Scotland’s build-up to tomorrow night’s Uefa Nations League match in Israel has been dominated by the withdrawal of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths on Monday which was followed by in-form Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser being sent back to his club yesterday.
Griffiths has stated he wants to concentrate on improving his fitness at Celtic, while Fraser failed a fitness test on an as yet unspecified injury.
Scotland manager Alex McLeish will not call up any replacements, opting to stick with the 21 remaining members of his original squad.
Veteran Blackburn Rovers captain Mulgrew, whose own participation with Scotland has been questioned recently by his club boss Tony Mowbray, says the slightest excuse to prevent a player joining up with their national team will be seized upon.
“Every club manager I have played under would rather you stayed at your club,” said the 32-year-old former Celtic defender.
“You stub your toe and they want to pull you out. You know they’re always there, the managers, waiting for you to sneeze in training so they can say ‘Right, you’re not well – you cannae go!’ You just know that’s how club managers think.
“That’s just the way it is. I can understand it, because from a selfish point of view they want their players to get some rest and be ready to go again at the club after an international break.”
Mowbray last week issued a warning to Mulgrew that playing for Blackburn is his “bread and butter” and that he is approaching a stage of his career when he will have to put his club before his country, but Mulgrew, who is poised to win his 39th Scotland cap in Haifa tomorrow night, insists he has no intention of retiring from international football.
“I love playing for Scotland and you are a long time retired,” he said. “As long as I can do it, I will give it everything I’ve got. I can understand Tony. He wants my best form for my club but the discussion we had was about me enjoying it now and then we’ll see what happens.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If he says to me that I’ll have to make that choice between club and country, well…I don’t want to make that choice.
“I feel fit and healthy and I also feel being away with Scotland helps me. I don’t like to take a lot of time off. Maybe as I get older and into my late thirties, I’ll think it’s better to have three or four days’ rest, but right now, as it stands, I am happy and desperate to be here with Scotland.
“I’ve always turned up whenever I’ve been named in a squad. It would need to be proper injuries to keep me away. It’s obviously different if you’ve got an injury and you can’t actually play. That’s the only time I’ve not turned up.
“But I’ve always wanted to be here. I wouldn’t want to look back, when I’m older, and be thinking ‘Why did I just not go and play for Scotland?’. You would have a long time to sit back and reflect on it. You’d be thinking ‘I wish I’d gone, what would I give for that trip to Mexico now?’ You know what I mean?
“So I just try to look forward and think along those lines. Listen, there is pressure as you get older. It’s not just your club manager. My missus isn’t too happy about it when these international breaks come along – we’ve had a couple of discussions about it! She’s getting worse than the managers now.
“Seriously, I just like coming away with Scotland and don’t want to be looking back on my career and thinking what I would give for these opportunities.”
Mulgrew insists there are no hard feelings towards Griffiths from the rest of the Scotland squad over his withdrawal this week.
“Listen, that’s Leigh’s decision,” he added. “If that’s what he thinks and feels is right, to use the extra days to work on his fitness, then that’s between himself, Celtic and Scotland.
“I assume it’s best for him. There wouldn’t be an issue with any of us if he comes back in to the squad later. There are a good bunch of boys here, we get on, work hard and have respect for each other. People will respect his decision and hope, when Leigh does come back in, that he is ready to play.”
Mulgrew, meanwhile, has backed manager McLeish’s decision to appoint Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson as Scotland captain last month. The armband was initially given to the more experienced Mulgrew for the first four games of McLeish’s second spell in charge.
“I fully understand why he’s given it to Andy and, to be honest, I kind of expected it,” said Mulgrew. “But the time I had as captain was great and I’ll relish any chance I get in the future, not take it for granted.
“It’s something I’m very proud of, something no-one can ever take away from me. It would be a proud moment if I ever get again. But Andy is a great choice, a guy playing at the highest level in the Premier League and Champions League who has a long future with Scotland.”