Technically competent, strong as an ox, a deft dribbler and a fierce striker of the ball with either foot, Jason Scotland was well worth whatever trouble he may have given the coach when he arrived in Dundee.
Fortunate to be signed by Dundee United after scoring twice in a rare outing for his country against rival club Dundee, “Scotty” thrilled the city’s fans with his skills and personality. But the tangible returns, he concedes, remained modest.
Worse, he could be a handful at times. Not that there was a super-sized ego to pamper or an uncontrollable, rebellious nature requiring circumspection; what was on offer was just a cheeky, fun-loving man-child in need of guidance.
Scotland’s pre-history as the product of a poor, single-parent household in Laventille who had grown up idolizing minor league players meant that he needed an occasional arm around his shoulder and a word of advice here and there about how to succeed in a professional environment.
Dundee United coach Ian McCall was happy to provide both.
He was pleased with Scotty’s start to life in the Scottish Premiership League (SPL) although he thought his Trinidad and Tobago recruit could work harder on the defensive side of the game. He made his feelings on the issue quite clear early on.
Despite the fact that he had only just graduated from Defence Force to the SPL, Scotland’s response was less than conciliatory.
“But,” he said, “(Brazil football legend) Ronaldo doesn’t track back.”
“You,” McCall replied, “are not f*****g Ronaldo!”.
Scotland grinned; McCall glared. Not for long. Within seconds, both men were laughing heartily. McCall knew his point had been made; Scotty knew that the point had to be taken.
He was not a player who thrived on criticism or who could be left alone to get on with the job. For all his bluster, Scotland’s gifts need to be coaxed out.
Perhaps that was why his talent was rarely evident in Trinidad and Tobago’s colours.
The first time Scotland was selected on a national team—although just at Under-20 level—he was so proud that he slept all night in his red, black and white kit.
Coincidentally, a Scottish coach gave him his international senior debut. It was the late Sunderland standout and ex-Chelsea coach Ian Porterfield who called him up for a 15 November 2000 World Cup qualifier against Panama at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain. T&T won 1-0 but Scotty, then only 21, did not distinguish himself.
Trinidad and Tobago had qualified for the final CONCACAF group stage with two games to spare and Porterfield opted to experiment. In what was a golden era for strikers in the twin-island republic, Scotland found the going tough as just one of a battery of talented strikers.
During Porterfield’s year-and-a-half stint, he was so spoiled for choice that he capped all of Dwight Yorke (Manchester United-England), Stern John (Nottingham Forest-Eng), Jerren Nixon (SC St Gallen-Switzerland), Hector Sam (Wrexham-England), Gary Glasgow (Kansas City Wizards-US), Arnold Dwarika and Nigel Pierre (both Joe Public) and the now deceased pair of Mickey Trotman (Rochester Rhinos-US) and Rolston James (Jabloteh) while other capable attackers like Trent Noel (Police) and Angus Eve (Joe Public) were used in midfield.
By Scotland’s last international game, nine years later, he had managed a decent but unspectacular tally of eight goals from 21 starts and 17 substitute appearances.
He was only 30-years-old at the time and still an England Premiership player with Wigan Athletic but he rarely felt appreciated within the national set-up. Eventually, the thought of spending the five-day international break with his wife and daughters instead became too appealing.
“Club football definitely saw the better side of me,” he told Wired868. “Maybe I didn’t push hard enough and take my chances. I tried to give my best but I was always in and out of the team and I always felt like a fringe player.
“I felt that, with the national team, the players who were not starting never got much attention or respect. We were not made to feel like we were part of the squad.”
Still, Scotland’s UK-career took time to flourish as, at the age of 24, he set about learning about the professional game abroad.
“In Trinidad, teams started slow and built up momentum whereas in Scotland it was pace from the whistle,” he said. “So I tended to tire quickly and was always the first person to be subbed. They started using me as an impact player off the bench instead.”
Scotland scored just eight goals in two seasons for Dundee United but his last item was a winner against Hibernian in the 2003/04 Scottish Cup semi-final at Glasgow’s Hampden Park. It booked United’s place in the next season’s UEFA Cup and he had already accepted a two-and-a-half-year deal from McCall.
But his dreams of European glory were shattered when his work permit application was controversially rejected and he was deemed to be of insufficient calibre for the SPL. Would-be conspiracy theorists noted the fact that several committee members had ties to Hibernian.
“I thought that was the end of my (European) career,” said Scotland. “I felt I had made so much progress and now, after playing in front of 60,000 fans at (Celtic’s) Parkhead, I would have to go back to 200 supporters in Trinidad. I was distraught.”
But Owen Coyle, an assistant coach at Dundee United and former Bolton striker, had just landed the managerial job at Scottish First Division team St Johnstone and he offered Scotland a marriage of convenience that benefited both men.
“Coyle was amazing to me as a player and a person,” said Scotland. “He taught me more about movement and how to operate in the (penalty) box.”
At St Johnstone, Scotland scored 33 times in two seasons at an average of a goal every other game.
During that period, the “Soca Warriors” qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and Scotland made the cut while the Scottish nation missed out—a fact that was taken in good part as evidenced by a hilarious 29-second advert by energy drink, Irn Bru.
Scotland only played six times under internationally renowned Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker but he remains a huge fan of “Don Leo”.
“When you were not playing,” said Scotland, “he would say: ‘Don’t be mad with the guy playing ahead of you, be mad with me because I picked him.’
