It was 31 years ago today that Clarke learned he was not in Andy Roxburgh’s provisional squad for Italia ’90 having been included in the original pool earlier that year. The then Chelsea defender was among several absentees considered surprising at the time, along with Pat Nevin, Brian McClair, Robert Fleck and Kevin Gallacher.
It’s not being cruel to point out that Clarke does not have the same range of quality options at his own disposal. Nevertheless, there will have been several very good players with a more than credible case for inclusion waiting anxiously by the phone in the last few days, unsure of their summer schedule.
Will it be a couple of weeks – at least – at the well-appointed Middlesbrough training ground Scotland have booked after their own training base at Oriam in Edinburgh was bagged by Czech Republic? Or will they be spending the time elsewhere wondering when, if ever, they will get the chance to represent Scotland at a major finals?
The significance of Wednesday’s announcement cannot be underplayed. The 26 names that will be unveiled by Clarke will be the first players in a generation to enjoy the sensation of being in a major finals environment. It’s pleasing to note that the Scotland manager will keep things relatively simple when high noon arrives – and it really will be high noon, with the announcement scheduled for around midday.
There will not be much razzmatazz – not that anyone expected that would be the case with the understated, matter-of-fact Clarke. He would happily simply read out a list of names before getting on with the job of preparing for the finals. In the social media age, he has had to compromise to a certain extent.
A squad reveal video is being put together by the communications team at the Scottish Football Association which will include a short interview with Clarke. This is due to be released on the SFA’s social media channels, after which the Scotland manager will begin his round of interviews with broadcast and newspaper reporters.
The advice from the SFA to those supporters currently counting down the hours as though it is Christmas eve? Get online at just before 12pm and stay tuned.
It’s understood the manager will name 26 players and while he may have his own stand-by list, these names won’t be revealed. Clarke's deliberations have been eased somewhat by the extra three names he has been permitted to include by Uefa to mitigate the potential impact of Covid-19.
Those in the shadowland between two worlds of definitely ins and definitely outs include Leeds United skipper Liam Cooper, injured when Clarke named his last squad, Oli Burke, David Turnbull, Lawrence Shankland and of course Ryan Gauld, who it’s already become something of a cause celebre for a vast number of Tartan Army members.
There are reports from Portugal that Farense, Gauld’s club, have not received the ‘fitness for duty’ papers that the SFA are required to send out to either being called up or in the frame to be called up.
It looks like the player’s fine form for his club this season will not be rewarded with a place in Clarke’s squad. A call-up for Gauld, as strongly willed as it might be by fans, would of course mean someone else missing out.
Midfielder John Fleck will hope he is not the unlucky loser in this game of opinions, as was the case with his uncle Robert, then of Norwich City, in Italia ‘90. Clarke will point out that while he has the ultimate say, the final choice is a collaborative effort between him and coaches Steven Reid, John Carver and Stevie Woods.
Their task has not necessarily been made any easier by the enforced absentees. Oli McBurnie’s unavailability was confirmed on Monday due to a metatarsal injury.
While there’s been some predictable fun had at the Sheffield United striker’s expense – “some good news for Scotland’s Euro 2020 hopes, McBurnie’s out..” etc, etc – it’s a blow to lose someone who was surely due to break his Scotland drought at the tournament, possibly with a last-gasp winner against England.
Billy Gilmour, meanwhile, has enjoyed a timely return to first-team action at Chelsea. The midfielder has started three Premier League games this month, including an away win at Manchester City. The 19-year-old would be this writer’s choice as a slightly ‘out there’ addition – although there’s nothing really ‘out there’ about including a player with Gilmour’s ability, even if he is uncapped.
What might qualify as the truly big news? Ahead of Italia ’90 for example, it wasn’t Clarke's exclusion that commanded headlines, nor that of McClair, Nevin and anybody else. It was Dave McPherson’s call-up despite not being involved at international level all year. The Hearts centre-half ended up playing all three games.
There seems to be not so much scope for a so-called surprise tomorrow. For one thing, Clarke is a manager who doesn’t tend to spring surprises. He is admirably loyal.
His one big left field decision personnel-wise has already been made. Che Adams has now leapt to the front of the strikers’ queue since being persuaded to switch nationality from England to Scotland in March.
Clarke’s thinking around Leigh Griffiths will be interesting after the Celtic striker missed out on the last squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria, Israel and the Faroe Islands.
The striker has not proved particularly dynamic since then. However, a late equaliser plundered against Aberdeen last month was a reminder why he’s always useful to have around. There’s no-one better qualified to fill the vacancy for scorer of that last-minute winner against England.