FALLING out of favour with a manager is an occupational hazard for professional footballers. But Charlie Mulgrew believes he is living proof that it should never be taken too personally.
When Gordon Strachan was in charge at Celtic, Mulgrew singularly failed to make a positive impression on him and was shipped out to Wolves in 2006.
Fast forward eight years and Mulgrew could hardly be a more highly valued member of Strachan’s Scotland squad. The 29-year-old utility man has been a “go to” player for Strachan during the current Euro 2016 qualification campaign, a status underlined by the decision to pitch him straight back into the starting line-up for June’s 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland in Dublin just days after he had recovered from a lengthy injury absence.
Mulgrew is likely to be a key figure again in Tbilisi tomorrow night, either in defence or a holding midfield role, as Scotland seek the positive result required against Georgia as Group D reaches a crucial phase.
“It’s good to know the manager trusts me and involves me in big games,” said Mulgrew, as Scotland arrived in the Georgian capital last night.
“I’ve had a difficult time with injuries, but now that I’m hopefully over the problem with my hamstring tendon, I hope to be involved as much as possible.
“My situation is proof that you should never burn your bridges in football. The lesson is that, if there’s ever a time not to fall out with people, this is it. You never know when you’ll work under someone again, when you’ll need them or they’ll need you.
“In football, you just never know what can happen. It really is a funny game that way. Things didn’t happen between me and him [Strachan] first time round, but I’d say that was probably more down to me than him. I was young and inexperienced and I had to leave Celtic to go and play games. He knew that was best for me and I knew it as well. The way it’s worked out, it proved the right way to do things. I’m back playing with Celtic and involved in the international team, so it’s been the best thing for me. Everything’s going well at the moment.
“I never thought when he got the job that it would be a problem. In between leaving Celtic and taking over Scotland, we’d spoken a couple of times, come across each other now and again, and there was never a problem.
“It was all blown out of proportion at the time. The fact that there wasn’t an issue is shown by the way he’s treated me since.”
Mulgrew feels Scotland can count themselves unfortunate to be in what is widely recognised as the toughest and most competitive qualifying group, with Germany, Poland and the Irish all battling for the top two spots and an automatic place at the Euro 2016 finals in France.
“When you look at the other groups and see the teams sitting top, the fixtures they’ve had compared to ours, it’s crazy,” he said. “We’ve got four teams looking for two spaces and it’s difficult, but we knew that from the start. There was no use getting too down about it, you just got on with the job.
“If we want to qualify automatically, I think we need to win this match in Georgia and that’s what all our preparations will be about. We only beat them 1-0 at home, though it was a good performance, so we know they’re a tough team to beat. We’ll be doing all we can to get the result.
“It’s two big games for us over the next few days with Germany at Hampden on Monday. We’ve got a huge opportunity to collect points and we know there’s an opportunity to qualify, but no one’s getting carried away.
“We’re all just focused on Georgia. There’s a big tournament ahead, but no one’s looking that far. We’re just taking the next game as it comes and trying to get the points here. We’ve not done anything yet, there’s a long way to go.
“You obviously have a wee look at the table yourself, you work out the points and who needs what. But as a group, it’s never discussed. Once you get together, you try not to think about it, because it’s all just about collecting points in the next game.
“You can look ahead all you like and calculate all day long, but it does you no good once you’re out on that pitch. All you can do out there is what needs to be done on the night.
“The competition in this group is what drives us. There’s so much quality that no-one wants to miss out. In the past there would maybe be pull-outs, but now it’s rare for someone who’s picked not to be here. That’s a big reason for our performances and results.”