“Beenhakker was the ultimate coach for me. He could be serious but he would also joke around and he spoke to everyone with respect. There was no first team and second team with him, just one squad.
“I felt Beenhakker took care of his entire squad and I don’t think many other national managers did that.”
In his second season at St Johnstone, Scotland was selected to the First Division Team of the Year and was not short of SPL clubs willing to apply for a fresh work permit for him. But he chose England League One club Swansea where he joined former Defence Force teammate and friend Dennis Lawrence under Spanish coach Roberto Martinez.
The Trinidadian replaced Swansea icon Lee Trundle who had scored 21 goals in his last season and the Welsh fans were vociferous in their disapproval of the swap.
Scotland answered with the League One’s top mark of 29 goals in his first season as Swansea, playing an attractive passing game, won promotion to the Championship Division. There, there were 24 more goals, a stat bettered only by Wolves striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. That season was also the third successive one that Scotland was named on the Division’s Team of the Year.
Martinez moved to Wigan in the England Premier League and wanted Scotland to join him; Coyle had just gotten Burnley promoted to the EPL and also made him an offer. Scotland chose Wigan.
Months earlier, even as Scotland plundered goals at Swansea, then Trinidad and Tobago coach Francisco Maturana selected a 26-man squad for an eagerly anticipated friendly against England and found room for unattached attacker Darryl Roberts and even amateur schoolboy Jamal Gay.
There was no space for Scotland and not even the courtesy of a phone call to explain the omission.
The fixture ended in an embarrassingly lopsided 3-0 defeat that unnerved officials as the team prepared for its first World Cup qualifier in two weeks. So, a clearly overweight Scotland was hastily recalled and failed to distinguish himself in a shock defeat at the feet of Bermuda.
In national colours, he never quite managed to break the cycle of embarrassing let-downs followed by a demonstrated inability to take the chances that did come.
In Wigan colours too, all was not plain sailing.
A hernia operation forced Scotland to miss pre-season training and he had to wait until 26 September 2009 for his Premiership debut, which came against defending champions, Chelsea. And, understandably nervous, Scotland passed on the chance to take a decisive penalty kick.
“I thought about what might happen if I missed,” said Scotland, “and that would never have entered my head at Swansea.
“The pressure was just immense and it seemed to get harder and harder every week and the fans were really getting on my back.”
Scotland’s weekly performance regularly polled at 6 out of a maximum 10 from UK sport writers, which often put him among his club’s top performers. But it was scant consolation.
“I know I was doing well but doing well as a striker means nothing,” he said. “You have to score goals. I started shying away when I missed an opportunity and passing instead of shooting.
“I’m disappointed to this day that I didn’t handle the pressure better and I didn’t take my chances. I should have scored about seven that season.”
Told by Martinez in July 2010 that his chances at Wigan were limited, Scotland decided—reluctantly—to join another former soldier, Carlos Edwards, at Ipswich Town.
“I was hoping that Martinez would encourage me to stay,” he explained, “but he didn’t. And it isn’t nice to know that your manager doesn’t have confidence in you… But I sometimes wondered if I gave up my Wigan career too easily.
“Yes, I didn’t have a good first season but so what? I could have stayed and fought.”
At Ipswich, ex-Manchester United star Roy Keane was building a team for the Premiership and told Scotland that he expected his goals to take the team into the play-offs. Scotty bought into the dream and signed on.
Six months later, Keane was sacked. And Scotland, who found Keane to be more of a bully than an inspiration, was not sad to see him leave.
“He bought me to score goals and, by any means necessary, I was to score goals,” said Scotland. “Keane wasn’t a coach who spent much time breaking down the game like Martinez and the atmosphere around him was something I had never experienced before.
“Most of the players were afraid to be around him or to make a mistake. I remember cracking a joke once at a session and he just went off about jokers and said that he wanted to see how they did on the field.”
Scotland scored in the next game against Bristol City. But, to play it safe, he stopped making jokes.
Despite a spell on the sidelines under new boss Paul Jewell, Scotland finished the season as Ipswich’s top scorer with ten goals. However, he admitted to being mentally unprepared for the intensity of the Championship Division in his first year with Ipswich.
The following pre-season, Scotland was once more surplus to requirements. In the off-season, Jewell had bought two more strikers and, without a word to the striker, he gave Scotland’s number 10 shirt to Michael Chopra. Scotland didn’t even have a place on the bench when the season started.
But, this time, Scotty refused to buckle. When Jewell rested his main strikers in the Cup games, Scotland took advantage of the opportunity to prove his worth. When he won a spot on the bench for the league games, he made his cameos count.
By the end of the 2011/12 season, Scotland had nine goals, second only to Chopra’s 14. And a suitably impressed Jewell offered him a new deal and asked him to stay as a squad player and pass on his experience to the younger talent as well as freshen up the dressing room with his charm.
It has been a slow start so far, both for Ipswich and for Scotty. He featured as a substitute in every match so far but hasn’t scored yet while the team has posted one win and two draws from its four games.
There was one decisive moment against former Premiership team, Blackburn Rovers, when a Scotland cross forced a late equaliser for Ipswich at home.
But the real pleasure will come when he notches his first goal. He will flash the bright smile that has warmed the hearts of fans in Trinidad and Tobago, Scotland, Wales and, now, England.
The journey has been as remarkable as the destination. Forget Ronaldo. Scotland is special in his own right.
Editor’s Note: This concludes our two-part series on Jason Scotland. Read Part One here.