|Euro 2020 qualifying: Russia v Scotland|
|Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow Date: Thursday, 10 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text on the BBC Sport website|
When Dundee United signed Lawrence Shankland in July, head coach Robbie Neilson talked about “making him even better”. Its fair to surmise that a Scotland call up within three months was not quite what he had envisaged.
And yet, on Tuesday, the 24-year-old received a first international summons from Steve Clarke for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Russia and San Marino.
A stunning spurt of 13 goals in seven Scottish Championship matches – combined with the poverty of Scotland’s striking options – catapulted him into contention, but how did he end up at Tannadice? And could he be the solution for Scotland?
How did he end up at United?
United’s interest in Shankland was piqued last November when he ran riot at Tannadice, scoring four times in a stunning striking display as Ayr United administered a 5-0 towsing to their title rivals. “It became clear that night that we needed to be in the mix for him and he became the number one target,” says sporting director Tony Asghar.
Asghar was in the midst of facilitating Mark Ogren’s takeover of United at the time and moves to secure Shankland were ramped up in the January window, with a speculative effort to prise him from Ayr there and then failing.
United would not be dissuaded, though, and kept the lines of communication open with a view to completing a deal in the summer. Conversations with head coach Robbie Neilson followed, with a three-year deal struck as a mooted move to Sunderland faltered.
Contrary to suggestions, the package did not make him the highest earner at Tannadice. “I can tell you, money wasn’t his main driver,” Ashgar said. “Lawrence had offers – no doubt – but Robbie sold him what we are doing. He wants to develop into a top player and we believe that, with the coaching staff and the data we have, we can get him to that point.”
Goals, goals, goals
After his call-up, Neilson described Shankland as “more than just a goalscorer”, but it is his potency that has attracted Clarke, who spoke of a “natural finisher” who “scores goals with his head, left foot, right foot”.
Shankland’s voracious accumulation of goals in the past three seasons is bordering on obscene. His 13 efforts in seven Championship games for United – and 15 in all competitions – has followed two campaigns with Ayr in which he amassed 61 goals in 73 appearances across the second and third tier as well as the cup competitions.
Previous to that, his record was notably average – 14 in 43 for League Two Queen’s Park to earn a move to Aberdeen. A further seven in 14 on loan at League One Dunfermline Athletic, followed by 17 cameo top-flight appearances for his parent club without a goal. Another 14 in 55 at Championship St Mirren came next, then four in 18 in the second tier with Morton before he moved to Ayr.
So what changed? “He had lost his way,” said Ian McCall, who signed him for Ayr. “It’s 50% down to Lawrence, 45% down to Ayr for giving him that opportunity – and the coaches did a wee bit. He’s got a good family, he’s settled and he’s in a good place in his life. Sometimes the penny just drops and he’s in great physical condition now and he’s reaping the benefits.”
Is he the solution for Scotland?
Ian McCall, Shankland’s former manager at Ayr United
I said it should have happened eight months ago and was laughed out of court. I know he’s in the Championship, but he’s with one of the top six of seven clubs in Scotland and that brings a pressure.
I think when Steve Clarke sees him in training, he’ll be surprised by just how good he is. He scores goals from two yards and 45 yards and he’s as good at chipping a keeper as I’ve ever seen. He hasn’t touched how good he can be. He’ll go to the top – no doubt. Rangers were close to taking him and he could play for them, or for Celtic, or down south.
Of course it’s a big step up, but he’ll be playing with top, top players, so I’d not be surprised to see him score at least a double against San Marino.