Robert Snodgrass.
The Norwich City forward is undefeated against the Welshman this season and enters Friday’s World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Wales feeling optimistic. In three games against Bale’s Tottenham Hotspur, Snodgrass has sampled two league draws and a Norwich win in the English League Cup. He has no reason to fear one of the world’s elite players.
Scotland’s 2-1 defeat in Cardiff last October, a match decided by Bale’s exquisite winning goal, did not involve Snodgrass. The former Livingston player is proud of his recent record against a winger now bracketed with the globe’s finest talents. Rumours of multi- million-pound transfers to Real Madrid surround Bale as Wales’ most gifted footballer since the emergence of Ryan Giggs in the early 1990s.
As might befit his upbringing in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow’s east end, Snodgrass is not intimidated in the slightest by reputations. “As players, you are required to do a job. For me, if I’m attacking, I’m not going to be worrying about Gareth Bale,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m going to be concerned with what I can do to affect the game. That’s why you’re in the team.
“Whatever way the manager sets Scotland up, it won’t be to stop Gareth Bale. It will be to try and win a football match. We’re at home, there will be a big crowd at Hampden and there is no better feeling. Hopefully we can take the game to them.
Bale is in a side that is in the top four in the Premier League. He’s got great players round about him but he’s carrying Spurs right now. He’s unbelievable. I’ve played against him three times this season and I’m undefeated against him for Norwich. We got two draws against Spurs in the league and we beat them in the cup. He did score a wonder goal against us at Carrow Road, and that 30 seconds showed just what he can do. He’s shown that on a number of occasions this season. We need to watch him closely because he’s at the top of his game right now.”
Snodgrass is well schooled in how to stifle such attacking threats thanks to his manager at Norwich, Chris Hughton. “Our wide men at Norwich have been told to try and double up when boys like Aaron Lennon and Bale get the ball because they are two of the best wingers in the league. As a defensive unit, that’s when you try to stop the attacking players like Bale or Lennon. The Scotland manager will be different from my manager at Norwich and he’ll have different plans.”
Friday’s encounter is the first competitive fixture for Scotland since Gordon Strachan replaced Craig Levein as national coach. Strachan’s penchant is for creative, attacking players who can eliminate defenders and cause problems for opponents – exactly the style of football which suits Snodgrass. The forward played 45 minutes of last month’s 1-0 friendly win over Estonia, but whether he starts on Friday has still to be decided. Strachan has made it clear he is a huge admirer of his ability.
“I’d like to get a regular start with Scotland, but there are another 20 lads thinking the same thing,” explained Snodgrass. “You just need to do your best at club level. It’s out of my hands. All I can do to make the manager’s mind up is to try and play at a consistent level week in, week out, so he can watch you and see if you come into his plans. I must be part of it if I’m in his squad so I’ve got to keep doing as well as I can for Norwich.
“I like to try and attack but, in the five years I’ve been in England, I’ve learned to work hard for the team. People speak about individuals, but you need to be part of a team if things aren’t going so well. Since I went down south I’ve added that to my game and that’s why I’ve played nearly 300 games since I went down there. In that regard, managers trust you.
“I haven’t worked a lot with the new manager. Some lads have, but I haven’t. I’ll find out more about the gaffer and he’ll find out a lot more about me. We were only together for three or four days for the Estonia game and you don’t really learn much then. The manager has said he wants to pass the ball and have people who are confident on the ball, take touches and play. That’s what I like doing. Hopefully I can get a chance to do that. I scored against Denmark at Hampden. That and the Serbia game are the only two matches I’ve started there.”
The assignment facing Scotland over the next seven days cannot be underplayed. Wales at Hampden is followed by Serbia in Novi Sad next Tuesday, both games being of the must-win variety. The Scots sit bottom of their World Cup qualifying group after taking just two points from four games and badly need a lift.
“If you aren’t mentally and physically driven for these games then there’s no point being a footballer,” said Snodgrass. “It shouldn’t take a manager to try and gee you up. You should be ready anyway, in my opinion. You need to approach every game believing you can win. The manager will do his bit but as soon as you cross that white line it’s up to you as a player to affect the game.
“You don’t care how you win. You could interview 20 of those lads and they’ll tell you the exact same thing. Winning is winning and it’s the best feeling. If we win this game on Friday it gives us a good bit of confidence going into the Serbia game, believing we can maybe try and get something over there. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a big task, but we’re ready for it.”
As for catching group leaders Croatia, who Scotland still have to play twice, Snodgrass admitted it is a daunting task. “Croatia are nine points ahead of us, so it’s a big ask. I thoroughly believe the lads have that head on that we can do it. The manager will be thinking of Croatia as the best team in the group. He’s just in the door and he’ll be thinking of how to approach that game in the summer.
“We need to get these two games out of the way first. Wales will be no easy game. They proved that when they came back and beat us in Cardiff so it will be a big ask. We’re mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. The Estonia game was especially important for the new manager to see which players can do what.
“I’m sure he’d have watched some players closely leading up to these games. He’ll know what’s required and that’s why he’s the man in the hotseat.”