It shouldn’t be a particularly difficult task. Most of them all know each other well having been mainstays in the squad under Steve Clarke. Other than those who are already club mates, they haven’t, however, spent quite as much time in each other’s company before. Their time spent largely holed up together will amount to at least four weeks, ideally longer.
They can’t just sit there listening to “Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie” every night – and is that song even permitted with Andrew Considine no longer involved? Other more traditional players’ activities such as cards and computer games are now supplied with a measure of risk due to Covid 19 restrictions.
There’s also the issue of younger, first-time recruits such as 19-year-old pair Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson. David Turnbull, although slightly older, has also joined the squad for the first time. Special effort will need to be applied to make them feel a part of the group.
Gilmour has still to arrive after being given some time off following Chelsea’s European Cup exploits. It’s unlikely that he will feel intimidated since he could, if he chooses, walk in wearing a Champions League winners’ medal around his neck.
“He had a couple of days in London with his mum and dad,” reported manager Steve Clarke yesterday. “He didn’t make it all the way back to Ardrossan but he’s relaxed and in a good place.”
Gilmour certainly has a good tale to tell when he does arrive in Portugal, where he will meet up with the squad after this evening’s friendly against the Netherlands. Scott McTominay is another who is arriving late after playing an eye-catching role for Manchester United in their Europa League final defeat to Villarreal last week. “Outstanding,” said Clarke, who now has to wrestle with the dilemma of where to play him.
One absentee from the teamlines tonight was not so expected or welcome. At least McTominay and Gilmour are missing for a positive reason. John Fleck’s omission, however, is a reminder of the fragile nature of trying to compete in a major competition that is taking place as the world continues to confront the challenges set by managing a pandemic.
Uefa’s decision to allow teams to increase squads by three to 26 has already been vindicated with Fleck now forced to self-isolate after returning a positive test. The natural fear is that others would also have been infected but an SFA statement yesterday confirmed the rest of the squad all tested negative.
“Luckily, we’ve got two doctors here and Graeme Jones, the head of performance, is always on at us,” reported Andy Robertson from the La Finca resort in Andalusia, where the Scots have set up a training camp. “The hotel is set up all socially distanced, there’s a one or two metres between the coffee machines - at least (John) McGinn has a big voice that can carry so we can hear what he’s saying!
“We’re usually outside in the fresh air as well,” he added. “It’s unfortunate for Flecky. No one wanted a positive test but luckily there’s no other close contacts.
“We’ve all tested three times since then and there’s been no more positives. It’s not spread through the squad so the protocols are working.”
The reference to McGinn and his booming voice is an example of the banter that will see the players through this intense and sometimes stressful period. Robertson’s status as skipper means he is invested with extra responsibility to ensure the players get close, but not too close, to one another.
“It’s just about getting everyone settled into the squad, helping the young lads feel part of it,” said Robertson. “Billy is coming in later but the other two are not shy boys. Turnbull has the Celtic core with him that he can rely on. Nathan not so much, but he’s a confident lad and he’s settled in well and is getting to know everyone.
“The manager is really switched on when it comes to team bonding. We’ve been coming together to do certain activities. We’ve been on the golf course, doing quizzes, stuff like that, which creates a good atmosphere.”
Robertson revealed there was a surprise Scottish football expert. Surprise in that Grant Hanley, the player in question, has not played a senior game at club level north of the Border although he did of course grow up in Dumfries.
Lyndon Dykes has played in Scotland, including for Hanley’s local team Queen of the South. However, having grown up on Australia’s Gold Coast he did not prove very helpful when it came to questions on former Scottish Cup winners and other such teasers. Hanley, in contrast, impressed.
“His team won,” revealed Robertson. “It was about the history of Scottish football. I did not do too bad but I had Lyndon Dykes in my team so he wasn’t much help really! It was a good laugh and these things keep you going. You can see the competitive nature.
“You could be locked in your room staring at the four walls and the time could feel a lot longer.
“The lads are very sociable,” Robertson added. “There’s a big coffee group during the day, McGinn is usually sitting there telling stories, and we had an afternoon on the golf course.
“We also sat and watched the Champions League final together, so it’s been really good so far. Now it’s time for the games we’ve been more switched on, but we’ve had the balance right.”