'Steve is going to have huge problems when he’s picking his next squad' - Scotland pool gives manager Clarke welcome headache

There was a time earlier this summer when it seemed unlikely that Steve Clarke's tenure as Scotland manager would extend much beyond his 60th birthday next year.

Scotland Manager Steve Clarke and John Carver during a UEFA Nations League match between Scotland and Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park, on September 24, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland Manager Steve Clarke and John Carver during a UEFA Nations League match between Scotland and Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park, on September 24, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

In fact, after a thumping from Republic of Ireland in Dublin, it was not looking good for him turning 59 still in situ, although he did in fact pass this marker in August.

Since then, he has guided Scotland to promotion to the Nations League top tier amid trying circumstances, while passing England on their way down.

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Clarke has intimated he wants to be involved when Scotland test themselves against Europe’s elite – although he did also note his current contract will have expired by the time League A kicks-off in 2024.

As Clarke himself has proved, the standing of an international football manager is prone to violent fluctuations. He’s now back in clover, as are his players. Already alongside Gordon Strachan on the 40-game mark for Scotland, only Jock Stein, Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown are above Clarke.

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Brown left the post after 70 matches, which is the figure to beat. Can Clarke do that? It’s possible if he leads Scotland to the World Cup in 2026.

Between now and next November, providing he remains in charge, there’s another 11 games to negotiate for a start, including a friendly against Turkey slated for next month. According to assistant John Carver, Clarke isn’t resting on his laurels. He isn't looking too far ahead. And, while it might not always look like it, he does enjoy being Scotland manager.

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“Steve might not come across as being happy but I know him,” said Carver. “Deep inside, he’s a happy and proud man.

“He’s delighted at how this team is going. But he won’t rest on it. He’s always striving for perfection. He always wants more and is constantly thinking outside the box to try and get it. He’ll enjoy the next few weeks but we’re going to Leicester v (Nottingham) Forest on Monday night.

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“He’s got the national team to a level but he wants to take them higher. That’s the way it should be.

“Steve won’t be thinking about being Scotland’s longest-serving manager. It won’t be in his thought process.

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“From my point of view, I know he’d be proud of it as would his family. But all he’ll be thinking about is the team. He puts them out there but he knows the players are the ones who have stepped up to the plate under a massive amount of pressure.”

The success of the last window, when so many auxiliaries contributed to the two wins and a draw required to top Group B1, means Scotland could fill a jumbo jet for the trip to Turkey. Two or three players are fighting over several positions. Ryan Porteous, for example, is suddenly a player in possession of a centre-half jersey. Nathan Patterson and Aaron Hickey, meanwhile, are fighting over the right back spot.

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“Steve is going to have huge problems when he’s picking his next squad,” said Carver. “Not so long ago, we had Stephen O’Donnell as our only right back. Now, he can’t get in the squad.

“He’s been a fantastic servant for us but he was the only right-back we had. Suddenly these young lads have come forward and played really well. That can only be good for the national team.”