We have heard it all before of course. But the fact it is coming from the mouth of someone with personal experience stretching back 15 years and whose position grants him such a unique perspective, means this opinion must be treated with respect.
David Marshall considers the Scotland team he currently plays behind is as good, if not better, as any he has known. Given that the goalkeeper made his debut as long ago as 2004, that is a lot of Scotland teams. He is slightly apprehensive about broadcasting this opinion since he knows how absurd it might seem in the midst of a qualifying campaign where Scotland have lost four of their opening six games.
“Obviously making that comment when we are getting beat you leave yourself open to criticism, which is fine,” he said. “I can only say what I honestly feel, and I honestly feel the lads are at a great age.
“I can’t remember too many starting sides when the majority of them are playing at the level that these boys, the Prem boys, are playing at. It might not be this month or next month, but I genuinely do feel there are reasons to be optimistic.”
Asked about the perception there’s been steady decline since he first got involved, alongside the likes of Barry Ferguson, Darren Fletcher and James McFadden, he said it’s one he must firmly disagree with, citing the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay, Ryan Fraser and Kenny McLean, who are all starting games regularly in England’s top flight. Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney is another set to be added to the list.
Through little fault of his own, Marshall did have a torrid baptism to life with Scotland, conceding 11 goals in his first three games – against Hungary, Sweden and Norway.
It’s a similar story to now, when Marshall is generally considered to be among the better performers under Steve Clarke. However, he’s conceded nine times in his last three appearances. “I would rather be involved as a goalie – although perhaps not as involved as I was in the last four games,” he admitted. He’s now in the top four of those with the longest spell between their first and last, or in Marshall’s case, latest cap – after Ned Doig (who made his debut in the 19th century), Denis Law and Jim Leighton.
“Over the course of time a lot of players have come through,” he said. “I have been there a long, long time. There are times when you think ‘maybe the squad isn’t as strong as it was three or four years ago’. I think in terms of the age of this squad and the level the lads are playing I don’t see there being a decline. Obviously, we have to show that on the pitch.”
“It’s a bit of a transition with the new manager coming in, but we have had four games under him and half of them have been against Belgium,” he added.
“I was under no illusion how busy those games were going to be. As I say, probably the biggest disappointment was the Russia game (when Scotland lost 2-1). We started really well and were disappointed with our performance in the last hour. That is something we need to put right.”
They have that opportunity in the return meeting this evening. Russia have not lost a qualifying match at home since June 2015, when Austria shocked them. Perhaps surprisingly, Marshall has never played in Russia during his long career, which includes more than 50 games for Celtic. After so long fretting whether he might start, he is now assured, fitness permitting, of his 32nd cap.
Craig Gordon, currently No 2 at Celtic, is no longer a contender and Allan McGregor has retired. It’s Marshall’s reward for having stuck around when Gordon and McGregor were being consistently selected in front of him.
It’s not such a settled picture in front of him, where Scotland are struggling to find a centre-back partnership. A dearth of options in this position has been compounded by injury, robbing Scotland of at least five candidates. Steven Caulker, the former England defender currently playing with Alanyaspor in Turkey, has been identified as a possible answer.
At least Charlie Mulgrew is one constant for Marshall, who plays with the defender every day at Wigan Athletic. “I’m OK with it,” he said of trying to find synergy with the ever-changing cast-list of characters directly in front of him. “I train with the lads, while Charlie has joined Wigan as well and I know him really well. It doesn’t really affect me. I am just hopeful we can keep everybody fit.”