Aberdeen is a strange place. A town made of granite sitting in isolation in the north of Scotland, never in tune with the highland identity of its surroundings, that has produced talents as varied as Sir Alex Ferguson, Lord Byron, Annie Lennox, and a man who was known as "The Scottish Samurai," which is surely the most terrifying epithet of all time.
In an age of reinvention, when Scotland, a strange place in itself, has long been on a PR drive to push itself as some new forward-thinking place of creativity and innovation, Aberdeen has instead shrugged off its history as a centre of the Enlightenment and instead undergone a metamorphosis into the opposite, grubby kind of place — an oil town. The same oil has helped fuel hope that the country might regain its independence, but now it is also the place where Scottish football might hope to source a long-overdue renaissance.
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Aberdeen FC itself is of secondary importance here — while they've been doing quite well recently, the demise of Rangers sadly came about at the same time that recent underachievement caught up with the Scottish top flight to reduce the number of teams in the Champions League from two to one, denying anyone else the opportunity to step up. Instead, however, the town has birthed a number of players which might, in a future, less premature time, and for people unaware that to do so is a terrible curse, be tipped as a Golden Generation.
Ryan Gauld hails from here, but plays for Dundee United, and has in recent weeks been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid. Whether he's that good is open to question, but he is undoubtedly a great talent, looking about 12 of his 17 years, and playing with the kind of skill that complements the sight that somebody has apparently let a schoolboy competition-winner onto a pitch of actual men. His almost alien youthfulness and playing style combine to give the sort of joy and spirit that is otherwise reserved for when a dog escapes onto the pitch, and watching him is not a dissimilar experience.
Other Aberdonians include the latest to be playing for his hometown club, Ryan Jack, a box-to-box dynamo who is quickly establishing himself at a young age as one of the best talents in the country. He is also joined by Stuart Armstrong, a similar talent who also came through the Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen, Ryan Fraser, who has already departed for the Championship at a tender age, and Jack Grimmer, a powerful, aggressive defender rising through the ranks at Fulham.
Usually, the problem with such generations of talent is they can often leave black holes available, with a small population and the random nature of the emergence of young footballers resulting in one area of the pitch being overstocked with talent while another is left undermanned. Much bigger nations like England regularly have this problem, but the depth of potential talent available at present seems to cover almost every area of the pitch.
To the above midfield talents, Lewis MacLeod, Kenny McLean, and Dylan McGeouch and plenty others have a reasonable chance of attaining a high level. Up front, Jordan Rhodes looks like he could lead Scotland's line for a long time, while there are some potential younger stars in Stevie May, Islam Feruz and Real Madrid's Jack Harper. In defence, Premier League clubs also are already circling the outrageously prodigious John Souttar, There is a long way to go, but the raw ingredients are all there.
Perhaps wisely then, the Scottish FA also have decided to embark on a more aggressive policy of signing up potential recruits. Their neighbours are unlikely to regret missing out, but Rhodes was called up for Scotland while he had such a remarkable goal tally at a young age, even in League One, that it was being touted that he could be one to watch in the future for England. Ikechi Anya may sound exotic, although he was in fact born in Castlemilk, but Scotland still pipped Romania and Nigeria to his signature. Steven Caulker is the latest name to be suggested, which shows at least a high level of ambition if nothing else.
What exactly has produced all this is debatable, although Graham Taylor recently appeared on UK radio to wax lyrical about the high standards of Scottish youth coaching, drawing an unfavourable comparison from their southern neighbours. The number of managers and coaches in the Premier League hailing from north of the border has been wildly disproportionate in recent years (although the tally currently stands at four, the lowest in quite some time) so he may have a point.
It's an obvious thing to say, but people shouldn't get too carried away. It's not so long ago that players who turned into artless cloggers were thought of in similar fashion, and like all smaller nations, the national league system still seems doomed beyond repair, despite Celtic's recent European shenanigans. There is also the possibility that, at international level, they will achieve nothing, just as the outrageously talented squads of 1974 and 1978 saw their potential cast away in disappointing tournament performances. But that squad also had the problem of being poorly-timed, with half being too old and half being too young, thus narrowly avoiding a potentially world-class outfit. At least, with the current set-up, there are few veterans among the previous group of journeymen that Scotland will be loathe to miss. Whatever happens, they'll almost certainly be better than that lot, and for now, that's reason enough to be optimistic.