This coming Thursday (16th September 2021) will be the 50th European game we have played as a staff & group of players in just over 3yrs working together. The previous 49 games has taken us on a fantastic journey across Europe and playing against a variety of teams and in stadiums of different shape and size. As a coach, it has been hugely beneficial to my development/experience and below i share some personal thoughts on the journey to this point.
I’ve learnt so much from European football – on the pitch – but also off the pitch regarding the importance it can have to a clubs future stability and growth. The leagues outside of the PL where TV, sponsorship and prize money isn’t so high, it provides huge financial incentives. The finances can then be used to help a club grow, build infrastructure and facilities but importantly it can be essential to squad building or the retaining/developing of key players. This is obviously an additional finance that the owners or board do not need to find or self fund.
For Scotland, it can provide a huge boost to the individual clubs and the overall game. Therefore, I really welcome the UEFA Conference league this season as it gives the smaller nations and also a greater number of clubs the chance to compete on the European stage and grow as a result. It’s something that I feel is hugely important to the future health of football across Europe and player development outside the big 4-5 leagues where the media and sponsors focus the majority of their attention.
For some teams, The finances generated from one successful run in european competition, can be equal to the prize money achieved over 3-4yrs of domestic competition. Therefore, whilst the riches of the Premier League stand alone, the rest of the clubs in Europe really benefit both on and off the pitch by qualifying for one of the european competitions.
There is no such thing as an easy away game in Europe – no matter the opponent you face or country you visit. Travelling to the various cities, changes in weather and the environment inside the stadium, bring difficult challenges to overcome in order to get a positive result. We have been very fortunate to visit some fantastic places over the last 3yrs – The best atmosphere was definitely at Legia Warsaw whose fans created a fantastic noise that was very similar to my time in South America. A special mention also goes to the fans of Feyenoord who literally had the main stand shaking at the start of the game.
The trips away are something that I really look forward to and as a staff it’s nice to go for a walk and take in a little bit of the city. My parents came to the Vienna match in December 2018. They had a lovely few days and had a chance to visit the markets etc – Vienna is a beautiful city and the xmas lights and decorations made it even more special.
On a football level, visiting Feyenoord, Benfica and Porto were special nights and an example of football at the top level where you are playing against elite players/teams in fantastic stadiums/environments. That is what we are involved in the game for and nights that I absolutely love to be part of.
The most difficult in terms of weather was the recent game in Armenia which was extreme in terms of heat and a slow, dry pitch making the game more difficult than we could have imagined prior to arriving in Yerevan. The most unique was certainly UFA in the first season to qualify for the group stages. Down to 9 players for the final 30 or so minutes was an experience!! the fact we got through the game and qualified was a huge moment for everyone involved. The biggest “wow” moment is reserved for Kemar Roofe’s goal at Standard Liege which was world class.
Simply wow! The roar against Feyenoord as Ojo crashed in the winning goal, or the noise against Legia Warsaw, when Morelos scored the last minute winner were moments that you will never forget. We have had some memorable nights at Ibrox and the fans have always played their part in making the occasions so special.
The Aribo mazy run and Hagi free kick to complete a fantastic turnaround against Braga will be a game that lives long in the memory.
Our opponents are equally lucky to experience the chance to play at Ibrox on a European night – it’s something that all our opponents mention when visiting Glasgow. Let’s hope for many more nights like those in the future….. the fans are able to give the team a huge lift on the pitch with their energy and passionate support.
The contrast in styles of play in European competition is fantastic. When the groups are drawn you will play teams from three different countries who play in different styles – both formation and preferred principles of play – but also with referees from around Europe who also officiate the game with slight differences. As a coach or player this can only be beneficial for your development as you come up against confident and strong opponents who are expected/used to winning. Naturally this raises the level of quality above the domestic games.
We have come up against some really top opponents – Havertz, Diaby, Bailey (Leverkusen) Rafa Silva and Darwin Sanchez (Benfica), Falcao (Galatasaray) Danilo and Pepe (Porto) Berghuis (Feyenoord) to name a few – the general speed of play, thought and athleticism is a really high level.
I expect this season to be no different and having played against Lyon last pre season, I’m really looking forward to our players competing against Houssem Aouar, Lucas Pacqueta and Bruno Guimaraes with Lyon this season. They are arguably the most talented squad we have faced in Europe so far and have a squad full of top young players like those mentioned above who have the potential to arrive in the Premier League in the future. One of their key midfielders is Thiago Mendes who I worked with at São Paulo FC. He is an extremely talented player who has done very well since coming to Europe and it will be good to see him again.
Houssem Aouar is a player that I love to watch and I believe he is a fantastic talent. At 22, he has a huge future and for young players, he is a great example of close control, the ability to twist/turn away from pressure and to change the speed of the game when needed.
Porto away is my favourite European game as a coach. We played very well that night and should have won the game (in my opinion), It was a night that accelerated our teams development by 20/30% as we grew in belief and confidence at this level against a really high quality opponent. We underlined that just a few weeks later when we beat Porto in the return game at Ibrox 2-0. The most important games where the ones that got us qualification to the group stages each season against UFA, Legia Warsaw, Galatasaray and Alashkert both in terms of future growth opportunities and exposure it gave us as a group/club but also the finances it has generated for the club to continue to build.
49 games / 25 wins / 16 draws / 8 defeats / 23 Clean sheets