HAVING already been deemed surplus to requirements by Gordon Strachan once before in his career, Charlie Mulgrew admits he was dreading the phone call he had to make to the Scotland manager earlier this year.
The Celtic player’s June wedding clashed with Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb, meaning he missed the national team’s 1-0 victory which sparked the mini-revival of sorts they have since enjoyed under Strachan.
Mulgrew, 27, has since returned to the international fold and is in line to win his tenth cap for his country against the Croatians at Hampden next Tuesday night when the failed 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign comes to a close.
His performances as a central midfielder in last month’s matches against Belgium and Macedonia will probably ensure he is one of the first names on Strachan’s teamsheet for the match. But Mulgrew, whose first spell as a Celtic player was ended by Strachan in 2006 when his then club boss offloaded him to Wolves, was concerned that his absence in June might work against him.
“It was worrying at the time and I wasn’t looking forward to the phone call to tell him I wouldn’t be available for the game,” said Mulgrew. “I just went for it one day and got it out of the way. The manager was very good and understanding about it, but I knew I would have to work hard to get back into the squad.
“The game was on the night before I got married. I managed to see the game, it was a great performance from the boys. Nobody really gave us a chance that night, so that made it even better.
“You can’t really think that missing a game like that will make it more difficult for you to get into the next Scotland squad. You just have to stay positive and believe you can get into the next one.
“The manager was good about it. He didn’t say I would definitely be in the next squad, I don’t think any manager would say that. As a player, you know you have to work hard to get in any Scotland squad.”
Speaking as the Scotland squad gathered at their Renfrewshire base yesterday, Mulgrew set his sights on ensuring the Group A campaign, which began so miserably under Craig Levein, concludes on a positive note before Strachan and his squad look forward to the Euro 2016 qualifying bid.
“We want to finish this campaign on a high,” added Mulgrew. “Every game for Scotland is important. After beating Croatia away from home, we are looking to carry that forward and get a good result against them at Hampden. To qualify for any major tournament, you need to have good home form. So even though it was a good performance last time at Hampden against Belgium – with a bit of luck we could have got something out of that match – we need a home win to give us confidence going into the next campaign.
“Scotland were maybe a bit unfortunate with a couple of results at the start of the campaign and we’ve had a couple of good ones recently, so we just have to keep that going. Maybe things could have been a bit different but there’s no point in looking back. You’ve got to look forward. We’ve got this game coming up on Tuesday and hopefully we can get a positive performance and result and then look to the next campaign because that’s what we can affect.
“We’ve got to take the positives and have belief that we can qualify for the Euros.”.
Mulgrew’s career has flourished as a result of his versatility in recent years, with deployment as a full-back, central defender and wide midfielder, but he now looks like establishing himself as a central midfielder for both club and country.
“I’ve been enjoying it,” he said. “It suits me in many ways to get on the ball and play in there and it helps to play with somebody like Scott Brown, who’s such a good player. I hope I can keep playing there and play well.
“I suppose Scott and myself have had similar upbringings through Scotland and through the young Scottish team so we have an understanding in there. I’ve played there before and he’s a really good player and it makes it easier.
“He’s a really good leader and he drives the team forward, whether it be with a tackle or a run, he’s really powerful in the midfield area and he brings a lot of confidence to the team.
“He is maturing as a player and a person. For me, he has always been a top player but he is maybe showing it a bit more now. He’s doing well.
“We’ve had some tough games recently, against Belgium for Scotland and Barcelona for Celtic. It is hard to get a touch against players like Xavi and Iniesta, but these are the types of games you want to be involved in and the type of players you want to measure yourself against. That’s why we are in football. We could be up against Luka Modric on Tuesday night which would be another test.
“They are fantastic technical players who keep the ball so well. But it’s not just that. I have played against other great players who keep the ball, but the way Barcelona work when they don’t have it, for example, is incredible. You don’t even get a chance to get your head up. But coming through it is something that gives you confidence.”