Steve Clarke challenges Oli McBurnie to win over the Tartan Army

Oli McBurnie, right, at Scotland training with Greg Taylor. Picture: Craig Williamson
Oli McBurnie, right, at Scotland training with Greg Taylor. Picture: Craig Williamson
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Steve Clarke is confident Scotland supporters will bear no ill will towards striker Oli McBurnie who is poised to lead the line in tonight’s crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Russia at Hampden.

McBurnie caused a stir when footage emerged of him in conversation with some Sheffield United team-mates which appeared to be disparaging towards the Scotland squad set-up. But manager Clarke is content with the explanation McBurnie provided in front of the rest of the players and backroom staff at the start of the week.

“It was completely clarified within the group,” said Clarke. “I did it in public, as it were, so everyone could hear the 
clarification.

“I could have just spoken to Oli inside, no problem, but it was better to do it outside on the training pitch. Clarified and clear – we have moved on and urge everyone else to move from it. It’s finished.”

The Leeds-born 23-year-old, who qualifies to play for Scotland through his Glaswegian father, has so far failed to score in seven appearances for the national team. But with Hearts striker Steven Naismith likely to be denied the opportunity to win his 50th cap after being unable to train yesterday as he nurses himself back to full fitness, McBurnie is favourite to play up front in the pivotal Group I fixture.

Clarke feels that McBurnie, now a Premier League player after his £20 million summer move to Sheffield United from Swansea, can get the Tartan Army on his side and prove to be a real asset for Scotland.

“I’m sure the supporters will get right behind the team,” added Clarke. “If Oli is part of that team, then the best thing he can do is go out there, play really well for his country, show everybody how committed he is. And if he wants, he could score a goal – that would be nice as well.

“If he didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be here. That’s the bottom line. He had never worked with me before, he has no reason to say ‘I don’t want to go’ because he didn’t know what it was like. Hopefully now he has been here, after the game you can quiz him and he will tell you he enjoyed it.

“He has physical presence, a willingness to work, his hold-up play is decent and will improve for being at a team like Sheffield United. He has got goals in him, 24 in the Championship last year. He has already scored in the Premier League in a short space of time in terms of minutes on the pitch. He has good attributes so let’s see if we can help him to make the step up.

“It’s down to Oli, if he is selected, to convince the Scotland fans that he is the right option. There is no other way, no simple way around it. He has to convince the fans that he is the right option and I’m sure if he does that, the fans will be right behind him.”