Why Scotland aren't calling up replacements for John McGinn, Celtic and Rangers players as doubts emerge over Hibs striker's participation
Clarke will be without Celtic pair Greg Taylor and James Forrest, who withdrew after Sunday’s Old Firm defeat to Rangers, for the World Cup qualifying triple-header against Denmark, Moldova and Austria.
It has also emerged that Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet is another doubt for this Wednesday’s trip to Copenhagen. Nisbet scored in the Easter Road side's 2-0 win over Livingston on Saturday, but came off midway through the second half in that match. It is understood he would be available for the games with Moldova and Austria.
The Scotland manager already knew John McGinn of Aston Villa and Rangers’ Nathan Patterson would be missing for the clash against Denmark for Covid-related reasons.
The squad has temporarily shrunk in size to 21 players. “Two years into my international career it has probably been the most disruptive camp in terms of call-offs, which is disappointing," said Clarke, who saw Southampton midfielder Stuart Armstrong withdraw due to a calf injury last week.
The manager has even been robbed of the services of his newly recruited assistant Austin MacPhee on the eve of the trip to Copenhagen.
Former Hearts interim manager MacPhee, brought in as a specialist set-piece coach, has recently joined the Aston Villa coaching staff. Like McGinn, he has contracted Covid. Unlike the midfielder, who will join up with the Scotland squad on Thursday, MacPhee will miss the entire international window, which as well as tomorrow’s clash with Denmark, sees Scotland host Moldova at Hampden on Saturday before travelling to face Austria next Tuesday. The Scots currently sit second on five points in Group F after three games.
MacPhee’s place on the coaching staff has been taken on a temporary basis by Hearts football development manager Steven Naismith, who recently announced his retirement from playing. He was asked to bring his boots, but only to be what Clarke described as “another pair of eyes” on the training pitch.
The manager has taken the bold step of not calling anyone else up to replace Forrest, Taylor, McGinn and Patterson.
“I decided not to make any call-ups, mainly because we had a really short time scale to get them here and have them Covid-tested before we fly to Denmark,” he explained. “I’m happy with the squad as it is, we have enough to cover all the positions.“We’ll be a bit light but Nathan Patterson and John McGinn will be able to join us on Thursday, which is a plus. The information I have is that they will end their isolation on Wednesday – when we’re still in Denmark – but they’ll meet us here (in Edinburgh) for training the following morning.“Stephen O’Donnell has missed a few games for Motherwell through illness but he’s fine. There’s enough cover within the squad at right-back. I’ve used Ryan Fraser in that position before and both Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson have also played on the right.”
Clarke pointed to the extended period the players spent together before and during Euro 2020 this summer as being hugely beneficial when seeking to cope with the current circumstances.
“You always have to be flexible,” he said. “The problem with this camp, and it’s not really a problem because we had four weeks together in the summer, is we have very, very little time on the pitch to prepare.
“Normally you have very little time to prepare on the pitch. This time we have absolutely no time to prepare on the pitch. It is basically just recovery, recovery and then get ready to go on Wednesday.”