International managers are not normally in the business of putting clubs before country.
Gordon Strachan, however, hopes his latest Scotland squad selection can prove mutually beneficial to his World Cup qualifying aspirations and the European ambitions of Celtic and Aberdeen next season.
In naming a 27-man party for the challenge matches against Italy in Malta on 29 May and France in Metz on 4 June, Strachan has opted to omit five Celtic players who would have been in his plans – Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney.
It provides them with additional rest before they resume pre-season training next month ahead of the early season Champions League qualifiers. Charlie Mulgrew, who is out of contract at the Scottish champions next month, is the only Celtic player included.
Celtic have missed out on the group stage of Europe’s elite tournament for the past two years and Strachan is eager to see as many of his squad members as possible exposed to a higher level of club competition. That is the same reasoning behind the absence of any Aberdeen players in his squad – Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie were both possible candidates – as the Dons face their first Europa League qualifier on 30 June. Callum Paterson of Hearts, who enter the tournament at the same time, is in Strachan’s squad but only with the approval of his club boss Robbie Neilson.
“I think we’d all like to see our teams doing far better in Europe,” said Strachan. “This is just an idea to try something that might benefit everybody. It can benefit both the country and Celtic as far as the Champions League is concerned.
“There are guys who have been playing non-stop this season, having played 50 or 60 games. It’s no real benefit to them to come along with us. The benefit comes in clearing up injuries to the guys who have been at the top of the league and played more pressure games.
“That’s the thought behind it and it’s the same with Aberdeen. It’s the same with Hearts as well, but I spoke to Robbie and told him I didn’t want to take any of his players along and have him thinking ‘but you didn’t take them from
Celtic and Aberdeen’. He was happy for Callum to be included, though, because he was out for six weeks with an injury earlier this season.
“Just having players involved in Europe would help us when it comes to the World Cup qualifiers – having players who have dealt with those demands, the travel, how teams from other countries play. Look at our squad now – none of them play in Europe. It is some going to pick an international squad where no-one plays in Europe.”
The only newcomer to Strachan’s squad is Rangers winger Barrie McKay. The 21-year-old is rewarded for an outstanding season with the Championship winners with his performance in the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Celtic last month persuading Strachan he was ready for promotion to the senior squad.
Strachan was especially impressed by McKay’s understanding with Rangers captain and left-back Lee Wallace who is recalled to the Scotland set-up for the first time since 2013.
“It just so happened that Barrie played really well in a big game, a pressure game against the champions at Hampden,” said Strachan. “It does make a difference. It would be silly of me to say it doesn’t.
“Barrie and Lee deserve it. Their partnership together is good. It is an unusual partnership the way they do it, just the way McKay gets on the ball, it is all done to where Wallace runs. It is a thing that we’ve not had here.
“We have a system that works for us. We need to add a couple of goals to it. Let’s see if we can adapt. We will maybe have to adapt to some of the guys who come in. If somebody is exceptional we will adapt to them, if you’re not exceptional then you have to adapt to what we try and do.”
Jordan Rhodes, whose goals have helped Middlesbrough secure automatic promotion to the English Premier League, is again left out by Strachan who declared himself “well covered” up front where he has selected Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith, Chris Martin and Ross McCormack.
There are players from all four of the clubs involved in the English Championship play-offs – Brighton, Hull City, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday – in the squad. Those whose clubs make it to the final, which takes place at Wembley on 28 May, will miss Scotland’s opening game against Italy the following day.
“That is the problem we have got,” added Strachan. “We need to see how it goes in the next couple of games but, because of the level our players play their club football, that’s just the way it is. We don’t have guys playing in European finals, we have guys in the play-offs. It’s not easy. You have to pick a squad and say: ‘Okay, those three may be missing, but those four might be in’. There could be injuries, there could be anything. But we name a squad and get on with it.”