SCOTLAND assistant manager Mark McGhee has insisted that the development of the national side must take precedence over club concerns.
An expected spate of withdrawals ahead of the World Cup qualifier in Croatia a week tomorrow has raised questions over the wisdom of committing to international fixtures in June.
McGhee, however, has insisted that there are no plans to leave any future international date free as he looks to help manager Gordon Strachan create an environment in which the Scotland national team comes first.
“When we first started to think how we would approach fixtures we had a romantic, generous view that we would work with clubs to make sure that we keep everybody’s interests in mind,” McGhee said. “But, once we’re in the job, I certainly feel now: ‘Forget that’.
“We’ve got an important role here that goes above all else, as far as I’m concerned. Therefore, I would hope that we would take every single game we can get. Every single friendly fixture that comes in the future, I hope we’ll be filling and playing games because we need as many opportunities to bring the squad together as we can possibly get.
“I would have taken this [date] from the start because it’s another game and another opportunity for us to see, not only the ones we know a lot about, but also boys like Tony Watt. To see them up close, to see them training and, most importantly, to see them playing.
“For me it has to be country before club. When I was a player I would always want to play for my country and I don’t think that is much different now. I think sometimes we are a wee bit hard on some of the boys because they’ve been brought up slightly differently and the club’s put different pressures on them.
“Looking back, I wasn’t in that many national squads but I can remember all the boys that used to go regularly [from Aberdeen] – Alex [McLeish], Willie [Miller] and Gordon [Strachan] – would get pressure from Alex Ferguson. If they had a graze he’d be saying maybe you should stay behind, and he put pressure on them.. of course that attitude changed when he was Scotland manager.
“That pressure from club managers hasn’t changed but now the shoe is on the other foot for us we are going to take as many games as we can possibly get.”
That does not mean a belligerent attitude will be adopted in respect of clubs releasing players, said McGhee, who does not expect more call-offs before the squad assembles on Sunday. “Unless someone slips in the shower,” he said.
Yet, doubts remain over the fitness of Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths – who played for Celtic and Hibernian respectively in Sunday’s Scottish Cup final on Sunday – with Wigan’s Gary Caldwell set to miss out to undergo a hip operation, and full-backs Lee Wallace and Danny Fox and midfielder Liam Bridcutt all expected to be ruled out.
“Of course we still have to be sympathetic to the clubs. If they come to us and explain a situation then we will take a view on that,” McGhee said.
“It doesn’t mean to say that just because we have a game we’re going to insist that the first 28 we pick are going to have to come.
“But I think we should have the games. Of course this isn’t a friendly game but we are dealing with all sorts of variables. Had this been a game where we were right in contention for qualifying then some of the picture might look different.
“For instance, we know that two of the boys [George Boyd and Charlie Mulgrew] are not coming because they’re getting married. George Boyd was nowhere near the squad and therefore arranged his wedding accordingly, not thinking for a minute that he was going to be involved in a World Cup game.
“I think if we were in the circumstances where we had the chance of qualifying I think we would probably be saying to these players ‘look, you’ll need to re-arrange your wedding’. But the manager has taken a more magnanimous view of it and said there will be a day when we might have to say something like that, so we’ll save it for when we really need it.