world : From Aberdeen reject to Scotland's number nine

Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:52 PM

Nafeza 2 world - Scotland at Euro 2024: Lawrence Shankland, from reject to Munich - BBC Sport

The 28-year-old has scored piles of goals in the Scottish Premiership. It is what he does.

But as he headed home from close range in the national team's final warm-up game against Finland on Friday, a particularly big smile appeared across his face.

He knew the significance of scoring right before Euro 2024, but on a personal note, the finish carried more weight.

The cross that Shankland instinctively sniffed out was from the boot of his captain Andrew Robertson - and it was a routine Hampden Park had witnessed before, when the pair came through together at Queen’s Park.

At that time a part-time team in Scotland's fourth tier, Shankland also worked in a construction factory to help pay the bills.

As the number nine joked after the Finland friendly, he “lost track” of the Liverpool left-back for a while.

One was helping to bring the Champions League and Premier League to Anfield. While the other…

'I had nothing. I was asking for trials'

Shankland had built a promising reputation when was offered a move to Aberdeen at a time when the Pittodrie club were Celtic’s nearest challengers.

But disappointing loan spells at Dunfermline Athletic, St Mirren and Greenock Morton followed, before Aberdeen decided to cut ties with the striker having made just 17 appearances for the Dons.

“I had nothing at all,” Shankland told BBC Scotland. “It was tough. I was just asking for trials here and there.

“It was probably my mentality, to be honest [that held him back]. Confidence was never something I had as a kid, but it seems to have developed as I’ve got older.

"You need to back yourself, you need to believe in yourself.”

Media caption,

Euro 2024: Clarke has 'fairly good idea' for Scotland starting line-up v Germany

Standing up a manager in a service station

While Shankland needed to believe in himself, he also needed someone else to believe in him.

Enter Ayr United manager Ian McCall, a veteran manager of Scotland’s lower leagues.

After failing to bring Shankland to the Championship side on loan a few months earlier, McCall got a second chance when the striker agreed to meet him in a service station car park

But the striker did not show.

“Morton phoned me as I was on my way and I changed my mind and went there,” Shankland explained.

“Ian very easily could have held a grudge but thankfully he gave me another chance. He recognised there was something in there he liked.”

And how right he was proved. Shankland became the talk of the Scottish lower leagues, scoring 63 goals in 74 games for the Somerset Park side.

McCall's decision to put aside any annoyance at being stood up was quickly proved to be wise.

“If I had taken that to heart, I would have cut off my nose to spite my face,” he said.

“I could sense he had a hunger in him. He’s got a great family, very grounded. He’s a leader and a goalscorer.”

As Scottish football buzzed about the guy scoring practically every week for Ayr, there was daily speculation of where he would land next.

Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Shankland elected to stay in the second tier by moving to title favourites Dundee United, against whom he had scored four goals in a game the previous season.

The striker said United were the "biggest club" that came calling and that he relished the challenge of getting them back to where they felt they belong.

He did just that, scoring 24 goals in 26 league games. Title won. Job done.

He even managed a Scotland call-up from the second tier.

Clarke wanted to know a bit more about Shankland before welcoming him into the squad, so he phoned former Rangers midfielder McCall.

“I told him – ‘aye, he’s a goalscorer, but when you see him in training, you’ll realise just how good he is technically’,” he said.

“Steve phoned me later and told me I was right.”

From squad possible to starter

A Covid-impacted first season in the Premiership was far from stellar, but that was more a result of United’s wider failings than Shankland’s shortcomings.

As a result, it was unsurprising when talk about his next move surfaced, and he eventually signed for Belgian side Beerschot.

“It was a wee bit messy at times,” Shankland said of his stint abroad. “They had three changes of manager.

"The club just found themselves in a difficult period and I was there at the wrong time.”

So, it was time to come home. And since he has, Shankland has not looked back.

Fifty-nine goals in two seasons at Hearts has emphasised his status as the most clinical striker in Scottish football.

His influence does not just come in goals either, with Shankland setting standards after being made captain this term as the Edinburgh side cruised to a third-place finish.

It is this form that turned the discussion around the striker from ‘should Shankland to be on the plane?’ to ‘should Shankland start against Germany?’

In the absence of the injured Lyndon Dykes, it seems Clarke has a toss-up between the Hearts striker and Southampton forward Che Adams for the number nine shirt in Munich against Germany.

In the view of McCall - the man Shankland credits with restoring his faltering career - the striker will find a way to make his mark in at least one of the cities and against one of the opponents.

“He’ll start at least one of the games," he said. "Leading the line against Germany wouldn’t faze him, but he’ll get his opportunity at some point.

“And when he does, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he scores. He’s Lawrence Shankland.”

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