Steve Clarke is convinced his first squad since being named Scotland manager is talented enough to get a result against the world’s top team.
Scotland Euro 2020 qualifying double header includes a trip to Belgium, currently No 1 in the world. Clarke’s era kicks off a week on Saturday against Cyprus at Hampden.
The former Kilmarnock manager sees no reason why Scotland cannot emerge from the fixtures with at least four points. Scotland are already playing catch up in Group I after losing 3-0 in Kazakhstan, a result which signalled the end of Alex McLeish’s reign.
Clarke has resisted ringing the changes. He has called up only two players who have not already been involved in squads. Both are Kilmarnock players – left back Greg Taylor and striker Eamonn Brophy. Ryan Jack’s unavailability due to injury means there are no Rangers players in Clarke’s squad of 27 players.
“There’s enough talent in that squad to get results in both games, I’m convinced of that,” he said.
He conceded the squad might have been “bigger and better” had he more time than just eight days to formulate his plans. He is still working on persuading some players to return, while others not listed had previous commitments. Sheffield United’s John Fleck, for example, is getting married on the weekend that Scotland play Cyprus.
“John booked his wedding two years ago,” Clarke explained. “I had a good conversation with John. He is fine [for future squads].”
Clarke has adopted a softly,softly approach to recruitment. He conceded some might take more convincing than others to return to the fold. Steven Fletcher is once again absent because he needs to manage injury issues following an arduous season with Sheffield Wednesday.
“He is not getting any younger,” said Clarke. “I understand having been a club manager that, when you get to the end of a long hard season, your body is tired, you need some time to recover.
“I think Steven would be in that situation. So not definitely injured but needing the recovery for his own sake.”
Clarke got some pleasant surprises. Tom Cairney responded positively to being contacted, having seemed to drift away from the Scotland scene amid reports he was holding out hope of an England call-up.
The Fulham midfielder’s two caps to date have been in friendlies against Costa Rica and Canada. If he plays in either or both of these upcoming games he will be locked in to Scotland. Clarke said: “I phoned Tom up and he immediately said: ‘Yeah, I’m coming. When’s the camp?’”
Clarke confirmed he has been successful in bringing in Alex Dyer, his No 2 at Kilmarnock, as his assistant until the end of the current qualifying campaign at least. Former Republic of Ireland player Steven Reid will also join the backroom staff as coach.
“Steven (Reid) was a player when I was at West Brom,” said Clarke. “I persuaded him to keep playing when he wanted to retire at West Brom, then went on and played another year at Burnley with Sean Dyche.
“I gave him his first coaching job at Reading and he knows me as a manager. He knows what I need for training sessions and he’s a little bit younger than myself and Alex. He’s closer to the mentality of the modern dressing room and is an experienced international player. He played in the World Cup with the Republic of Ireland and understands international football.”
Stevie Woods will continue as goalkeeper coach but booked a holiday after presuming he would not be required following McLeish’s sacking. Billy Thomson, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper coach and former Scotland international, will deputise at the start of next week, when the players meet up. Woods will return in times for the Cyprus match. He will work with four goalkeepers, including the recalled David Marshall.