How Grant Hanley consoled "devastated" Norwich team-mate Kenny McLean and followed the long road back from international wilderness under Steve Clarke

Hearing from Grant Hanley feels like being transported to another era. Still only 29, he is the longest serving Scotland outfield player named in Steve Clarke’s Euro 2020 squad having made his debut as a teenager as long ago as 2011.
Grant Hanley is the longest-serving outfield player in Scotland's Euro 2020 squad (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Grant Hanley is the longest-serving outfield player in Scotland's Euro 2020 squad (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Grant Hanley is the longest-serving outfield player in Scotland's Euro 2020 squad (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The Norwich City centre-half is also the Canary who came in from the cold. He made a scoring return against Austria in March following a near three-year absence. After starting all three World Cup qualifiers that month, it’s fair to say he is the man in possession of one of the shirts in the middle of defence. Of course, having arrived in Spain at the start of Scotland’s training camp, he doesn’t see it that way.

He views himself, Scott McKenna, Declan Gallagher, Liam Cooper, Jack Hendry and even Kieran Tierney as all starting from the same point as they push for inclusion in the starting XI against Czech Republic two weeks on Monday. It also depends on the system Steve Clarke prefers. The Scotland manager will use the forthcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Luxembourg to fine-tune his plans. Scott McTominay seemed primed for a midfield slot even before his fine performance in that area for Manchester United in their Europa League final shootout defeat to Villarreal in midweek.

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“You look at the best teams and they have all got two or three in each position who are pushing each other for a place in the starting XI,” said Hanley. “I think that’s really important for any team in terms of being successful, so it’s good, healthy competition.

“All the boys are pushing each other all over the pitch to get themselves in that starting XI, and that can only be good for the squad.

“It’s the same throughout the squad. In every position there are a number of boys really pushing to get themselves into the team, and it’s definitely a big part of being successful. You’ve got to create that togetherness and that healthy competition with the boys all fighting and pushing in the same direction.”

It’s not only at international level where it’s impossible to keep Hanley down. He also led Norwich City back into the Premier League at the first attempt. He is in a good place at present having battled through a spate of injuries and loss of form. He recently made his 100th appearance for Norwich. He was also the runner-up in the club’s player of the season vote.

According to manager Daniel Farke, Hanley “is in the shape of his life” and is not yet even playing to his full potential. The German reckons that the centre-half’s prime will be when he reaches his early thirties. Hanley is just happy to be back in his stride at both club and international level.

It’s a reward for his persistence and eagerness to return to the international fold after such a long spell away. Alex McLeish played him in his first match after his return as manager against Costa Rica in March 2018 but Hanley did not feature again until earlier this year. He was in the international wilderness. Few imagined they would see a player a who made his debut under Craig Levein – four days before current international teammate James Forrest – again.

Clarke planned to turn to him earlier but Hanley had to withdraw from the squad for the critical play-off final against Serbia in Novembe r due to injury.

“For me personally, it has been a tough couple of years in terms of injuries and I didn’t play as much as I would have liked,” Hanley reflected. “On a personal note, it is good to have that behind me and being able to play so many games and to show a bit of fitness and consistency. It has given me a massive buzz going into the summer.”

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For every heartwarming story such as Hanley returning to prominence at international level in time for a first major finals appearance in 23 years, there’s heartbreak too.

Hanley has seen this at close quarters. He was playing when teammate Kenny McLean suffered a serious knee injury after a sliding challenge in the box early in the second half against Barnsley in Norwich’s final game of the season.

The midfielder returned in a knee brace and with crutches to lift the league trophy after the final whistle. McLean scored the winning penalty in the shootout when Scotland beat Israel en route to their play-off victory v Serbia, when he converted another high pressure spotkick. He is now rehabilitating and will miss the finals as well as possibly the start of the Premier League season.

“I am absolutely devastated for Kenny,” said Hanley. “I am quite close with him and we are down in Norwich with him. I am devastated for him because he deserves to be at the finals. On the pitch, he has made a massive contribution to the team, and also off it, we have been building the squad and the togetherness and Kenny has been a massive part of that."

They met before Hanley left Norwich to join up with the squad. “He was devastated," the defender reported. "These opportunities don’t come round too often and for me he deserved to be here and the chance to play at a major tournament. He was gutted because it is a tough one to take but the boys will do all we can to make him proud.”

There’s another motivation. If Scotland can secure a famous win at Wembley on June 18, Hanley is one of those who will find it particularly satisfying returning to a dressing room where he and McLean are outnumbered by English teammates. The boy from Dumfries will then truly feel like he has arrived after more than a decade of international service.

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