Connect with us

Football

Scotland ought to feel positive with Steve Clarke in charge, writes Bill Leckie

Published

on

LAST time round, in those weird post-Covid days when personal contact was against the law, Steve Clarke had to cut his Euros squad by phone.

For plenty bosses in plenty industries, that would have been a blessing.

2

Steve Clarke meets the local mayor as Scotland arrive at their base camp HQCredit: Kenny Ramsay
The Scotland manager has been the perfect leader of the squad

2

The Scotland manager has been the perfect leader of the squadCredit: PA

Because for plenty bosses, face-to-face confrontation is something to be avoided at all costs.

So it’s the mark of the man who led Scotland into their Alpine base that it didn’t sit well with him.

That he almost felt like he’d let his players down, by not looking them in the eye to deliver one of the worst bits of news they would receive in their careers.

That’s the kind of gaffer you want, the kind you would go the extra inch for.

The kind Gary Neville spoke of when he recalled how Sir Alex Ferguson “never kicked a difficult situation down the road, never left people wondering what was happening to them”. As that, he said, can be devastating.

Not that what Clarke had to tell Craig Gordon and John Souttar on Thursday WASN’T devastating.

He had to sit them down, tell them they were the two being cut from his squad for the Euros and try to explain why.

With Gordon, the conversation was complicated by the fact that almost in the same breath as dumping him, the manager then asked him to play against Finland the following night.

That this is what happened entitles both to huge credit.

At 41, a keeper who had fought back from a double leg-break, only to have his dreams of finally playing in a major tournament shattered, could easily have said thanks but no thanks, packed his bags and gone up the road.

Watch the hilarious moment Scotland star John McGinn joins in Bavarian DANCE ahead of Euro 2024

Clarke wouldn’t have blamed him either. He admitted after the game he was ready for Gordon to tell him to shove it.

He spoke openly about how emotional the conversation had been from both sides, almost plaintive as he suggested no one who hasn’t been in that situation could understand the stress of it.

Wait a minute, though. Isn’t our national coach meant to be this cold, calculating machine who gives nothing away?

Isn’t he supposed to be dull, methodical, flinty-eyed and humourless?

Maybe.

If the only impression you have of him is the one that comes over in cat-sat-mat interviews before and after games.

His squad, though, see him for real. And so, more and more, do guys like me the more time we get to spend in his company, the more we learn to ignore the gruff exterior and actually listen to what he’s saying.

This past week, as the nerves have cranked up around a camp pawing the ground to finally get this adventure underway, listening to him has been as fascinating as it’s been illuminating.

Clarke was clearly cut up by what happened in that freak training ground split-second when Lyndon Dykes turned his ankle chasing a pass and was ruled out.

As the big fella was stretchered away, the boss knew the effect it’d have on the rest of the group, and was already working out how to cope with their reaction.

In Portugal for the Gibraltar friendly, he spoke of how — for all that players were telling anyone who’d listen there was no way they would pull out of a tackle — his guys “wouldn’t be human” if they weren’t nervous about what had happened to Dykes happening to them too.

When centre-back Liam Cooper, ironically in that day’s paper vowing to plough in even if it cost him his place, then limped off holding his knee not long after coming on as a sub, Clarke’s reaction was as human as it gets. He said: “I s*** myself.”

Then, come Friday night against Finland, the only way to describe his demeanour now that the phoney war was finally over was beyond relief.

Yes, there were bumps and bruises in the dressing room.

Yes, someone could still pick up a knock in training, or trip up the aeroplane steps, or come down with the flu — just as, last time round, someone could, and did, catch Covid.

Someone could, as happened to the Czechs’ squad, fall off a bike, gash a leg and sit the whole shindig out in stitches.

But the nearer the big kick-off looms, the more about Clarke speaks of a man who, for all that he often chooses to come across as closed-off and detached, had been counting the minutes until he could let his boys pack their bags, have a few hours to themselves, then deliver them safely to base camp in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

It’s from there that this is written, sitting in my hotel room in the shadow of — and let’s get this one out of the way nice and early, children — Wank Mountain.

If you leave aside the biblical rain that lashed the area today, there really couldn’t be a better place to relax before what lies ahead.

You open the curtains in the morning and it’s like being on the set of The Sound Of Music, with low fluffy clouds hanging over cuckoo-clock-style chalets dotted in front of ominous black peaks.

The air’s fresh, the scenery’s amazing, everything’s within walking distance — hotel, training pitches, the ice rink where they will hold their daily media sessions.

And for all that the oompah-band welcome they had planned was almost reduced to a washout, the locals are thrilled to have us here.

It is, of course, early days. A hell of a lot could happen between now and 9pm local time on Friday night.

If the weather doesn’t change pronto, they might have to scale down training in case of accidents.

These are life’s uncontrollables, though.

And Clarke’s a master in only worrying about the things he CAN control, and that’s why we’ve every right to feel good about ourselves.

It feels like we’ve given ourselves the very best chance to prepare in a way that previous squads couldn’t.

Right back to our very first World Cup, in Switzerland 70 years ago when the SFA thought it would be cold, and had players wearing woolen shirts in 80 degree heat, our travel arrangements have tended to be a catalogue of chaos.

Not this time. Not under Clarke, John Carver, Graeme Jones and the rest of a backroom team big on details, and totally invested in the welfare of every player.

This time, nothing has been kicked down the road, nothing left to chance.

Now, all we have to do is find somewhere to keep dry.

Read more on the Scottish Sun

Then get ourselves to Munich and do the hard bit . . . 

Keep up to date with ALL the latest news and transfers at the Scottish Sun football page

Continue Reading