Kenny McLean: Scotland can take inspiration from Andy Murray’s heroics

Midfielder: We want to make the country proud as well
Kenny McLean in action for Scotland during the 2-1 victory over Cyprus at Hampden last yearKenny McLean in action for Scotland during the 2-1 victory over Cyprus at Hampden last year
Kenny McLean in action for Scotland during the 2-1 victory over Cyprus at Hampden last year

It is due to more than mere protocol that meant the (unofficial) Mayor of Norwich felt obligated to doff his cap to the King of New York. Andy Murray’s astonishing against-the-odds victory at Flushing Meadows in his first-round US Open comeback match against Yoshihito Nishioka was admired throughout the world.

It must seem like a long time since Kenny McLean donned a feather hat and declared himself lord of all he surveyed at Norwich amid the boozy delirium of the Carrow Road club’s promotion to the Premier League 15 months ago. Norwich City’s subsequent relegation earlier this summer has left McLean in need of a pick-me-up.

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A new three-year contract, announced yesterday, has helped, as did Murray’s heroics on Tuesday evening.

The victory, from two sets down, was hailed for its inspiring properties amongst other things. How can the sight of a 33-year-old tennis player with a metal hip diving around a court to win a match from two sets down against an opponent nearly a decade younger be considered anything other than motivational?

Nowhere do we want this to be the case more than in the Scotland football team’s hotel, where the players watched Murray’s super-human efforts with the same sense of awe as the rest of us.

It would be preferable if they did not hand Israel a two-goal start tomorrow evening at Hampden. But the same application and determination to prevail is surely the least we can expect from a group of international footballers representing their county after such a long hiatus. A 3-1 win against Kazakhstan last November counts as Scotland’s last match. While it lacked the derring-do of Murray’s brave comeback, Steve Clarke’s side did have to rally from 1-0 down.

McLean’s own last appearance for Scotland dates back even further. He has not played since a 4-0 defeat to Belgium a year ago next week. He has enjoyed being back among his international teammates this week and Murray’s victory two days ago has simply added to the buzz around the camp.

“It’s pretty inspirational what he’s done throughout his career and as a Scotsman it makes you proud,” he said. “When you look at these sportsmen from your own country you need to take inspiration from it. We want to do that as well. We want to be qualifying for tournaments so that people can look at us in that light. We do take a lot from watching that. It makes you proud. We want to do as much as we can for the country as well.”

Footballers, he knows, tend to get a bad rap. There’s his mate, Oli McBurnie, for example. The Sheffield United striker has caused dismay to rise within the Tartan Army by appearing for his club in a friendly shortly after pulling out of the Scotland squad. It’s inevitable that such seeming indifference will be compared to Murray’s commitment and used to further damn footballers. McLean does not consider this perception to be fair and casts up the fact that he and his team-mates are content to come away with Scotland in these uncertain times, when international travel is such a fraught affair. Scotland are scheduled to move on to play Czech Republic in Olomouc on Monday night.

“I think it is a bit lazy because we come away for 10 days and everybody is doing as much as they can for each other and for the country,” he said.

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“We’re all desperate to succeed for the country. I see it on a daily basis when I’m here. The manager works tirelessly picking the right squad and preparing us. We’re all pulling in the one direction.”

McLean’s acceptance that he cannot just walk back into the team is a reflection of this togetherness. His recent weeks have been spent digesting the manner of Norwich City’s relegation. Having been such a breath of fresh air on their return to the Premier League, Daniel Farke’s side ultimately returned to the Championship with something of a whimper.

They start another promotion campaign next weekend against Huddersfield. McLean is up for the fight to take Norwich back up. The club have announced he has signed a new deal to 2023.

“It was a good experience but at the end of the day it was disappointing,” McLean reflected when asked to assess last season. “For me, I’m not really saying I did OK because at the end of the day we got relegated, which isn’t good enough. For me, at club level, we’ll do as much as we can to get back to that level.”

McLean stressed that this is the best Scotland squad he has been involved with under a “perfect manager”. It’s been said before of course. On this occasion, and in view of the midfield options available to Clarke, it’s possible to treat McLean’s claim seriously.

His own hopes of returning to the side are threatened by the number of midfield alternatives, with the likes of John McGinn, pictured, Callum McGregor, Ryan Jack and Stuart Armstrong all vying for places.

“Obviously it’s spoken about that we’re strong in that position, but the boys that played the last couple of games (v Cyprus and Kazakhstan) were outstanding and got results,” he said.

“I know I’m not coming away to play two games. I need to work as hard as I can and do as much as I can to force my way back into the manager’s thinking. It’s never going to be a given because we’ve got so much quality across the pitch. Both games might not be the same team, that’s just the way it is.

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“We’ve got two games to play and if I’m asked to play or come on in both or either of the games I’ll do as much as I can to help the team.”

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