Ryan Fraser: New boss Steve Clarke is the meal deal

Scotland manager Steve Clarke issues instructions against Cyprus.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke issues instructions against Cyprus.
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The team that eats together, wins together. It sounds like a sports science-approved upgrade on the old drinking culture maxim which famously bonded Rangers’ nine-in-a-row squad in the 1990s.

But, according to Ryan Fraser, the 
simple act of dining as a group of players while on international duty has kick-started a significantly improved sense of unity and purpose in the Scotland camp under Steve Clarke.

It is one of several house rules the new manager has imposed on the Scotland players who delivered a winning start to his tenure against Cyprus on 
Saturday night.

According to Bournemouth winger Fraser, a better environment has instantly been created around a squad he says was previously disconnected.

“He (Clarke) hasn’t had long with us but he has already made an impact,” said
 Fraser. “He has imposed rules off the pitch – stuff like no phones at the game, eating together every day at the hotel. 
No-one is allowed to leave the table until everyone is finished eating.

“No-one is having dessert anymore – everyone wants to get back to their room! No, listen, I think we needed it.

“Over the years I’ve been involved, you’ve had people sometimes not even coming down for dinner. So it’s nice to have a couple of rules in place.

“It’s hard to create that team spirit with a national team because you are so rarely together. The squad can change every time one is announced.

“So it’s nice to have these rules he has introduced. Sometimes they are hard rules to keep to but, at the same time, the team spirit and togetherness is so much better.

“It’s just about trying to get the team together, get the team bonding and get that spirit. You saw that in the way we stuck together and got the winner against Cyprus.”

It’s evident that Clarke has found no 
difficulty in commanding the respect of the Scotland players. Fraser, poised to win his ninth cap against Belgium in Brussels tonight, says the former Killie boss succeeds in being both authoritative and approachable.

“You never know if you have played well for him by his reaction,” added the 25-year-old. “He’s quite scary! But you can also go to him and ask him stuff, which is nice.

“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of him but, at the same time, his door is always open. If you have anything you need to ask, he is always there. There are some managers out there, you can’t go and ask them stuff because they’ll bite back. He’s not like that. If you have a legitimate question, he’ll give you a simple answer.”

Simplicity will be the key to how Scotland play under Clarke. Even as one of the team’s flair players, Fraser is happy to embrace the more pragmatic approach being introduced.

“He has worked on foundations that are more defensive, making us hard to beat, but at the same time he gives the front four the licence to go and do their stuff,” observed Fraser.

“I haven’t played under a lot of managers in my career so far but he obviously has a different way of playing.

“He’s very defensive but he likes the top four players to go forward whenever they can. I’ve got Eddie Howe at Bournemouth where the whole team will go forward whenever they can.

“So it’s different, but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It is what works for you, with whatever players you have in your team. With Scotland, it definitely needed a change. Over the past couple of years we have been easy to beat and have conceded goals too easily. It’s not been nice and we haven’t come back from those situations in games.

“On Saturday against Cyprus, we conceded the equaliser with a stupid goal, from us having a corner to them getting the one they scored from.

“The way we came back from that showed the character of this team. It would have been easy to just accept it was going to be 1-1, so it was nice that we responded to win it.

“You could say it was a relief. We didn’t half make it hard for ourselves. But, all in all, the foundations were there.

“We didn’t really look like we were going to concede. I should have scored a couple but was a little bit rusty in the shooting areas.

“In the end, everyone had to walk away with their heads held high. We got the three points and that’s all that matters.”

Fraser’s combination on Scotland’s left flank with full-back and captain Andy Robertson was a key feature against Cyprus and shows huge promise.

“In the last three games, I think we have complemented each other well,” said Fraser. “I watch the top teams play and they usually get a lot of space in the wide areas.

“I know when to stay narrow and give Andy his space. I know he likes to cross the ball. At the same time, when I come wide he knows to give me the ball. I think we have a respect for each other, when to give the ball to one another and make things happen.”

While there is renewed optimism and positivity among the Scotland players, Fraser remains realistic about their chances of causing an upset against world No 1-ranked Belgium as the Euro 2020 qualifying bid continues tonight.

“I don’t know if you can ever be equipped to play these teams, because they are just so good,” he added. “It’s going to be a tough one.

“Even on a bad day for Belgium, if you play your best football you don’t know if it will be good enough to beat them or even get a point off them.

“You can’t take it as a free hit, you have to go into it and try to get at least a point.

“But they are No 1 in the world and they have players who can make you look stupid at times.

“Eden Hazard had me doing 360 degree spins last season when I played against him in the Premier League. I didn’t know where I was on the 
pitch!

“That’s the quality of player you are up against and any of them, at any moment, can make something 
happen.”