Man and boy, Paul McStay has known Steve Clarke possesses the mettle that will now serve him in the Scotland manager’s post he took on yesterday.
The Celtic luminary, the fifth most capped Scotland player of all time, considers Clarke to be a great appointment for the national team. His admiration for the footballing nous of the erstwhile Kilmarnock manager dates back to their experiences together as teenagers.
A 1-0 win the Scotland under-19s recorded over home nation Mexico in front of a crowd of almost 87,000 supporters in the Aztec Stadium in 1983 thanks to a rare goal from full-back Clarke is a particular stand-out memory.
“He was an excellent player. We had a good night in the Azteca then,” recalls McStay, whose 76-cap total dwarves the six won by the former St Mirren and Chelsea defender.
“We played in the youth team together and had a lot of good times. There were a lot of good players in that team. You always think somebody like that should have more caps. Scottish football was quite strong in those days.”
At national level it hasn’t been strong for more than two decades and Clarke must seek to perform the sort of rejuvenation he effected last weekend in engineering the Rugby Park side’s best league finish for 53 years.
McStay was in scoring form for Scotland on the night Clarke made his competitive bow for his country in a 2-0 win over Belgium in October 1987. A similar outcome when the sides meet in Brussels in a Euro 2020 qualifier on June 11 would be magical, of course. But McStay cautions that Clarke must not be expected to pull rabbits out of hats.
Clarke yesterday put himself under pressure to produce something from nothing in targeting the 2020 finals through the group stages rather than relying on making the tournament via the play-offs, despite the opening defeat by Kazakhstan that cost Alex McLeish his job. McStay believes Clarke should not held to such a lofty aim.
“You’ve got to be optimistic and hope that Stevie can turn things round quickly but the reality is that it’s going to take time,” the 54-year-old said. “The great thing is that we have this play-off to look forward to so that gives him the chance to use these qualifying ties to put his signature on the team.
“No-one is looking for miracles right away so he can maybe use these games with one eye on the play-offs. If we could qualify through the group then that would be excellent but these games represent a great chance for him to prepare for the other option further down the line.”
l Paul McStay was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.