A historic moment took place in Inverness last Thursday, when the city’s only professional football club Inverness Caledonian Thistle took to the field against Romanian outfit Astra Giurgiu in a UEFA Europa League second round qualifier.
The thought that Inverness as a club could ever be associated with the words European football was a notion that not even the most optimistic of their fans would have believed could become a reality but ‘The Jags’ are a team which truly deserves their chance.
For a football club that has only been in existence since 1994 – after the amalgamation between Highland league clubs Caledonian FC and Inverness Thistle – it’s been a remarkable rise, which, in addition to having a taste of European football, has also seen them finish third in the Scottish Premiership and win the Scottish Cup.
When Inverness reached Scotland’s top division for the first time, aspirations were to simply avoid relegation, but when Terry Butcher was appointed manager the club developed a strong sense of belief that they could compete with any of their domestic competitors.
Although the club suffered the experience of being relegated in 2009 they immediately bounced back by achieving promotion the following season and ever since then their fortunes have been steadily improving.
One of Inverness’s key strengths under Terry Butcher was the phenomenal spirit that was fostered between management, players and fans but this connection was threatened when Terry Butcher decided to leave the club for what turned out to be an ill-fated spell as manager of Hibernian.
As usual when a club is on the lookout for a new manager a whole host of names are mentioned, but when John Hughes was placed in charge of the first team there were few enthusiastic voices to be heard.
But those reservations were soon to be forgotten about as John Hughes and his coaching team not only preserved the spirit within the squad but also began to modernise the team’s style of play as well. The game plan Inverness had under Terry Butcher very much mirrored the qualities that the former England defender possessed as a player – commitment to the cause, strength and the desire to be a difficult opponent.
However, under John Hughes the technical qualities of the squad have become much more visible and they have been encouraged to think more methodically about the game. It’s this implementation of a forward thinking philosophy that has now seen the club participate in a European qualifier.
The match itself ended in a one-nil defeat for Inverness, but it was the manner in which they approached the game that was the most impressive aspect of the night. Usually when Scotland’s smaller clubs have been defeated in a European match it’s due to an overall lack of technique and proper thought process, but that wasn’t the case in this game.
Although Inverness couldn’t quite produce the final pass to cut the Astra defence open, the patterns of play that they attempted to enforce were what you would come to expect of a team involved in European football. Despite experiencing defeat the fact that they dominated the match stats is a positive which they can emphasise in the future.
That Inverness have been able to build up towards a positive and respected position within the Scottish game is a fantastic story and one of the most impressive aspects of the tale is the way they have constructed their squad.
Despite their budget being substantially less than several of the teams that finished below them last season you would never guess that by watching them play.
Transfers into the club are mostly players who have slightly lost their way and others who have been plying their trade in the lower leagues in England. Even though playing for Inverness isn’t the most financially rewarding and there will be long journey’s involved, the players who sign for the club seem to relish the opportunity that they have been given.
This situation suits both parties as the club gets highly motivated players and the players are given a platform to showcase their abilities within a close-knit squad which they hope will eventually lead to having the chance of performing at a higher level.
Another fact which is commendable about Inverness is that they have been able to improve without receiving a high amount of transfer fee’s for their most profitable talents. When you consider the millions of pounds that a bigger club like Dundee United have received for their players over the last two seasons it’s amazing that Inverness have become one of their direct competitors for a higher league position.
With being one nil down in the tie against Astra the odds are against them in their quest to progress to the next round, but if they continue to play with the style that they are capable of they do have a chance.
Regardless of the eventual outcome it would be a boost for the Scottish Premiership if the hierarchy of the club continue to appoint managers that practise a football philosophy which is in line with the methods used at the at the highest level of the game.
If this is what occurs it will hopefully inspire teams at a lower level in Scotland who play with an outdated style which is based solely around hard work and physicality that you can be successful with a clear and patient vision. The fact that over the last couple of years a small club like Inverness Caledonian Thistle has gained some pretty big experiences is surely testament to this.