Former Scotland manager Craig Brown has urged Steve Clarke to take an immediate and firm line by utilising Fifa’s five-day international rule in order to prevent players from withdrawing from the national team.
Clarke will take charge of Scotland for the first time next month for the Euro 2020 qualifying games against Cyprus and Belgium and Brown has insisted that there is no excuse for players dipping in and out of the squad. One of the criticisms of previous manager Alex McLeish’s reign was a perception that players were picking and choosing which games to play in.
“One thing that has always annoyed me is reading that so-and-so has withdrawn from the Scotland squad,” said Brown. “They can’t withdraw. Not without sanctions being imposed.”
Brown himself once stepped into an argument with Leeds in a club v country confrontation as he insisted that they make Gary McAllister available for a game, despite the Elland Road chairman getting Brown out of bed to argue the finer points of the players’ availability.
More recently, the Irish FA used the legislation to block Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty from playing against Hamilton. Lafferty had withdrawn from a Northrn Ireland Nations League squad in October last year for games against Austria and Bosnia Herzegovina but then immediately made himself available for Steven Gerrard’s side.
“I did it all those years ago with McAllister,” said Brown. “I got a call from Howard Wilkinson saying we couldn’t get McAllister the following week, because Leeds were playing Arsenal. I said: ‘Well, we’re playing Sweden!’ At ten minutes past midnight I got a call from the chairman of Leeds. I was in my bed, the phone goes and I hear: ‘Mr Brown, my name is Leslie Silver, chairman of Leeds United. Mr Wilkinson tells me you are not letting us have our captain and best player’.
“I said: ‘Well, Mr Wilkinson is right.’ It might be worth enforcing and looking up the Fifa rule. You can’t withdraw without a stern sanction on the club. You saw it with Lafferty. If the players know that, they won’t call off.”
There has been a perennial suspicion that clubs exert pressure on players to prioritise club commitments but, if Brown fears that taking such an uncompromising line might result in some individuals withdrawing from international availability entirely, he is unfazed.
“If that’s the case, they can stay away,” he said. “I wouldn’t want a guy like that – you want unconditional support for your team,” said Brown. “Better a willing volunteer than a reluctant conscript. You don’t want a guy who thinks he’s doing you a favour. I’m enthusiastic about the game. And you hope the players will be the same.”