Steve Clarke's visit of his elderly father puts Scotland travails into perspective - 'it was tough'

Some players played golf, others went into town. Steve Clarke had an altogether more pressing engagement with his elderly father as he continued processing the disappointment following last week’s World Cup failure against Ukraine.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke is preparing his team for Wednesday's match against Armenia.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke is preparing his team for Wednesday's match against Armenia.

The Scotland manager has spoken before about the debt of gratitude he owed Eddie, whose own football ambitions were shattered after an accident. Clarke also revealed in an interview last year that his dad, who is now in his early 90s, advised him not to take the Scotland post because of “the pressure and the way it can affect your life”.

The reaction to last Wednesday’s defeat has again underlined the wisdom of his father’s words though as we know now, Clarke took the job in any case. “He knows I am pig-headed and determined,” he explained.

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Eddie was nevertheless delighted. It’s why his son had a tear in his eye as he stood singing Flower of Scotland before his first outing as manager three years ago today against Cyprus. There have been 35 matches since.

The defeat to Ukraine was just the latest one and can’t be allowed to stand as a defining result in a period when Clarke has already taken Scotland to a first major finals in 23 years. A year ago today Scotland were preparing to check in at their Euro 2020 base at Rockcliffe Hall on the outskirts of Darlington.

Last week’s sudden change of plans – Scotland had hoped to be heading to Cardiff for a World Cup play-off final against Wales – meant the manager had some downtime he hadn’t expected. It could not have been better spent.

“I went to see my dad, he’s in hospital and not very well,” the 58-year-old revealed on Tuesday. “That puts everything into perspective.”

“He’s brilliant but he doesn’t know what’s happening, he doesn’t know the game, he doesn’t know we played, he doesn’t know we got beat. That’s just the way it is. It’s tough, it was tough, but it puts everything into perspective for me.”

While pundits were pontificating on radio about where it had all gone wrong three days earlier against Ukraine, Clarke had no trouble ignoring all the surrounding noise from those whose opinions he has stressed he’s not overly concerned about in any case.

There is a limit to which one can twist themselves into different shapes agonising about what should and what should not have happened in a match when Scotland were beaten by the better side.

“It was one defeat in nine,” stressed Clarke. “Okay, it was a big game and we’re all suffering. We’re all hurt. But we have to move on. There is no point in going back and going back and going back. The next campaign is upon us and we want to do well in the Nations League. We know it’s important to us, we want to improve our ranking and win the group to get into the A Group.

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"That would mean we’re playing against better teams and that can only improve us. The Nations League is important. The World Cup is gone and we have to let it go.”

Clarke did watch the Wales v Ukraine World Cup play-off final on Sunday night but in keeping with the mantra of looking forward, it was with an eye to Scotland’s reunion with Oleksandr Petrakov’s side in September. The teams play each other twice in the space of seven days as they round off their Nations League programme this Autumn. They could be hugely significant fixtures.

The manager admitted he was interested to see how Wales manager Rob Page coped with Ukraine’s ball retention skills and forward threat. He was honest enough to admit he hoped to pick up some tips given Scotland’s own failure to combat the visitors’ strengths.

“I’m watching it as a game of football because obviously we have Ukraine to play again in September so I’m looking to see how the Welsh lined up against them and how they Welsh played and what their tactics were,” explained Clarke.

“I’m taking bits and pieces from that game which hopefully will help us play better against them in September.”

But first come Armenia, fresh from a home win over Republic of Ireland on Saturday. Clarke watched that game too and he knows the opposition, while operating some way below even an undercooked Ukraine’s level, will be no pushovers. “You look at Armenia, they had a little run in 2021 where they were really good,” he said. “They had a good run of games and obviously got promotion from League C to League B. The team they finished above were North Macedonia and North Macedonia are responsible for the European champions (Italy) not being at the World Cup.”

Fans can anticipate changes – but not too many. Centre-half Scott McKenna, who many felt should have played against Ukraine, seems certain to start his first international game since the 2-0 defeat to Denmark last September, when he was replaced at half-time. Clarke even teased a system change. “Maybe I’ll change it tomorrow,” he smiled, after explaining why his preference for three-at-the-back was not just about accommodating Kieran Tierney and skipper Andy Robertson, whatever his critics might believe.

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“It’s the start of the next tournament, the last one is gone, we have to focus on this one,” Clarke stressed.

Striker Lyndon Dykes has already left the camp with a groin problem and upcoming games against Republic of Ireland on Saturday and the return clash with Armenia next Tuesday will have a bearing on Clarke’s team for this evening’s clash at Hampden, where around 40,000 fans are expected.

“There will be some changes to the starting XI, but the team I pick is team I expect and hope – expect is a better word than hope – to beat Armenia at home,” said Clarke.