GORDON Strachan will have no hesitation in sending Charlie Mulgrew back into the fray next month against Ireland in Scotland’s critical Euro 2016 qualifier, despite his lack of first-team games this year.
Indeed, Strachan hinted he expects the 29-year-old player to start the high-octane fixture despite having played only one half of football since injuring his knee in December.
Mulgrew came on at half-time in Celtic’s 0-0 draw with St Johnstone on Friday and Strachan is now confident he can reprise his man-of-the match performance against the Republic last November in the rematch next month.
The player was a stand-out in midfield in the win over Martin O’Neill’s side at Celtic Park and could be in line to partner Scott Brown in the same area at the Aviva Stadium on 13 June.
“I thought he was absolutely terrific [against Ireland], but I have got to say that I could pick a few games Charlie has been terrific in,” said Strachan yesterday. “So it’s a huge bonus.
“I met him socially four weeks ago and he did say he was hoping to get back before the end of the season. He seemed confident in that. Sometimes when you come back from an injury the adrenaline, that excitement about being back, keeps you going for the first month. But he gives you a lot Charlie: Composure; height; the possibility of scoring a goal; deliveries. There is a lot in Charlie’s locker.”
“I thought he was absolutely terrific [against Ireland]… so it’s a huge bonus”Gordon Strachan
Strachan applauded the decision – not made by him – to try Mulgrew out in midfield, where he has been so successful in recent games for Scotland.
“It suits him,” said the Scotland manager. “It is a great thing for coaches to learn from. If you have a player then try him somewhere else before you dismiss him and move him on. But also Charlie has gone about clubs. He wasn’t too successful at Wolves and Southend, got a bit better at Aberdeen, got his chance to go back to Celtic and grabbed it.”
It was Strachan who decided Mulgrew, then predominantly a left-back, was surplus to requirements in the player’s first spell at Celtic. Strachan certainly never considered re-deploying him in midfield in those early days together.
“Centre half, yes,” said Strachan. “But I never thought midfield. Maybe it was because with the midfield players I had at the time it wasn’t a necessity to put him in there.”
Mulgrew will likely be given an outing in the friendly with Qatar at Easter Road eight days before the clash with Ireland in Dublin. Strachan’s plans to name two different squads for the forthcoming separate challenges came unstuck due to the willingness of his players to feature in both clashes. Even those whose seasons will only come to an end later this month have stressed they are eager to report for duty when the squad is scheduled to meet on 2 June.
Mulgrew is one of those needing games, as are players at several English Championship clubs who are already over a week into their close-season.
“The Derby guys [Craig Forsyth and Johnny Russell] haven’t done anything since 3 May,” explained Strachan. “That [the Qatar game] will be good for them. I thought I would have two squads.
“I thought I would have the squad that joined on 2 June, about 18, and I thought about eight of them would say they needed a wee bit more time to relax. Unfortunately, for me everybody said: ‘No, we’re all coming on 2 June’. So that has kind of thrown my plans.”