Steve Clarke: Scotland boss speaks on not getting involved in Billy Gilmour situation, words to Scott McTominay, La Finca and more
Billy Gilmour has not played any club football at all since that crucial, last-gasp victory in Torshavn. Scott McTominay, meanwhile, has been in Manchester United teams beaten 4-2 by Leicester City and, almost unthinkably, 5-0 at home by Liverpool.
But Steve Clarke believes this trio of young Scotland players, who have shown themselves to be so pivotal to the cause in recent months, can shrug off recent tough experiences. It seems notable that the international camp is proving such a tonic these days for those fortunate enough to be involved.
This hasn’t always been the case of course. Rather than a welcome escape, international weeks with Scotland were often treated as a bit of a bind.
Although he stressed he was a victim of unfair editing, it was only a little over two years ago that a video emerged where Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie seemed to be turning up his nose at the thought of an upcoming Scotland game.
He claimed the clip, from a film made by his club’s own communications team, did not tell the whole story and he was only having a joke with fellow Scotland teammate John Fleck.
Neither are in Clarke’s current plans. McBurnie has been well and truly usurped by the emergence of Che Adams and has been further pushed to the sidelines by Jacob Brown’s recruitment. Aside from the addition of the Stoke City forward, after a recommendation from Steven Fletcher, the squad now has a settled look about it.
It now seems the greatest controversy Clarke must deal with involves the identity of his third-choice keeper.
Zander Clark has been re-installed in response to fuming St Johnstone fans upset at him being dropped from the Scotland manager’s plans for the games against Israel and the Faroe Isles while continuing to perform to such a high level. Motherwell’s Liam Kelly drops out this time.
“It is a good place for them to come and be together,” reflected Clarke yesterday. “There’s a good atmosphere within the camp. Obviously, there’s also the continuity, I do like that.
“That’s one of the factors that does help – you’re pickling and meeting up with the same people.
“It’s one of the things I picked up on quite early when I came in. There were always a lot of changes.
“Players being players, if they don’t really know somebody then they don’t communicate with them, they don’t get together, and they don’t sit together.
“Now, though, we’ve got a group of players who you see mixing all the time with different people. That’s good for us. It’s good for them as well.”
Increasingly, Scotland gatherings are being seen as a port in a storm for some members of a squad who seem to enjoy spending time together. This enticing nature of such reunions can only be enhanced when the setting is the Costa Blanca in Spain, where Scotland are returning to prepare for the forthcoming games against Moldova and Denmark. They will base themselves at La Finca resort, where they prepared for this summer's Euro 2020 finals.
They might have won their last four games, but Clarke’s side were beaten in the race to be accommodated in the Oriam barracks by the country’s rugby team, who are engaged in a series of Autumn test matches.
“You can’t try to squeeze two professional sports squads into one hotel and share the same facilities. It’s not very professional,” explained Clarke.
“So we decided to ask the powers that be if we could break up the journey. It’s obviously a long journey to Moldova but if we fly to Spain it takes us a little bit closer.
“We can train at a facility that we used in the summer and we know it well. We know we’ll be looked after there.
“This time last year I remember having to delay training sessions and actually do one inside because the pitch was frozen at Oriam. I’m not sure we’ll get to go to Spain every November but at least, this time, there will be no weather issues.”
There will be time to put a supportive arm around the likes of McTominay, Gilmour and Patterson. With regards the Manchester United midfielder, Clarke has few fears. He saw him star alongside Ronaldo in Saturday’s demolition of Tottenham Hotspur.
“I’ll probably just show him a rerun of the Man United-Tottenham game when he was the best player on the pitch and say ‘There you go’,” said Clarke, when asked about the player’s current morale.
“Scott’s big enough to be able to handle it himself. It’s the same with John McGinn at Aston Villa.
“They’re not in a very good run at the minute. But John’s big enough to handle that, to take any flak that comes his way and get on with it.”
Perhaps not yet so well versed in dealing with challenges such as being dropped to the bench at their club after recent starring performances for Scotland are the likes of Patterson and Gilmour.
The latter’s situation is particularly stark. Despite man-of-the match performances at international level, he has not featured at all in recent weeks for struggling Norwich City, where he is on loan from Chelsea.
Stamford Bridge manager Thomas Tuchel has even had his say, advising Gilmour to “hang in there”.
Clarke isn’t about to get involved. He has no concerns about Gilmour stepping up to the required level because he has already demonstrated an ability to do so while not playing regularly for his club.
“When Billy comes away with us he trains great, he’s one of the players I’ve always got to chase off the training pitch and get him inside to rest his legs,” he said.
“The club situation will resolve itself and Billy will be part of that resolution.”