best tracker Scotland have done the hard work – now we need to do the small things better if we’re to be Euro stars, says Bill Leckie – Techss

Scotland have done the hard work – now we need to do the small things better if we’re to be Euro stars, says Bill Leckie

BOFFINS like to call it The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.

You and I know it as doing the wee things better.

Kenny Ramsay

Lawrence Shankland fails to hit the target against the Dutch[/caption]

However you dress it up, though, it’s the bit Scotland need to get right if we’re to do something special in Germany this summer.

It’s time for us to start sweating the small stuff.

Because anyone can see we’ve done the big bit. 

We’ve gone from perennial also-rans to back-to-back Euro finalists.

We’ve grown way beyond being that cliche of plucky scrappers, and can now match right good teams when it comes to passing and keeping the ball.

We are, in my opinion, at least 90 per cent down the road to being a nation capable of making the knockout stages of major tournaments.

But as a bizarre Friday night in Amsterdam proved, that last five to ten per cent is the difference between a result that makes us puff our chests, and one that leaves us scratching our heads.

My mind keeps going back to the moment when, at 1-0 to the Dutch, we picked their pocket 25 yards out, and suddenly Lawrence Shankland was clean through.

Watch those few seconds back. He’s perfectly balanced, sees the keeper’s position, opens up his right foot to place the ball well out of his grasp.

He does almost everything right.  Except that wee bit that mattered most.  The clinical bit. The money shot.

With Hearts, his pulse rate would have slowed, blood would have frozen in his veins, and he’d have buried the chance with his eyes shut.

In the Johan Cruyff ArenA, playing for his country, clear of Virgil van Dijk for the first time all night, the adrenalin rushed, he put his foot through it just that tiny bit too hard, and the ball flew that tiny bit too high.

One per cent more controlled, one or two inches lower and he’s a hero.

Instead, he missed and next thing it’s 2-0, then three, then four.

We have two choices, looking back on moments like these.

We can shrug and curse at how close we came to doing something amazing.

Or we can understand that close isn’t good enough.

That hitting the bar twice when the net’s gaping, that missing two free headers, that falling asleep in our own box even a couple of times across 90 minutes, is going to kill us.

In short, unless we sweat the small stuff that makes the big difference, June may fly by in a blur of regret.

Which would be such a waste of so much hard graft.

That’s where the whole Marginal Gains thing comes in, a theory first spun in 2002 when Dave Brailsford — now head of Man United’s new structure — was put in charge of a British Olympic cycling operation that was running with a permanent flat tyre.

He didn’t come in demanding gold medals, world records or Tour de France wins.

What he demanded was that every single little thing his team did improved by one per cent, every single day.

And by 2008, what he got from THAT was gold medals, world records, and riders who won the Tour de France.

Brailsford made that happen by tweaking what they ate and drank, by finding out whether they slept on the right pillows.

By bringing in a surgeon to show them how to wash their hands to reduce the spread of germs, by making the trucks as clean inside as a biological lab.

Everything mattered, with no exceptions, no shortcuts and no excuses.

Within six years, Britain’s cyclists had taken over the world, one per cent at a time.

Six years, you say? Steve Clarke barely has six weeks.

But he’s not starting from scratch. He’s already done more than we could have reasonably expected of him, given where we were when he took over.

He’s been a remarkable coach and man-manager who’s created the most united Scotland squad of my lifetime.

And one which proved in long spells against the Dutch how well it can play the beautiful game.

If he wants to take us further, if he wants to create history by reaching the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time, the hardest part starts now.

The part where he squeezes that extra one per cent out of every player.

This applies to every training session, every game, every throw- in and set-piece for and against, whenever the ball’s in our box or in the other lot’s, even at every meal time and bedtime.

This is the part where we decide whether we’re happy to be in Germany for the ride.

Or if we’re willing and able to learn from these past six winless games.

And use our last three warm-ups to tighten up by one per cent each, to sharpen up by one per cent each, to concentrate better by one per cent each.

Individually, those tiny changes might be negligible.

Collectively, they make a shedload of percentage increases in output that give us a far better chance of being who and what we want to be.

As proof, let’s take it back to moments like Shankland’s one-on-one.

It was one of 13 shots we had, same as the Dutch.

Difference was, they got six on target to our two and scored four to our zip.

That’s not down to bad luck. Every one of those chances we missed were the kind our players would bury in training with their eyes shut.

The challenge now for Scotland is to do it when the pulse is racing and the adrenalin’s pumping.

It’s a challenge we’re not miles off overcoming. It’s more like inches.

But as the bold Al Pacino once put it, life’s a game of inches.

One half-step too soon, you don’t make it. One half second too late, you don’t catch it.

Sweating the small stuff is what bridges those inches.

So come on Scotland — let’s sweat bullets to produce a summer that none of us will ever forget.

AFTER the way they were dismantled by Brazil, it’s not some funky flag re-design England need on the collar of their new kit.

It’s one with a built-in brass neck.

All we’d heard in the build-up was how this was their time.

You know, the way it’s been their time for the last 32 major tournaments since 1966 — and how Saturday night was the start of the countdown to Euro glory.

Meanwhile, in limped the one-time kings of global football, now reduced to a shambles who have gone through three coaches in a year, during which the only opposition they have beaten in ten outings are Guinea, Bolivia and Peru.

Then what happens? Not only do Gareth Southgate’s side lose, they are lucky not to lose by three or four, never mind to 17-year-old Endrick’s winner.

Still, it’s clearly all nasty Nike’s fault for messing with the sacred Cross of St George.

This must be true, seeing as everyone from Rishi Sunak down (or should that be up?) has got bent out of shape about it.

No statement from the PM yet about Scotland’s new away top having the Saltire picked out on the collar in white and lilac, but I’m sure he’ll get round to it soon.

Of all the faux outrage on show, though, none matched veteran goalie Peter Shilton’s, who harumphed, “England represents our country and its flag is red, white and blue.” Er, no it isn’t, chief. That’s the whole point here.

Just as well he was better with crosses as a player . . . 

JUDGMENT day looms for Brendan Rodgers after filleting VAR official John Beaton following Celtic’s recent loss to Hearts.

As I wrote at the time, it was a poor reaction under severe pressure.

Had he used his status to highlight the fact that video technology let both sides down on the day, he might have gone into his hearing with a lot more support.

Instead, he chose to deflect from a result that blew the chance to return to the top of the table by insinuating that Beaton’s “incompetence” was a hindrance to Celtic alone, and by the wording of the SFA’s rules, that has him bang to rights.

Question is, if he IS found guilty, what will his punishment be?

Two games, but with one suspended so he can be in the dugout at Ibrox on April 7?

Two games straight so he sits in among the home fans for the biggest 90 minutes of the season?

Or, as we saw when Graeme Shinnie challenged a red card last season, might the ban be stiffer the more he protests? It’s tough to second-guess it.

But I can predict this for sure. A verdict won’t be the end of this one.

Maybe only the start.

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