He’s yet to display evidence of it amid the understandable delight but Lawrence Shankland is surely tiring of his role as mascot for Scottish football’s outliers.
Kris Boyd, among others, has had his say. In a column for another newspaper, the former Rangers striker, who Shankland enjoyed watching playing in a Scotland shirt while growing up, claimed it defied belief someone like the Dundee United striker had been called up to the international squad from the Scottish Championship. “I despair, I really do,” he wrote.
The feeling’s mutual, Kris. One of Boyd’s complaints was that Shankland was only in the squad to play against San Marino. “He’s not going to play against Russia,” wrote the former Rangers striker. The pundit boldly stated Shankland will be used, if at all, against the “cannon fodder” of San Marino at Hampden Park on Monday night.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Steve Clarke has already stressed he has few fears about throwing Shankland in against Russia in the Luzhniki stadium on Thursday night. The striker’s chances might well have improved following the news last night that Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie has pulled out due to injury. Midfielder Stuart Armstrong has been called in. This has left Clarke with just four other forwards: James Forrest, Oli Burke, Johnny Russell and Ryan Fraser. Only Burke and Forrest would likely challenge Shankland for the tole of playing through the middle.
After all this conjecture, all this debate, it was a relief for Shankland to get his boots on yesterday and feel part of the group. There was a finishing drill at the end of his first training session. “I did all right,” he reported. “I scored about two I think! Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] was giving me a bit [of flak].”
At this stage it’s probably more important Shankland feels part of the group rather than demonstrates unerring accuracy in front of goal. It’s long been accepted he knows where the net is. Feeling at ease is the challenge now.
Being involved in banter with senior players such as Snodgrass is one way of being assimilated to the gang. It’s not as if he does not know a lot of his new team-mates in any case. Much has already been made of his time at Queen’s Park alongside current skipper Andy Robertson. He’s also played in the same team as Ryan Christie, Fraser and John McGinn in the Under-21s and with Kenny McLean at Aberdeen.
It feels real now but Shankland was surprised by the original call-up, or at least the way it was relayed to him. In time-honoured fashion, he wondered whether he was the victim of a prank.
“I got a text message giving me the heads-up ten minutes before the squad was announced,” he revealed. “But I didn’t know if it was a wind-up because it came from a number at the club that I didn’t have saved in my phone. I still don’t know who it was.
“I just said: ‘cheers’ in my text because I didn’t want them to know I didn’t have their number. It just said: ‘you will hear news in the next ten minutes.’ I only realised it was not a wind-up when I saw the squad announced on Twitter when Scotland tweeted it.”
He is now part of a team he once watched from the stands. “The Euros campaign when we beat France twice is the campaign I remember most,” he said. “I went to a lot of the games at Hampden and they were always great atmospheres and great games. That’s something as a player you want to be a part of too. Barry Ferguson was the captain and that was the calibre of player.”
Boyd, too, played in several of those games, if not the wins against France – the first of which, when Gary Caldwell scored the winner at Hampden Park, was 13 years ago yesterday. Shankland would have preferred more supportive comments from those such as Boyd. He admitted it was quite “daunting” going from a defeat against Alloa Athletic in his last outing for Dundee United to the international environment.
“I’m not the first [Championship player] to be called up,” he argued, reasonably. “It happened to John McGinn a few years ago and look at him now. He has really kicked on and playing every week in the Premier League. There are going to be criticisms, I’ll just look to play my football and ignore all that.”
It is not as if Shankland is a raw teenager along for the ride. He is 24 years old and in his prime. He has scored consistently for several seasons, including against top-flight clubs. He wonders whether snobbery informs people’s views.
“Because it’s looked upon as the second division in Scotland, I can see their point of view,” he said. “But from the bottom six in the Premiership to the top end of the Championship there is probably not a great deal in it.”