Charlie Mulgrew feared relegation would harm cap chances

Charlie Mulgrew continues to prove that good things do indeed come to those who wait.

At the age of 32, the big defender will captain his country for the first time tonight as the second Alex McLeish era kicks off against Costa Rica at Hampden.

Mulgrew has been rewarded for his patience and persistence before, having to leave Celtic as a youngster in order to eventually earn a return to his boyhood club where he became a trophy-winning mainstay of the side.

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His Scotland career has also tested the depths of his self-belief. After playing at every level up to under-21s, Mulgrew was in the international wilderness for four years until finally winning his first senior cap just five days short of his 26th birthday in a friendly against Slovenia back in 
February 2012.

New Scotland captain Charlie Mulgrew. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

So when he puts on the skipper’s armband and leads his team-mates out at the national stadium, it will be another sweet moment of vindication.

“I never gave up on Scotland,” reflects Mulgrew. “I always tried to keep believing in my ability. I always believed I could play for my country.

“I played all the way through the age groups and then I didn’t play for the full squad until I was 25. You do doubt yourself at times and worry it won’t come but thankfully it did. That’s why I cherish each time I’m called up and I try to treat every training session as if it is my last.

“I never take being called up for granted. I always check each squad just to make sure I am there. I am always delighted when I am.

New Scotland captain Charlie Mulgrew. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

“I only found out just before training today that I was going to be captain so it was a real honour for me. I didn’t have any inkling and I certainly wasn’t expecting it.

“When the manager told me I was absolutely delighted. You grow up hoping to get the chance to play for Scotland. So to be captain for a game is absolutely massive for myself and my family.”

In more than 200 appearances for Celtic, Mulgrew was captain 16 times. His stature as a natural leader has also helped to establish him as captain at his current club, Blackburn Rovers.

“Having grown up a Celtic fan, being made captain was massive for me,” he added. “This is right up there with that, it’s a massive honour.

“When you are captain, it is obviously in the back of your mind that there’s a bit of extra responsibility but I’ll just be trying to do my best for my country, as I always do, and try to win matches.

“I’ve played under a few good captains with Scott Brown the most notable. But I just try to be myself because when you start trying to act like someone else then people see through it quickly.

“I just try to be myself and hopefully I’m captain because that’s what I’ve been doing – being who I am and hopefully I can lead by example with the way I play. I hope my style is a bit of everything, being vocal before the game and during the game and keeping the squad together off the field.

“But there’s a few boys in the changing room who are quite vocal in training and put their bit across and we’ll all be working in the same direction.”

Mulgrew has certainly been leading by example at Blackburn this season, scoring 12 goals so far for the Ewood Park club who currently lead League One as they bid to return to the Championship at the first attempt following last year’s relegation.

A summer bid from Sheffield Wednesday for Mulgrew was rejected by Blackburn and he admits he agonised over whether playing his club football in the third tier of English football would harm his Scotland prospects.

“Of course I was concerned about Scotland,” he said. “There were chances to maybe move on but I felt I owed Blackburn something. I was part of the squad which went down so I always wanted to stay and try to get them back to where the club should be.

“But there are obviously those doubts in your mind that it might not happen again with Scotland. So, as I say, every time I get called up I’m honoured. I never take it 
for granted.”

It remains to be seen if Mulgrew will retain the captaincy for Scotland’s second game of the current international break against Hungary in Budapest next Tuesday night. His club boss Tony Mowbray is anxious to have him back fully fit for Blackburn’s league game against Bradford City just two days later.

“The manager so far has said it’s for the Costa Rica game and then we’ll take it from there,” said Mulgrew. “I’m aware of the fact Blackburn have a game next Thursday but my full focus is on Scotland right now.

“When Tuesday’s over and we get back home, then I can deal with that. It’s still 36 hours between games and as a centre-half, you don’t do as much running as other positions. So we’ll see what happens. Right now, I haven’t thought any further ahead than Friday night.”