Having successfully emerged from the most testing personal challenge of his career, Robert Snodgrass has no doubts he can help Scotland overcome both the odds and weight of recent history to reach the 2018 World Cup finals.
The preparations for a qualifying group which includes England, Slovakia and Slovenia begin in earnest for Gordon Strachan’s squad when they face Czech Republic in Prague tomorrow night in their first outing since failing to reach this summer’s European Championship finals in France.
Snodgrass was a frustrated spectator throughout Scotland’s Euro 2016 bid, sidelined for 16 months by the serious knee injury he suffered on his debut for Hull City in August 2014.
The 28-year-old attacking midfielder, highlighted by Strachan’s assistant Mark McGhee this week as a player who could have made a crucial difference to Scotland’s fortunes in the Euro qualifiers, is back in the international fold after returning to action for Hull in December.
Snodgrass is understandably eager to make up for lost time and is unfazed by a World Cup group from which only the winners will qualify automatically for the finals and in which England are the clear odds-on favourites to do so.
“Every challenge which comes your way in football is tough,” said the former Livingston, Leeds United and Norwich City player.
“You need to embrace it, you need to be prepared to challenge yourself against the best. Our aim is just to qualify for the World Cup, England’s aim is to win it. There is a different mindset down south.
“They look at what happened to us in the Euros and say ‘Scotland have fallen short again’. So we want to shut a few people up, we want to qualify this time. If that starts with beating England, that would be even sweeter. I played in the friendly against England at Wembley in 2013 when we lost 3-2 and we showed no fear. We will work on a few things before this campaign starts, youngsters will get a chance and we need to believe we can do it.
“We do have the players capable of getting us there. Look at the Republic of Ireland squad – no disrespect to them, but Scotland were the better team against them in both of the Euro qualifiers against them.
“But they qualified, because there were a few other games where we didn’t get the results we needed and wanted.
“I want to be in the best shape and form I can be for the qualifiers. It’s not just about repaying people who helped me while I was out injured, I just want to be ready.
“I want to qualify, I want to be part of a Scotland set-up that is going places. People might say the same old thing happened in the last campaign, but I do believe we have made leaps forward under the manager. We just fell short and that’s been the story so far. But we don’t want that anymore. There’s no room for all that. We want to qualify. Simple as that.”
Snodgrass is poised to win his 16th Scotland cap at the Letna Stadium tomorrow night, his last appearance coming back in November 2013 when he helped Strachan’s side to a 1-0 challenge match win in Norway. He is gratified to be back in the squad on merit, having now made 18 first-team appearances this season for a Hull City side currently fourth in the English Championship and pushing for an instant return to the Premier League.
“I’ll be honest, Scotland wasn’t my main priority when I was injured,” added Snodgrass. “I had to get back playing for Hull at a decent level and that’s why I am now in the international squad.
“Gordon Strachan kept in touch throughout my time out. I was invited to the team hotel for the squad gatherings, but you just feel like a part of the backroom staff, going around and wishing the players all the best. There is only so much of that you can do. So it feels good to be involved again on the training pitch with the rest of the lads.
“You start to realise as you get older that you are just on a journey as a player. Getting an injury was part of my journey so what do you do about it? Do you sit about feeling sorry for yourself or do you roll your sleeves up and tackle it in the best way possible?
“I did that. I knew I couldn’t cut corners getting back. I felt like a qualified physio at the end of it! Through the different stages of the rehab, it felt like Groundhog Day at times.
“During the time I was out, Hull were relegated and I’d only played 25 minutes of football for them. I’d have loved to have been part of that season to see what would have happened. I’d also have loved to have been part of the Scotland campaign, to see if we would have qualified.
“So there are loads of things that make me wish the injury had never happened. But from a mental point of view, I probably had to come through the other side of to make me realise how much you appreciate football.”
l Robert Snodgrass was speaking at the announcement of the 51 countries who will take part in the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow from 10-16 July this year.