Anyone growing up in Scotland in the early 1980’s will remember fondly a home-grown player who excited the crowd, regardless of what team you followed. A player with incredible close control, a dazzling turn of pace and enough natural ability to turn a game on its head if needed. Davie Cooper was not only a Motherwell and Rangers legend but a Scotland one as well. Since his passing, Scotland have struggled to produce another player just like him – a natural winger, who aims for the by line and has the tricks up his sleeve to avoid the challenges on route.
The last potential candidate was James McFadden, who has disappeared off of the football map in the past few years after a string of injuries and poor performances have limited his playing time to a few games here and there. He was seen as a genuine contender to Coopers crown in particular, with both players starring for Motherwell during their careers and both possessing superb close control and dribbling skills. Like Cooper, a fit McFadden was the first name on the Scotland national team sheet and produced the performances to match, against the likes of Holland and France. But the years have now caught up on McFadden who is fading fast in terms of being Scotland’s guiding light. Since then, Scotland has looked at many players to fill the void but with little success. But now, they may have produced a player with enough flair and guise that even Cooper himself would have been impressed – Dundee United starlet Gary Mackay-Stevens.
As a talented youngster, who started off his career with Ross County before being snapped up by English Premiership side Liverpool, looked to be the next Scotland star to take England’s top division by storm. However two injury ravaged years at the Anfield club saw MacKay-Steven released and returned to Scotland, eventually picked up by Airdrie United. It was here that he managed to get a consistent run in the first team making 21 starts in final six months of the 2010-2011 campaign, enough to convince Dundee United to sign the player at the end of the season. Under the guidance of manager Peter Housten, MacKay-Steven has focused his play on becoming an old fashion winger, with enough pace and trickier up his sleeve to fool most of the Premier League defenders. Last season the 22-year-old made a promising start to his United career, playing 31 times for the club and getting on the score sheet on four occasions. This season he has gone from strength to strength, hitting three goals already in only eight appearances including important strikes against Motherwell and Celtic that have earned his team a valuable point. But goalscoring is only a small part of MacKay-Steven’s repertoire with the main focus this year being on his superb wing play and assists for the United strikers that have been his making as a player and have led to him being capped at Under 21 level for Scotland.
His wing play and in particular his selection of tricks has brought the media limelight firmly back to MacKay-Steven. His latest tricks, on display to the home crowd against Kilmarnock, involved the player controlling the ball firstly with his chest before balancing it on the top of his left foot. As the defender closed in, Mackay-Steven flicked the ball upwards and over the defenders head before spinning round and past him to collect it again. He then began his run down the left flank, only to be halted by a desperate lunge by the Kilmarnock midfielder knocked the ball out for a corner kick.
With Gordon Strachan now installed as national team boss and looking to inject some life back into a faltering Scottish qualifying campaign, he may well look at a player like Gary MacKay Steven to inject some much-needed pace and flair into his team. If nothing else, the talented youngster has the ability to be a game changer from the bench if Strachan decides to deploy him that way. Either way, it won’t be long before MacKay Steven is pulling on the dark blue of Scotland at full international level and following in the footsteps of another skillful Scottish winger, one Davie Cooper.
To watch MacKay-Stevens dazzling the crowd, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sj1wo9fYfA