Gary Caldwell proud to hit 50 caps but pain of first game still vivid
GARY Caldwell will be the proudest man at Hampden this afternoon when he takes to the field as Scotland captain to win his 50th international cap.
But although the centre-half-cum-midfielder is now seen as the cornerstone of the national team, and will take his place in Scottish football’s Hall of Fame as a result of bringing up the half-century, there was a time when he harboured little hope of winning a handful of caps, never mind 50.
After all, his debut in 2002, which also marked the start of Berti Vogts’ reign as manager, was less than auspicious. Scotland lost 5-0 in the Parc des Princes on a night when few if any of the visiting players emerged with credit, and as the then 19-year-old trudged disconsolately off the pitch, he did not dare to dream that a decade on he would have taken his tally to 50.
“I couldn’t envisage two caps,” Caldwell admitted yesterday. “But that’s international football.
“That day I was thrown in, and it’s an eye-opener. You have to stand up and be counted, or you fall by the wayside. It was a big eye-opener for me. We played the best team in the world, one of the best teams that has probably ever been. It was a great experience and one which made me want more international games and want to play at that level.”
That was the positive side of what was otherwise a severe humiliation for the Scots: the understanding that here, in the play of Zinedine Zidane and his team-mates, was a standard to aspire to. And, although he was dejected by the outcome of that friendly, Caldwell’s faith in his own ability was unshaken.
“I think in football if you doubt yourself, you’re going to have plenty people doubting you. You have to be strong and believe in what you do, or it’s going to be very difficult.
“When you play against Zidane and players like that that you’ve watched on the telly, you want to play against them all the time and improve and try and compete with these guys. Just having that challenge to try and get better, to manage to play on the same pitch and compete with them, was something that I looked forward to trying to achieve.”
Caldwell kept his own shirt after that game, reasoning that “the Scotland shirt was more important than any of the French ones”. Ten years on, he may have swapped a few shirts with opponents, but he still recognises the importance of the jersey, and has never presumed his place in the team is guaranteed.
“If I’m picked [against Serbia] I have to prove myself and have to make sure I’m picked on Tuesday. So you’re never established at this level. There’s always somebody wanting to take your place. Every game you go out and have to prove that you’re good enough.
“To be captain for my 50th cap at the start of another World Cup qualifying campaign – well, it doesn’t get much better than that in football if I am honest. It’s going to be a big day for me personally, but more importantly it’s going to be a big day for the team and the country. It’s a new campaign, you always start with real optimism, and the players have a big responsibility to go and deliver.
“I think the spirit has always been good, but with this [squad] we have a group of players who are playing at the highest level. You only need to look at the clubs some of our boys are playing at and the leagues they are in. It’s vital we have players playing at a high level week in, week out. Right now we have that, so from that point of view I would argue this is probably the best squad I have been involved in during my time with Scotland.”
While his national debut was a low point of Caldwell’s career, the French have also supplied the opposition for one of the highs, when he scored the only goal of the game in a qualifying match for Euro 2008. Despite that result and other impressive ones during that campaign, Scotland failed to qualify for the finals, and Caldwell is painfully aware that participation in a major tournament proper is a glaring omission from his CV.
“Getting to the Hall of Fame is an important thing, but getting there having played in a major finals would really mean something to me. That’s the challenge to myself and everyone else in the squad. Brazil” – where the 2014 finals will be played – “would be special. They are the one team in world football who have that aura about them.
“I remember watching the first game of France ’98 against Brazil and that had such a big feel to it. A first game of a World Cup was a special thing for Scotland. To play in a finals in Rio would be that little bit extra special.
“We know it’s been 14 years since we last made it to a major finals, and that’s the responsibility this squad must shoulder. As players, the fact we haven’t qualified means we are more disappointed than anyone. It hurts you, because you want to be there as much for yourself as for the country. It is up to the players to take the responsibility and the pressure. We need to turn it into a positive and deliver the results that can take us there.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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