It IS many people’s idea of the story of the Scottish football year – Craig Gordon’s remarkable journey from unemployment and oblivion to a championship medal and a Player of the Year prize. And David Marshall, decent fellow that he is, has been perfectly happy to heap more praise on a man he must consider his rival.
You could argue that Marshall can afford to be magnanimous because he is the man in possession of the Scotland goalkeeper’s shirt, having started all of the country’s Euro 2016 qualifiers to date – but his appreciation of how Gordon has rebuilt his career at Celtic is genuine and heartfelt.
“What he’s done is unbelievable,” Marshall said yesterday at the national team’s training camp at Mar Hall. “To be out of the game for two years is a long, long time. You might have thought the road back to a certain level would have been quite a tough one, but for Craig it seems to have been effortless. He’s picked up awards this season so it’s really been great for him.”
The Cardiff City goalie then appeared to contradict himself. He wasn’t totally surprised by Gordon’s comeback, he said. But this was yet another compliment for the man. “I shared a room with Craig for five years before he picked up his injury and I would say that if anyone could make this kind of return then it would be him. He’s a natural goalie and doesn’t need to do a lot of gym work. How he is physically, he could be away from it for a while and still come straight back in. He’s not one of those ’keepers who needs to be constantly training and training. He also has great confidence in himself and that’s helped him get back.
“Before the injury everyone knew how good he was. I watched him with Scotland and he never really made any mistakes – he was so consistent.
“Then he turned up at Celtic where, to be a ’keeper, to come back at that level, show the concentration that I know from my time there you need to have, play in Europe and win a championship, has been brilliant. I’m a bit surprised, to be honest, that he’s got back into the Scotland squad as quick as he did but here he is. Craig loves playing for Scotland, he always has, and without having asked him the question, I think I know his main objective is to play for his country. He’s desperate to play, I understand that. He has a lot of caps and he’d have a whole lot more were it not for his injury.”
What Craig’s done is unbelievable. To be out for two years is a long, long timeDavid Marshall
These were fine words and Marshall speaking at such length about his rival prompted the suggestion that if he had to make way for another ’keeper for Saturday’s crucial qualifier against the Republic of Ireland, maybe he would want it to be Gordon. Marshall pondered this for, oh, all of two seconds. “Hold on,” he laughed, “I’m no’ his dad!”
Marshall wants the job in Dublin. “Every time before Scotland play there’s usually a question over who will be the goalie but I hope I play.” He’s waited a long time to be first choice and isn’t about to give it up.
Who plays, in any role, is a tough decision for the manager. Marshall’s current supremacy might be viewed by some as reward for sheer persistence – always making himself available and hanging in there. But the player doesn’t see it that way.
“Attitude only gets you so far,” he said. “It’s a squad game now, so it’s different from being at a club. If you’ve been on the bench and do all the travelling which happens at international football, it can be a long time away if you’re not playing. It’s not so bad when you’re younger, but when you have a family and kids and you’re still not playing, then it can be hard to justify, especially when it goes on so long. There have been a few boys in the same boat as me.
“When I was at Celtic and not playing, then coming here and not playing, that was the most difficult because there was nothing to look forward to. If you’re playing for your club then you can concentrate on that and Scotland would be a wee bonus. Did I ever think about quitting? No, not really – and I wouldn’t say I deserve to play now just for travelling in the past. It was tough not playing but the only thing you can do in these situation is work hard.”
That task was made easier, the 30 year old said, by Scotland having such strong competition for the job – also by the rivalry for the position being a friendly one. “It’s never been awkward. Maybe other goalies would say that but the three who have always been with Scotland [Marshall, Gordon and Allan McGregor] have never made it awkward. And to have so many good ’keepers does push you on. The standard throughout the whole squad is like that. If a player picks up an injury then someone else can slot in. To have that level, especially with the goalies, is a great thing.”
Marshall isn’t thinking about Dublin, should he make the team again, being the biggest game of his Scotland career – they’re all big now, he said. “There are ten in the campaign and we’re halfway through, so it’s like a club run-in now. This is a huge match for both countries and a win would put us in a great position.”
He will in all probability have to confront the Republic’s evergreen striker Robbie Keane – maybe from the start. “It always seems to have clicked with Keane and Ireland – he’s got an incredible goalscoring record. I’ve played against the other guys at club level – Shane Long, Jonathan Walters, Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick. We’ll be doing all our analysis on them this week and we’ll be ready for them.”