Charlie Mulgrew feels he has as much to give as ever, is the fittest he’s ever been and will play for Scotland any time, writes Andrew Smith
There is no grand talk from Charlie Mulgrew that Scotland won’t be schooled again when they are pitched against a Belgium sitting top of the FIFA rankings in the King Baudouin Stadium in two days’ time. The 33-year-old centre-back is certain, though, that under Steve Clarke the Scotland team won’t be fooled again into making life easy for their illustrious opponents.
They singularly failed to do that when the sides met in a friendly at Hampden last November, coughing up opportunities that Eden Hazard et al hardly cleared their throats before ruthlessly converting in the 4-0 thumping.
“The problem was we tried to pass from the back and they were set up for that, ready to press,” said the Blackburn Rovers defender of one of a number of ignominious nights across Alex Mcleish’s ill-fated 14-month tenure. “They let us have it and then five of them just came at us. That was their game plan and we played right into their hands. We would have been better playing a bit longer. It’s one of those things, they are a top side and we’ll be better prepared this time.”
Mulgrew is Scotland’s boy scout in that he is always prepared. As others in the over-30s bracket have shunned representing their country, the former Celtic performer keeps on keeping on. And always will.
“I don’t want to look back when I’m older and not playing any more and think ‘I’d love a game for Scotland’,” said Mulgrew, who was on 39 caps before this latest Euro 2020 double-header. “As long as I am getting called up, I’ll always be here. I’ll never retire off my own back, I’ll be here until the country needs me. That’s the way I’ve always thought about it and the way I want to do it.”
Mulgrew was in New York on holiday recently with Robert Snodgrass, one of the senior Scotland stay-aways that Clarke is hoping to entice back. He sidestepped the offer to reveal whether the Scotland manager’s powers of persuasion might work on the West Ham attacker.
“You are better asking him [Snodgrass] that,” said Mulgrew. “We never spoke much about that. I’d love him to be here. We’d all love him to be here. He’s a top player, he’s playing at a high level, so hopefully sometime in the future he’ll be here in the squads and involved but that’s up to him. It’s not really my business.”
This is Mulgrew’s take on the vexing issue of so few seeming as committed to the national cause as he patently will never stop being. That commitment was shown in the past six weeks – while Blackburn have been in summer shutdown, Mulgrew made sure he remained in condition for any Scotland call by continuing to train four times a week, taking a couple of holidays – “I would run in the mornings and chase the weans round the pool in the afternoon” – and hoping he would be in Clarke’s first squad.
“It’s not my business to worry about what everybody else does,” Mulgrew said. “I’m sure everybody has got their reasons. Club football nowadays is non-stop, three games a week. I was speaking to some of the Celtic players there and they played 69 games this season [including pre-season friendlies]. It’s a lot. The Championship is non-stop, the Premier League now, it’s constant and picking up knocks is part of it. If it comes at a point in the season where that’s a chance to get a rest then it’s a hard one. It’s not for me to comment on it, I’m just hopeful we can get our best players available for the squad and get results.”
Mulgrew feels he has as much to give as ever, having adopted a mainly vegan diet that he believes has brought genuine health benefits. “I’m trying to be as close to vegan as I can as often as I can. It has helped, I’ve lost two or three kilos of my normal weight and I feel good for it,” he said. “I probably feel fitter now than I ever have. I don’t know if that’s because I never lived my life as well when I was younger as I do now, but I feel the fittest I’ve ever been. Age is only a number to be honest with you, and if you keep thinking you are getting old then you will.
“You just need to keep your head on what you are doing, keep running hard and keep yourself fit. Gordon Strachan is a great example of that. He was playing right into his forties and he says that.
“I’ve spoken to him about it. He used to have a two-hour sleep in the afternoon and have two bananas a day, that’s what he said. So, I’ve had about 14 bananas in the last two days… When he said that he had two bananas a day, somebody, who I don’t want to expose said; ‘Is that it?’”
Mulgrew might offer Scotland an extra attacking threat despite having excelled as a defensive pivot for Tony Mowbray’s men in the Championship this season. In the Ewood Park side’s return to the second tier following promotion, he netted 11 goals. Three of these came from corners with a routine he might want to impart to Clarke.
“We worked on it on the Friday and the manager just told me to try and shoot,” he said. “Without the people who are blocking the goalie or the front post man then it’s impossible. If you take our players out the game and just have me shooting then it’s impossible, it’s never going to go in. I get the credit because I put it in that area, but the boys in front of goal deserve a lot of credit for barging people out the way.
“It’s not illegal, we’re just standing our ground, so it worked well a few times. I’ve still got to hit the target with the ball, but we had worked on it. I actually scored one up at Ross County before, but that one wasn’t even meant, and it ended up in the top corner. So, I’ve got four in my career, and I’m aiming for ten.”