IT SAYS much about the inclusivity introduced by Gordon Strachan to the Scotland squad that he not only invited midfielder Robert Snodgrass, who dislocated his kneecap on his debut for Hull City in August, to the team’s hotel this week but also offered him the opportunity to participate in the discussions between the management and the squad.
Strachan enjoys a reputation for being a prickly individual but, when it comes to the national team, his paternalism is more Parenthood than The Godfather.
The former Celtic manager has fostered a sense of togetherness which has not always been evident in the past when players have gathered to represent their country. However, the response from Strachan and his charges to the injury Snodgrass sustained (one which could see him sidelined for the remainder of this season) tells its own story.
“Every one of the lads in the squad has wished me all the best since my injury,” said the former Livingston star. “Most of them have been through something similar and the manager has also been on the phone, trying to get me to the team hotel and to sit in on the meetings.
“That shows the character of the man. He wants us all to feel part of it and I take my hat off to him. It feels like a club whenever we meet up and that bodes well for the future. We might only meet five or six times each year but we’ve kept the core of the squad together, with just a few additions here and there.
“The manager has worked to get that spirit and whenever anyone new comes into the group he’s the first one to make sure that they’re involved. He tells them: ‘Listen, you need to be part of this because we’ve got something going here so get in there and start bonding’ and that’s what happens.”
Of course, Strachan has reason enough to be grateful to Snodgrass. He had lost his first two competitive matches – at home to Wales and away to Serbia – when the 27-year-old scored the only goal against Croatia (then ranked No 4 in the Fifa rankings) in Zagreb in June of last year.
He was on target again when Scotland won the return at Hampden 2-0 four months later and it is impossible to overstate the impact those results made on the mindset of the Tartan Army as well as the players.
Speaking on the eve of that game in Zagreb, Snodgrass insisted that a shock was on the cards. Most dismissed his comments as whistling in the dark. It transpires that he meant it. “I don’t know if that was just the crazy Jock mentality or whether it was down to the feelgood factor and the confidence that the gaffer has bred in us all. That patriotic thing comes out and you think: ‘We can do this.’ It’s like Manchester United players coming out and saying that they used to beat other teams in the tunnel because they could see the fear in their opponents’ faces.
“When you have the belief that we have now then you give yourself a better chance of winning games. So many times over the years you must have sat and interviewed Scotland players and thought: ‘This is the same old story here.’ But now I’m sure you’re thinking that this is our time, that you can see signs that we’re making progress here.
“Nobody would have thought we’d have gone away to the World Cup winners and put on a performance like that. We ran them close and should have got something from the game. Once you see that first-hand you start to believe and it’s good that people are starting to take notice.
“This is a results business and we’ve been getting results. That’s probably what the manager is most pleased with. It’s his first full campaign and everyone just wants to put some points on the board.”
Pulling on the famous dark blue jersey is important to Snodgrass and his peers and so is belting out O Flower of Scotland. “Yeah, it’s good,” he grinned. “You see the lads singing their hearts out and that’s the way it should be. Before you’re called up you’re a fan so you know what it’s all about. You know how much the country is hoping for you to do well. It starts as soon as that national anthem happens.”
Of course, Snodgrass would prefer to be exerting an influence on the pitch against Georgia tonight but he will continue to offer his moral and vocal support to the cause. “I was always coming up for this game,” he said. “I’ve got some friends and my agent, who also represents Russell Martin, going as well.
“That’s not just because we’re doing well, though. I’m quite patriotic so I came even when we weren’t winning. I used to watch Scotland games on TV as a schoolboy – I remember us being at the World Cup in 1998 – so I’ve always been a fan. That’s why, when you pull on that jersey and score at Hampden or away from home, it feels so spectacular. It’s a great feeling: you’re back to being a fan again.”
Snodgrass will be particularly interested in seeing how his Hull team-mate, Andrew Robertson, fares. He believes that the 20-year-old has exceeded expectations since his £3m summer move from Dundee United. “He’s a very level-headed lad,” he said.
“As he’s Scottish, you feel it’s your duty when he comes down to make sure that he’s okay. I’ve tried my best but his banter and gear is still getting slaughtered! There’s only so much you can do. But he’s dealt with everything Steve Bruce has thrown at him, some big tests.
“You always hear people asking whether someone can cut it at the top. Well, the only way to find out is to give them a chance. The manager has done that so fair play to him – and to Robbo for taking it.”
• Robert Snodgrass is an ambassador for the Bank of Scotland Midnight Player of the Year event which will take place on Saturday 11 October. Players have been selected to attend from across Scotland for their outstanding contribution to the Bank of Scotland Midnight League programme throughout 2014.