Alex McLeish career offers Scott McKenna blueprint for success

Scott McKenna knows he needs to look no further than the man who has handed him his first senior international call-up for a blueprint of how to forge a long and successful Scotland career.

If the 21-year-old Aberdeen defender wins his first cap against Costa Rica on Friday night, he will immediately have something in common with returning manager Alex McLeish.

“I’ve been told he made his Scotland debut when he was 21 and hopefully I can do the same,” says McKenna.

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“There are loads of people at Aberdeen who know him very well, of course, and they’ve all told me what a great player he was for the club and with Scotland as well. Hopefully he can pass on information that can benefit me.”

Scott McKenna at Scotland's base near Edinburgh. Picture: SNS
Scott McKenna at Scotland's base near Edinburgh. Picture: SNS

McLeish never looked back after making his 
Scotland breakthrough way back in 1980, going on to win 77 caps and appear in three World Cup finals tournaments for his country.

He played during an era when Scotland enjoyed a surplus of top-class central defenders, in sharp contrast to more recent years when it has been one of the biggest problem positions for a succession of managers.

Many observers, including his club boss, Derek McInnes, believe left-sided McKenna can become a mainstay in the role for many years to come.

For the moment, the youngster from Kirriemuir is still trying to take in his sudden elevation in status which comes not too long after he struggled to hold down a first-team spot while on loan at Ayr United.

Scott McKenna at Scotland's base near Edinburgh. Picture: SNS

“It’s a bit surreal being here, to be honest, but I’m delighted to get picked,” said McKenna at Scotland’s base on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

“I didn’t expect to get named in the squad. It’s a massive opportunity. There is competition for the central defensive positions.

“It’s just up to each person individually, it’s about who performs the best. They’re the ones who will get picked.

“It’s quite crazy for me to think about what’s happened to me in the last year. I went from being in the stand at Aberdeen to getting thrown in for a game and I have managed to stay there.

“That led to being involved with the Scotland under-21s. I haven’t looked back too much beyond that, to be honest. I just want to concentrate on doing well and progressing.

“I’ll look back at the end of the season at how well I’ve done.”

McKenna’s progress at Aberdeen saw him attract strong interest during the January transfer window with the Pittodrie club rejecting a series of bids from Hull City. He has since signed a new long-term contract with Aberdeen and is content to continue his development under McInnes.

“The interest from Hull was flattering but the manager at Aberdeen pulled me in straight away and said I wasn’t going anywhere,” added McKenna.

“He said that unless it was a ridiculous bid he wanted to keep me there. I was on a fairly long-term deal as it was and the manager said ‘I want you to experience success here,’ so hopefully that’ll happen.

“Ever since I went full-time at 16, he’s looked after me really well. I went away with the first team on the first pre-season after I went full-time. I did well in the Development League that season and then he 
put me out on loan the 
following season to bring 
me on.

“But he would never throw me in too early or too soon. He said he was going to wait until the time was right and he did that. Even when I was at Ayr and not playing he said ‘listen, don’t worry about it, we know what you’re capable of.’

“He told me just to try and get back to the level they knew I could reach and I’d do fine at Aberdeen. Thankfully I managed that.”