Potential Scotland Euro 2024 stars lament not picking up phone as Steve Clarke retorts: 'These things, people will never know'

The manager says ‘he knows what he is doing’ amid chatter on Newcastle quartet

On the eve of Scotland’s grand Euro 2024 adventure, spare a thought for those players who failed to have sufficient faith in themselves, and, indeed, new manager Steve Clarke, to believe the country’s football team could reverse a trend of failure.

They had, it seems, better things to do. Well, more fool them. It means they have already passed up the chance to play in two major finals, with perhaps more to come. If only they had sounded more eager when Clarke carried out an initial ring round having been appointed manager five years ago this month.

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He was attempting to assemble a squad for end-of-season Euro 2020 qualifying appointments against Cyprus and Belgium, with the campaign having got off to a terrible start under Alex McLeish in Kazakhstan. Clarke was hearing a few of the same old excuses. Holidays already booked, injury niggles. Maybe even weddings and honeymoons. No one would have blamed him for getting a bad feeling about this international managerial lark already.

Steve Clarke says he has had 'a lot of private conversations' with people over the Scotland squad.Steve Clarke says he has had 'a lot of private conversations' with people over the Scotland squad.
Steve Clarke says he has had 'a lot of private conversations' with people over the Scotland squad.

It perhaps explains why so many of his old Kilmarnock side were called up. He knew they could be relied on and would have the appetite for the fray at the end of a successful campaign, when they had finished third. As many as four were delighted to help their old gaffer out – Stuart Findlay, Eamonn Brophy, Stephen O'Donnell and Greg Taylor. One, Taylor, has been included in the provisional squad selected by Clarke for next month's finals, although the full-back is now at Celtic. He is one of 11 players heading to Germany who signed up for the manager's first squad.

“I remember in my first week, I made a lot of phone calls and actually got a lot of rejections from people who didn’t want to come with the national team,” reflected Clarke at Hampden last week. They didn’t know that we’d be as good as we have been, so some of them have missed out on a really good journey. It’s amazing to think that now. But here we are, five years later. There will be some of them who wish they’d been more positive to that initial phone call."

Clarke is blessed with a good radar when it comes to detecting indifference. One wonders if that was put to good use in the case of the so-called Newcastle quartet. Although one of them will indeed be in Germany this summer, Anthony Gordon will be playing for England. He was always a non-starter for a Scotland switch it seemed. There was speculation about Harvey Barnes, Tino Livramento and Elliot Anderson, named in the Scotland squad as recently as late last year.

Regarding Barnes, there might need to be a considerable about-turn in ambitions, considering he has already played once for England. One report last year did suggest he was open to an approach from Scotland but a serious ankle injury sustained shortly afterwards might not have helped on that front. Livramento and Anderson are two others who are eligible to play for both England and Scotland. Despite his blink-and-you-missed it involvement in the Scottish camp prior to the games against Cyprus and England last Autumn, Anderson seems more inclined to wear lions on his shirt. One suspects the same applies for Livramento, an England regular at Under-21 level. Clarke won’t ever be drawn on what discussions, if any, went on in recent months as he scanned his options.

Elliot Anderson is one of four Newcastle players eligible to play for Scotland.Elliot Anderson is one of four Newcastle players eligible to play for Scotland.
Elliot Anderson is one of four Newcastle players eligible to play for Scotland.

“These things, people will never know,” he said. “I’ve had private conversations with a lot of people. That’s all I’ll say on that. I don’t think it’s fair that I sit here and discuss players who can play for other countries. I know what I’m doing ...”

There’s little doubt about that. Clarke is certainly better equipped than he was at Euro 2020, with Scotland now having the benefit of a set-piece guru in Austin MacPhee, who’s set to experience his second European Championships. He was a member of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s coaching staff in France eight years ago and is set for Champions League involvement with Aston Villa next season.

“I might tweak the training sessions a little bit in terms of information we give them this time round,” pondered Clarke. “I have acquired a set-play coach so we can do a little bit more set-play work this time round. Maybe we didn’t utilise that enough last time round. We have worked out set-plays are pretty important.”

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MacPhee will also prove invaluable when it comes to assessing what the opposition are likely to come up with. There won’t be much Clarke won’t know and then it will be down to how Scotland perform. Providing everyone is fit, and there are still doubts over the likes of Grant Hanley and Che Adams, the manager says he already knows his team against Germany in Munich in just under three weeks' time. He can make a fairly educated guess at who they will be lining up against too.

Much-debated forward Harvey Barnes has been capped by England.Much-debated forward Harvey Barnes has been capped by England.
Much-debated forward Harvey Barnes has been capped by England.

“On my laptop, I’ve got the opposition squads,” he explained. “Switzerland has picked 33, Germany only 27, so I’ve got an idea who will go. I’ve watched their most recent games and we’ll pick up their friendlies coming up. We’ll be ready for the opposition. We know pretty much how they’re going to play and it will be the same for them with us. It then just comes down to who turns up on the day.

"Germany are in good shape, don’t worry about that … They beat France in Paris and Holland in Germany. We know how good the Dutch and French are because we’ve just played them. Germany are the host nation so they’ll be ready, don’t worry. They’ll be good because they’re always good. The Swiss are also a very good team who always qualify for the latter stages of tournaments. And Hungary are on a similar path to ourselves. They’re a country on an upward curve with good players and a good way of playing.”

Perhaps they also have some players regretting answering manager Marco Rossi's call when he took over six years ago before inspiring an upswing in fortunes.



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