Legend Willie Miller today insisted he has seen the future of Scottish football – and it is rising Premiership centre-back stars Scott McKenna and John Souttar.
Capped 65 times by Scotland, Miller was part of the nation’s greatest centre-back partnership alongside fellow Gothenburg Great Alex McLeish.
Together they were world class and helped the Dons dominate Scottish football and land two European trophies in the 1980s.
Miller and Big Eck, capped 77 times, also starred at the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals with Scotland.
So Miller knows a strong centre-back partnership when he sees one.
And he reckons Aberdeen’s McKenna, 21, and Hearts’ Souttar, can be the backbone of Scotland’s defence if they continue their rapid progression.
Scotland Under-21 skipper McKenna and Souttar, who both excelled in the 0-0 draw between their respective teams at Pittodrie, link up regularly for the young Scots. The centre-back position was one of the weaknesses pinpointed for Scotland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia this summer.
Miller reckons the solution is already there at U21 level, regardless of who the SFA appoint as next Scotland boss.
He said: “I have seen the future of Scottish international football with Scott McKenna and John Souttar.
“We have been talking long enough about where are the good young centre-backs in Scotland – well, now you have to say here they are.
“Although it is still early in their careers they have the potential to be the Scotland centre-back partnership of the future.
“They already play together with the Scotland U21s and it looks like they have a really good balance.
“Both are powerful but they can also play football.
“Seeing the two develop at Premiership level is exciting and they now have to take that to international level.
“McKenna and Souttar were both impressive and powerful in the recent 0-0 draw between the clubs at Pittodrie.
“Souttar can play alongside McKenna who is a left-sided player, tall and imposing.
“Having watched them in that game, and others, I would suggest that any new Scotland manager coming in should certainly be looking at these two as a potential partnership for the international set-up going forward.”
McKenna and Souttar have been the centre-back partnership at the heart of Scotland’s Euro U21 campaign. They both started the 2-0 defeat of Holland in September.
McKenna spent last season on loan at Ayr United who were subsequently relegated from the Championship.
Having made his Aberdeen first-team breakthrough in a 1-0 win at Motherwell on September 24, McKenna has been a regular. He has started 15 out of 16 games. The only game he missed, the 3-0 loss at Celtic, was because he was ruled out with a calf strain.
Miller, a former director of football with Aberdeen, said: “I know McKenna from his development squad time at Pittodrie.
“He has always been someone that could play, and always had a good attitude.
“McKenna also played a year group above himself during that time.
“He has really grasped his chance this season.
“McKenna realises how powerful he is physically and uses it to his advantage but he can also play as well. He has a lot going for him.
“From an Aberdeen point of view, McKenna is now one of the first names on Derek McInnes’ team sheet since he came in for that game against Motherwell.
“Players get taken off and rested, but he doesn’t. He is only 21 but has established himself in the first team and has a great future ahead of him at Aberdeen.”
Scotland’s centre-back partnership in the final game under Gordon Strachan was Hearts skipper Christophe Berra, 32, and Blackburn’s Charlie Mulgrew, 31.
They were held 2-2 in Slovenia as another qualifying campaign ended in failure.
Scotland have not reached a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France.
Berra and Mulgrew are moving into the latter stages of their career and have been part of squads that have consistently failed to deliver qualification.
Berra has partnered Souttar at the heart of the Jambos defence, and with the 0-0 stalemate at Pittodrie, set a new club record of six successive clean sheets.
Although only 21, Souttar has racked up more than 100 Premiership starts during his time at Hearts and previous club Dundee United.
“Souttar has had his injury problems but has developed into a very strong and intelligent centre-back,” said Miller.