Scotland captain Andy Robertson insists it “hurts” to miss the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Kazakhstan but says the decision was taken out of his hands.
The Liverpool left-back was one of three high profile withdrawals on Monday from Steve Clarke’s squad for the final two Group I fixtures against Cyprus in Nicosia on Saturday and Kazakhstan at Hampden next Tuesday.
Robertson is nursing an ankle injury, the same complaint which forced Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay to be carried off during his club’s game against Brighton on Sunday. Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser completed the trio of call-offs from English Premier League-based players, despite playing the full 90 minutes of his club’s match against Newcastle.
Scotland manager Clarke has drafted in Hibs defender Ryan Porteous, Celtic winger Lewis Morgan and Derby County midfielder Graeme Shinnie to reinforce his squad, having already been unable to include Kieran Tierney at the request of Arsenal and then lost Leeds United captain Liam Cooper to a groin injury.
It has again raised questions over the general level of commitment to the national team but Robertson has robustly defended the collective desire among his colleagues to play for Scotland.
The 25-year-old has accepted medical advice from Liverpool, subsequently endorsed by the Scotland physios, to rest during the latest international break, claiming it could “ruin” his season otherwise.
But Robertson will remain with Scotland at their Edinburgh training base until the squad fly to Cyprus tomorrow as he looks to underline his solidarity with and sense of responsibility to his international team-mates.
“It’s a big disappointment for me to miss out,” said Robertson. “I don’t care what game it is, I want to play and my track record in the last five years has shown that.
“But for the last two and a half weeks, I’ve not trained at all for Liverpool. I’ve trained the day before a game, could only play the last 15 minutes against Genk in the Champions League and missed the Arsenal game in the League Cup.
“It’s a niggling injury which won’t go away unless I give it time. My ankle was already injured when a tackle from Rodri on me late in the game against Manchester City on Sunday opened it up again.
“I was already a doubt for Scotland but unfortunately that made it even worse. I don’t want to pick up more injuries and ruin my season because of it. The call has been made and it has been taken out of my hands. It hurts as captain to miss out. I know a lot has been said about these two games being meaningless but we don’t believe that.
“We feel a page was turned against San Marino last time out [Scotland won 6-0 after a run of four successive defeats] and we can start being more positive. I wanted to be part of that and drive us forward in these two games so we finish as high up the table as possible.
“We have two vital play-off games in March and these games are important for that which is why I wanted to be involved.
“The manager knew I was a doubt due to the concerns of my club but I told him I would join up with the lads before the team flies out to Cyprus. I wish the lads all the best for the game but unfortunately I’ll be watching from home.
“When I look back at my career so far, I’ve played games I probably shouldn’t have due to injuries and I’ve maybe been lucky not to make it worse. I am paid to play football and love playing football but if I keep playing, this ankle is going to get worse and I will be no use to anyone sitting on a treatment table.
“I’ve had to be selfish for the first time in my career and let my body rest. I’ve had to listen to the people around me when previously I would have told them to beat it.
“I understand our nation’s call-offs are scrutinised a lot more because, since the manager has come in, there’s been quite a few call-offs in every squad. But the lads unfortunately have to listen to their bodies and sometimes their clubs. It’s not from a lack of trying from the lads but in terms of injuries it’s never easy and when you do have a small injury then sometimes you need
to rest it.
“These decisions are made but it doesn’t make it any easier for the players – we all want to play for our country. I know that’s the case from within the squad but I can see why the perception is maybe different from the outside.”
In the absence of Robertson, McTominay, Fraser and Cooper, Clarke has added three players who, while not like-for-like replacements, will give the national coach more options for the double header. Porteous was the last of the three to be announced, with his promotion from the Scotland Under-21 squad being confirmed last night.
It’s a first call-up to the senior squad for the centre-back who has impressed for Hibernian during the last couple of months. Still only 20, Porteous has captained the Under-21 side and was spoken of in favourable terms last week by Clarke when he named his initial squad for the Cyprus-Kazakhstan double-header.
Shinnie, 28, has been capped six times and comes in after forcing his way into the Derby County team following his summer move from Aberdeen. He has not played for Scotland since the 3-0 defeat by Kazakhstan in the opening match of this qualifying
Morgan has made only sporadic appearances for Celtic this season. Like Shinnie, he made his Scotland debut in the summer tour match against Peru in Lima in 2018 and won a second cap against Mexico four days later.