It is one of Scottish football's recurring mysteries why at international level we often fail to make the most of the talent available. Gordon Strachan, arguably the finest talent to grace the Scottish game in the final quarter of the 20th century, played only 50 times at full international level. Remarkably the 50 cap mark is an achievement by Scottish standards.
Edinburgh born Strachan joined Dundee as an S form signing in October, 1971 and with Scottish caps at both schoolboy and youth level, the youngster looked a good bet for future stardom. Gordon showed up well in the Dundee first team during the inaugural Premier League season in 1975-76, but that campaign ended with Dundee in Division One and it became apparent that the Dens park side would have to part with the talented youngster in their bid to battle their way out of the lower division. In November, 1977, Dons boss Billy McNeill moved in to snap up wee Gordon in what proved to be one of the biggest "steals" in modern transfer history. Strachan came north to Pittodrie in a player swap deal that gave Jim Shirra to the Dens Park outfit along with the princely sum of £50,000.
At first there was little hint of the great things to follow as the wee man, low on confidence, struggled to break into a strong and highly competitive Aberdeen side. Then Billy McNeill went to Parkhead during the 1978 close season and there was the possibility that Strachan would not be required by new boss Alex Ferguson. However, Gordon quickly impressed Fergie and by midway through the 1978-79 season had firmly established himself as a first team regular.
By the start of the next campaign the wee man had matured into one of the finest midfield players of his generation, and his confident displays in the middle of the park were ultimately the springboard to the Dons first championship success in some 25 years. Gordon's role in that success was underlined by his selection as Scottish Player of the year in April 1980. Despite his lack of inches and slight build, Strachan was the complete player. He could run at a defence with the ball or could change the point of attack with a pinpoint 40 yard pass. He could strike a powerful shot from any range and even had the ability to "pass" the ball into the net if a goalkeeper left the slightest gap. When he was not in possession, Gordon was constantly on the move to make himself available to team mates, and although not the strongest tackler in the world, he would always be there to make an opponent's task that bit harder.
His pivotal role in the Dons 1980 success finally brought recognition at international level and Strachan was named in the Scottish squad for the 1980 British Championship, making his debut in a 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on May 16. He then played in the two remaining British Championship fixtures, both at Hampden, against Wales and England, before heading off to Eastern Europe for a two game friendly tour against Poland and Hungary. The wee man acquitted himself well in all five internationals and did his chances of inclusion in Scotland's forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign no harm at all.
Scotland's road to Spain 1982 began in Stockholm on September 10 1980. Strachan was the star in Sweden as he scored the crucial second half counter that gave Scotland a rare 1-0 away win and launched them on the road to a third consecutive appearance in the Finals. He played again in Scotland's opening home fixture, a disappointing 0-0 draw with Portugal on October 15. By the time the third qualifier came round in February, 1981 Gordon was sidelined with a serious stomach muscle tear which kept him out of action in the second half of the 1980-81 season.
Strachan was back in the Aberdeen side by the start of the 1981-82 season. His influence at club level was as powerful as ever as the Dons developed into one of Europe's finest outfits-with the 1983 European Cup Winner's Cup triumph the pinnacle of their achievements. Simultaneously, Gordon established himself as a Scotland regular, coming back into contention after the stomach injury in October 1981 with Scotland already assured of a place in the World Cup Final.
In the 1982 competition in Spain, Strachan was outstanding in Scotland's matches against New Zealand, Brazil and the USSR, winning recognition from the international media. Alas, the Scots failed to qualify once again on goal difference.
Over the following two seasons the wee man took his tally of full caps as a Don to 28 before he played his last match for Aberdeen in the memorable 1984 Scottish Cup Final and joined Manchester United in a £600,000 deal.
At Old Trafford Gordon quickly became a favourite of the fans, and in his first season had an FA Cup Winners medal to add to his growing collection of honours. On the international scene he remained an important part of the Scotland set-up as qualification for the Mexico'86 World Cup was achieved under Jock Stein. Once again, in the competition itself, Strachan looked the part on the world stage. Following the 1986 season his appearances in the dark blue of Scotland were increasingly limited, although there was a great deal of football left in him.
In March 1989, Gordon was transferred to Second Division Leeds United, but instead of disappearing into oblivion he played a major part in lifting the Elland Road side back into Division One after an absence of eight years. In tandem with Eric Cantona, the wee man showed his true class be leading Leeds United to the English League title itself in 1991-92, and as a result his international career enjoyed a late flourish to take him to the celebrated 50-cap mark.
Subsequently a troublesome back injury convinced Strachan to retire from the international stage and the same injury finally led to his retirement at club level in the early spring of 1995. Soon afterwards he joined Coventry City as assistant manager to former boss Ron Atkinson before taking over as Manager of the Sky Blues. He was appointed Southampton boss in October 2001 after parting company with Coventry following their relegation from the Premiership. He took Southampton to the FA Cup Final in May 2003, losing 1-0 to Arsenal before stepping down in Feb 2004 to take a break from football. Strachan is now working in the media as a football pundit.