The depleted passenger list on Scotland’s flight to Albania yesterday has fuelled a cynic’s charter. However, captain Andrew Robertson believes any scepticism over the commitment of players to represent their country is entirely wide of the mark.
It isn’t that the Liverpool full-back doesn’t understand the what’s-going-on alarms being raised by Scotland followers about the drop-out rate among the squad. It could hardly be any other way with the recent goings-on. The last-minute withdrawal of Kieran Tierney from the squad has meant Alex McLeish has lost nine members of the original 23-man squad he named for the decisive Nations League double header. The unavailability of the Celtic defender made him the third player in as many days to be returned to their clubs following the departure of John McGinn and Mikey Devlin.
Robertson says that you have to have been in among the squad to realise just how much angst was caused to the three players by their inability to travel to Tirana, where Scotland are based.
“Those of us here have seen with John McGinn pulling out how devastated he was leaving the squad,” said Robertson. “Kieran was devastated, too, and wanted to give it a go but the club and medical staff said that it couldn’t happen. Mikey Devlin left and he could be out for a while for Aberdeen. These are genuine injuries to lads who are devastated at not playing for their country.
“It’s easy to say things if people call-off early doors. Then it’s said every call off from that point is not a complete injury. But I can say first-hand that they are all devastated not to be on this flight and I know that they would play if they could.
“We’ve been really unfortunate with injuries but we still have quality within the squad and we still have to believe that whatever team the manager puts out will be strong enough. That’s what we all believe and we have to prove that to others.
“Of course it’s been a bit disruptive but we always plan with different team set-ups and that’s when it comes down to everyone being 100 per cent concentrated on what they are doing. These things happen and people have to step up and I’m sure that will happen in Albania. We’re all positive going into the game and the lads who have called off can’t be with us but they will be cheering us on from home.”
Robertson states the obvious in venturing that “an inexperienced” XI owe themselves, their manager and the country a performance following the debacle in Israel last month – the 2-1 defeat prompting the Liverpool full-back to say his contribution wasn’t good enough, as he says was true of all ten outfield players.
Short of losing by three clear goals in Albania, the Israel game at Hampden will seal Scotland’s fate in the Nations League group they were expected to win to claim a Euro 2020 play-off place.
“We have had our critics and it’s up to us to prove them wrong and show that we have quality in the team and, hopefully, come the Albania game we can do that and then everyone is behind us for Tuesday,” added Robertson.
“It didn’t happen in Israel and we owe it to ourselves firstly and then everyone round about us a performance in Albania.
“Our focus in on Albania and then Israel. It’s time for everyone to pull together for two massive games and if we can all pull in that same direction I’m sure it will be a positive outcome. And then, come Tuesday, it will be much better feeling than at the end of the last international break.”
The abridged campaign is Robertson’s first wearing the armband, the 24-year-old being described as “the real Braveheart now” in a text to him by his Anfield manager Jurgen Klopp when word came through he had been appointed to the role in September. He accepts that the Braveheart spirit is required for the country’s double-header in the next four days.
“We need everyone pulling together – the players, the staff, the families back home,” he said. “It always helps when the nation is behind you. That’s what we need and all the players are up for it.
“The manager [Klopp] always likes a laugh and a joke with the lads – it creates a good atmosphere and he’s no different with me than anyone else.”