No free bus pass for Scotland boss Steve Clarke but Saudi Arabia trip beckons - 'I spoke to Jack'

Scotland manager Steve Clarke (left) chats to Jack Hendry during a World Cup qualifier against Austria at Hampden in 2021. Hendry could reach 25 caps in this international window  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Scotland manager Steve Clarke (left) chats to Jack Hendry during a World Cup qualifier against Austria at Hampden in 2021. Hendry could reach 25 caps in this international window  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland manager Steve Clarke (left) chats to Jack Hendry during a World Cup qualifier against Austria at Hampden in 2021. Hendry could reach 25 caps in this international window (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Although he turned 60 last week, Steve Clarke won’t be enjoying his free bus pass quite yet. This concession is only available to those who are resident in Scotland.

This would seem a shame were it not for the fact that the Scotland manager has little need to travel too extensively around his home country in his current role. He has long been based in England, which is where the understated Clarke returned to celebrate – or at least mark – this latest milestone with a quiet dinner with his wife, Karen, on Tuesday. There was little to shout about with reference to Scottish clubs in Europe so it was just as well that he stayed at home. In any case, few Scots featured as Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs were badly exposed by teams of varying levels from the continent.

Only 10 in total started these games – four for Hibs, three for Hearts, two for Aberdeen and one for Rangers. Just three of this number – Lawrence Shankland, John Souttar and back-up goalkeeper Zander Clark – were named in Clarke's latest squad for the upcoming games, against Cyprus on Friday night in a vital Euro 2024 qualifier and England four days afterwards in a 150 heritage anniversary clash.

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The low number of Scots featuring at first-team level for the largest clubs in the country seems notable. Indeed, only four outfield players from the SPFL are named in Clarke’s latest squad – Ryan Jack, who came on for Rangers in midweek, and Celtic skipper Callum McGregor along with the aforementioned Souttar and Shankland. Of course, many will argue it’s a good sign that Scotland players are wanted by clubs elsewhere. As many as nine, including Elliot Anderson of Newcastle United, currently play in the English Premier League. It would have been ten but for Kieran Tierney’s loan move to Real Sociedad from Arsenal, which retains his involvement in the Champions League.

Jack Hendry, meanwhile, has made the boldest – and certainly most financially rewarding – move by joining the recent exodus from Europe to Saudi Arabia, where he has signed for Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq from Club Brugge. Hendry is on the cusp of collecting his silver medal for reaching the 25-cap mark for Scotland. He is set to reach this total in the next international window. Now 28-years-old, he will be targeting inclusion in the Roll of Honour, which distinguishes those who win a half century of caps. Understandably, Hendry was concerned how Clarke would view his switch to the Saudi Pro League. He wanted some assurances. Not that he would always be picked regardless – Clarke would not provide that for any player. Hendry simply wanted some feedback from the man steering Scotland towards a major finals in Germany next summer, and then, ideally, to a World Cup after that.

“I spoke to Jack,” revealed Clarke. “He gave me a call just to see what my thoughts were. I am not going to say: ‘I am not going to pick you because you are going to Saudi’. He is going there with a lot of top-quality players. Saudi Arabia were at the last World Cup and they beat the eventual winners in the group stage. There are obviously talented players out there. It is difficult for me to sit there and gauge what that level is just now. But I am pretty sure it is a good level.”

Hendry has been joined by a raft of stars in the Middle East, including Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson and Riyad Mahrez. It certainly can’t harm his development. “Jack is in a good place,” said Clarke. “Certainly, his performances for Scotland have been very good and he has shown that he has been prepared to travel around Europe, and now the world, in search of first team football. I think it will be a good move for Jack. I think it will be a good level for him. I think it will improve him as a player and hopefully we see that on the pitch with Scotland.

"He is a confident boy, Jack," he added. "Any time I have put him in the team he has never let us down. Hopefully that continues in the future."

One imagines concern over whether Clarke has plans to watch him in Saudi Arabia might have been brought up by Hendry during his chat with the manager. Well, does he? "Only if the expenses will stretch that far!" replied Clarke. "I have got to go to San Sebastian, I have got to go to Bologna. I have got to get around Europe now!”

A Eurail pass does offer a senior discount for those 60 and over, so Clarke could benefit from this. The national manager contemplated this new breed of far-flung Scottish footballer. “I think it is good that the boys are starting to branch out a bit," he said. "Kieran is going to Spain, Jack has been to Belgium, been in Italy, and Lewis (Ferguson) in Italy scored again away to Juventus and played very well. Josh Doig is out there. It is great to see the boys jumping around and pushing the boundaries a little bit, it can only improve them as players. And the life experience they are getting is fantastic as well.”

On the subject of Ferguson, and that goal for Bologna in Turin, Clarke was asked if the midfielder was on the verge of a start. Five of his six caps to date have been off the bench. “When you look at them, they are all pretty close,” said Clarke. “They are are all pushing, which is where you want to be as a head coach. He has the trust of myself and he has the trust of my staff, he has the trust of the players. He is in all the squads, trains well and conducts himself really well. His time will come.”



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