How Steve Clarke is making Scotland fun to watch without comprimising his principles
It had become doctrine that for Scotland to prosper in the international domain their focus had to be full-square on making themselves difficult to beat; and possessing the ability to dig out results through exhibiting a resoluteness that wasn’t for the purists. It might even be argued that Clarke seemed perfectly suited to the role of national manager four years ago because he had moulded Kilmarnock with such design that they proved the very archetype of a successfully stuffy side.
Yet, it is not obduracy so much as a dermination to go on the offensive that is now characterising the vibrant young Scotland team blossoming under Clarke. A side that in their past two encounters at Hampden against Denmark and Poland have been propelled by a drive and daintiness that has allowed them to outplay two opponents of real substance.
“I think that is a testament to the work we have been doing, the way that we have worked and the principles that we have carried through the last couple of years in terms of what we do,” said Clarke, whose team were only denied a seventh straight win in their friendly hosting of the Poles in midweek by an unjust added-time penalty. “So we come into camp and there are basic principles that they follow, a basic style of play and then they add their talents to that basic style of play. Recently their talents have been doing quite well in making the style of play quite nice to watch. It is nice for the Tartan Army to come along and enjoy watching a Scottish team play, which is part of the process as well.”
Clarke has the coaching smarts that ensure, while structure and defensive organisation will never be sacrificed, if he is sending a team out with such progressive talents as Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson, Ryan Christie, John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson and Scott McTominay, he won’t have building blocks for a 10-men-behind-the-ball strategy. But it isn’t that the personnel and their approach have caused him to have some sort of Damascian conversion as a manager. “I am not sure in what way it would change me,” he said. “Obviously I have my principles, how I always set out. I start from a core set of basics and work from there depending on the talent you have available.
“It is like any team, even if you are at a club, if you are working the right way and working with the right type of person the team will evolve and that is what has happened over the course of the last couple of years. The team is continually evolving. As a coach, you can only play a style that suits the players you’ve got. A lot of people maybe looked at the way I set up the Kilmarnock team. But I had to set them up in a different way to get results. When you are working with players at this level, and we have got a really, really good squad of players, it gives you the opportunity to play a different style of football. That is what we have done.”
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