Robert Snodgrass does not want to be treated differently to anyone else when he is on Scotland duty. He just wants to ensure the high standards he has grown to expect at the top level in England are implemented for everyone’s benefit.
It’s why training on a patch of grass in the grounds of a hotel was viewed as not good enough by a group of senior Scottish stars. It’s why they pressed the SFA to review their practices so the players could be given the chance to raise their game.
“When I came in for the last campaign, we were having meetings about doing everything we all could to make the country better,” revealed Snodgrass. “There were a few of us – some of the more experienced lads – who spoke about our experiences.”
Scotland now have a Champions League winner in their midst and several others who are used to having the very best facilities at their disposal as well as access to cutting-edge sports science. An increase in Scottish players in the top flight in England is welcome but it also raises the stakes.
The onus is now on the national team to keep pace with developments elsewhere. The sort of environment Andy Robertson experiences on a daily basis at Liverpool must be replicated at international level – or at the very least attempted. Too often in the recent past this has not been the case.
“It’s small things,” said Snodgrass, who has now spent several seasons in the English top flight at Norwich City, Hull City and West Ham United, his current club. “We turn up to Mar Hall and no disrespect to Mar Hall, but it’s a bit of grass that’s been cut. Boys in previous camps were rolling their ankles.”
For Snodgrass, things reached a tipping point during the Nations League campaign under Alex McLeish. The former Rangers manager was not universally welcomed and had not worked in football for nearly two years when he returned for a second spell in charge. Certain decisions during this reign, during which Snodgrass only featured once on the pitch, left the midfielder “mentally scarred”.
He added: “Every single time we’ve come, we’ve never questioned it. You’re so privileged in every way possible to play for your country. You turn up and say: ‘I will do anything I possibly can’. That reaches its limit. You need everyone pulling in the same direction. You need it everywhere, not just you as a player.”
Hence the decision by a group to demand better. “We put all our cards on the table and pushed for what we thought as players,” continued Snodgrass. “The thing is, playing down south, we heard about England and they get paid for going away. We don’t get paid – we do it because we love it.
“There’s no-one from Scotland who says: ‘come and play for us and we’ll give you money.’ That’s got nothing to do with it. We’re all here because we love playing for Scotland, there’s no other way about it.
“I’ll say to you truthfully, I don’t want to be away from my three kids. But I’m here because I love playing for Scotland. I could use this time to spend with my family – I’m over 30 now and have done this for years – but it’s the love that drives us forward. And when you love something you want to try and make it better. It’s as simple as that, you want to try your best. Steve Clarke feels the same, because he wants everything to be better.”
Scotland now train at Oriam, the national performance centre in Edinburgh. The backroom staff rely on up-to-date data provided by the likes of Graeme Jones, the head of high performance who found himself being ridiculed following the 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan that all but ended McLeish’s reign. He committed the crime of advising the Scots to remain on UK time for the trip across six time zones. Snodgrass, who is in line to return to the Scotland side for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Russia tomorrow night, has firmly backed Jones and his colleagues in the performance department.
“Graeme Jones has been one of the main guys and for him to take the fall is incredible,” he said. “I understand when results don’t go well, it’s broken down and people blame whoever. You’ve got to take the good with bad. Getting beat off Kazakhstan, you’re going to get criticism.
“The boys have touched on it where lads are used to certain things at their clubs. It’s a case of getting a happy medium for Scotland going forward and they have done. Oriam has got everything – they’re trying their best to get everything right. When everything is done there, it’s up to us as players to do the business.”
Snodgrass is relishing the chance to be part of things again. As recently as March, when Scotland lost in freezing Kazakhstan, he was so far out of the picture he was holidaying in Dubai.
With only a two-hour time difference, he was able to catch the game – and he made sure he did, drawing derision from his wife, Denise, who clearly felt – as many did – that her husband’s Scotland career was now over after 26 caps and seven goals: “My missus just laughed at me, saying: ‘you’re kidding yourself on.’
“I’ve been patriotic since I was a young boy, watching all the big names,” he added. “So just to be part of it [again] is a special feeling.
“We’d just love to qualify for a major tournament. It would be hypocritical for me if I turned my back on something without trying to make it better.”