In a time when Scotland are crying out for a natural goal scorer and after his hat-trick in the Legends game at Ibrox, why was Super Ally never the main man for the National Team?
If Davie Cooper was the reason I became a Rangers fan, Alistair Murdoch McCoist was the reason I loved being a Rangers fan. He scored 355 goals for the club, I know it’s simple maths but imagine having a player that scored 24 goals every season for 15 years. Most strikers don’t manage to maintain that level of consistency over 3-5 years let alone 15. Alan Shearer is probably the only exception in recent times.
Regardless of what happened during his managerial career, McCoist is a club legend and his records in domestic, Old Firm, and European football will surely never be broken in the modern era. But for a player that scored so many goals over a long and illustrious career, why did he only manage a goal every three games for Scotland and only 19 in total?
To put McCoist’s Scotland record in perspective (19 goals in 61 caps), Kenny Miller has just one goal less in eight more games (18 in 69) and James McFadden has four goals less in thirteen fewer games (15 in 48) and you would never class either of these players as being prolific at club level.
Looking at a similar country, Robbie Keane has 68 goals in 146 internationals for the Republic of Ireland over an eighteen-year period compared to McCoist’s twelve years representing Scotland, yes, they are different types of player but it highlights how one country built their team around their best goal scorer rather than picking a formation and saying they don’t fit in.
So, why did McCoist, in relative terms, not do as well for Scotland as he did for Rangers? I have a few theories:
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1 – The Scotland managers never built a team around their best asset and preferred a more “industrious” centre-forward, rarely playing with two strikers. During a similar playing period, Gordon Durie and Kevin Gallacher were utilised 95 times with a combined goals tally of 16. Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown often played with one striker and a flooded midfield which is where our perceived strengths lay at the time. You could argue Durie and Gallacher were better all-round players but they certainly weren’t better goal scorers, neither were they particularly creative.
McCoist fell afoul of the same pragmatic thinking that has restricted Kris Boyd and Jordan Rhodes in recent years who were undoubtedly Scotland’s best goal scorers in their peak years but never kicked a ball at International level.
2 – McCoist needed a partner at International level that wasn’t available. For Rangers, McCoist was supported by Mark Hateley, for Scotland, there was only one player even remotely similar in terms of style of play – Duncan Ferguson. McCoist’s International career ended in 1998 when he didn’t get selected for the World Cup in France despite scoring more goals and being in better form than both Scott Booth and Simon Donnelly (see point 1!) in the previous season.
Duncan Ferguson ended his own Scotland career following his high profile fall out with the SFA, had Ferguson and McCoist been paired together for the five years they were available for selection who knows what could have been achieved. This five year period also coincided with Ferguson’s most prolific goal scoring years at Everton.
3 – There was a partner available for McCoist the whole time and even though they played together at club level, they rarely started together for Scotland with a “one or the other” approach being the usual selection. I know this slightly contradicts what I’ve just said but Maurice Johnston was available for a large period of McCoist’s Scotland career and would’ve added great balance to the attack.
Johnston scored 14 times in just 38 caps for Scotland and was a better all-round player, he could play in the number 10 role. He was arguably one of the best strikers in Europe between 1987-91 and McCoist won the European Golden Boot in 1992 and 1993, this would’ve been one of the most potent strike forces in International football. But they were never given a consistent run together. The most obvious example is Andy Roxburgh picking Alan McInally and Johnston together for the first ill-fated game of Italia ’90 when the obvious selection was Johnston and McCoist, we all know how the game panned out.
4 – We had decent midfield players and the managers felt they had to squeeze them in. Although there were plenty of other top players during McCoist’s Scotland period, for the bulk of his career he played with John Collins, Gary McAllister, Stuart McCall, Paul Lambert, Paul McStay, Ian Durrant and Brian McClair supporting him. Roxburgh and Brown nearly always felt they had to pack the midfield to make us hard to beat rather than looking to take the game to the opposition. McCoist often found himself as a plan B on the bench.
The pragmatism of McCoist’s managers at International level was also highlighted by playing centre halves such as David Weir, Christian Dailly and Tom Boyd as wing backs ahead of more specialised players such as David Robertson who only got 3 caps, 3 caps!!! But that’s another story. To add balance and further proof to the argument, Frank McAvennie only got 5 caps and he was one of the best strikers in England in the late 80’s, not just one of the best in Scotland.
So, McCoist did ok for Scotland but looking at his club record he probably should’ve finished his career as the highest ever goalscorer for his country. He was unlucky to have two long-term managers that refused to build the team around him and look to supply him with the best support possible. There were two players available that would’ve forged effective partnerships with McCoist and he had played with them at club level which was never really repeated at international level.
When you see inferior goalscorers with better international records (goals per game ratios) in periods where Scotland weren’t qualifying for tournaments it does make you wonder what might’ve been had he been given the same love and support as he got a club level.
He’ll always be a Rangers legend for me, but it’ll always be a case of what might’ve been at international level, the fact he only scored one goal more than Kenny Miller is giving me a headache!