Of all the impressive feats achieved by Steven Reid, including playing at a World Cup at the age of just 21, perhaps the one likely to register most with Scotland players is the time he played for 45 minutes against Arsenal with a broken leg.
It’s certainly bound to make anyone pondering calling-off from a future Scotland squad because they need to “manage” an unspecified injury think again. Hamstring niggle? See you at Oriam on Sunday evening. Groin twinge? We begin training Monday morning at 10.
If Reid’s recruitment as a coach helps encourage this sort of mentality then this alone means he is worth his place on Steve Clarke’s backroom staff. Player call-offs are a curse of the modern times in international football.
They could well have contributed to Alex McLeish’s departure. He was hit time and time again by withdrawals – some clearly valid, others questionable.
This reached a new absurd level when players were picking and choosing when to play because they – or their clubs – didn’t like the look of the surface, as happened against Kazakhstan. Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson agreed to play in the following match against San Marino, with the latter – irony of ironies – sustaining an injury that kept him out of Cardiff’s ultimately futile attempt to remain in the Premier League.
Reid is determined to create an atmosphere where players are desperate to be involved. He recalls the good old days with Ireland when players all met up a night earlier than required to ease themselves into the camp courtesy of a ‘re-acquaintance’ session in Dublin.
They nevertheless worked hard. There was a fierce desire to be the best they could be. It sometimes spilt over into rows, most memorably when Roy Keane stomped out of Saipan before the World Cup in Korea and Japan. But at least he cared.
Reid was en route to the airport to catch a flight for a holiday in Barbados when he got the call from manager Mick McCarthy telling him to head to Dublin as quickly as possible. Reid been put on stand-by and was called up after Mark Kennedy was injured playing in Niall Quinn’s testimonial at Sunderland. He was the youngest player in the squad and came on in two of Ireland’s four matches.
He considers this the greatest achievement of a playing career that was blighted by injury – including the fractured fibula he played with for West Bromwich Albion against Arsenal in 2013. Returning to a major finals with Scotland would even top playing at a World Cup since he’s now old enough to appreciate it. “It would be up there as the pinnacle,” said Reid. “When you’re actually playing you don’t take things in as much as you should. You’re a little bit blasé about it.”
He played in the Premier League and then coached there, most recently under Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace. He subsequently took a break to spend time with his family, who saw too little of him during his injury struggles.
“When I think about the kids being born – Isla is 12 now and Harry is 10 – for most of their early life I was always in a knee brace,” he recalled. “I look back at every picture from that time and I’ve usually got an ice-pack resting on my knee.”
He feels indebted to Clarke and wishes to pay him back by helping Scotland get there. Still only 38, Reid has been hired as a bridge between the players and Clarke and his assistant, Alex Dyer. Reid is grateful Clarke ensured he did not quit playing sooner (he finally hung up his boot in 2015, aged 34). Reid played under the new Scotland manager at West Brom before following him to Reading as a coach.
“I’m sure if I’d got it scanned and had expert opinion on it towards the end then it probably would have been an injury which you would retire with,” he said. “But I just had a determination to keep going. I was still getting year-to-year contracts at that time and my aim was to stay in the Premier League as long as possible.
“But I’d go into Steve’s office some days and say ‘I think I’m done, go and announce it this afternoon, I want to retire’. But he’d talk me around, we’d have a chat and I’d play a couple of weeks later.
“That was the kind of relationship we had. He would always tell me to go out at the top, on my own terms. And that’s what I did.”
Reid has limited experience of Scottish football but is looking forward to learning more. “I played at Hampden with the Republic in 2002,” he recalled. “We won 2-0. That’s about it really. Over the last couple of years, I have been up to a few games in Scotland. I have been to the Old Firm. I have been to see Steve at Kilmarnock as well. I went to the Rangers game a couple of weeks ago before any of this was happening. This will give me the opportunity to get up far more, get to know the players a little bit better.
“There are ones I need to do a little bit more homework on than others. It’s giving me a great opportunity to get to know Scottish football a little bit better, come up and visit and see how the players are doing north of the Border.”