A born-and-bred Londoner, Chelsea attacker Harvey St Clair’s first appearance in a Scotland under-21 squad, confirmed yesterday, might not enthuse Charlie Nicholas. Scot Gemmill would suggest it should.
The Sky pundit was scathing of the strenuous efforts made to convince Lancastrian Scott McTominay to commit to Scotland, moves that came good with the Manchester United midfielder’s inclusion in Alex McLeish’s first senior squad this week.
Nicholas talked of the “passion” of playing for your country potentially being “diluted” by not merely selecting indigenous players with McTominay – whose father is from Helensburgh – having previously held off joining Scotland squads at younger age levels.
But Gemmill, announcing his squad for the European qualifier away to Andorra a week on Friday, vouched for St Clair’s long-held desire to pull on the dark blue of the country from which the 19-year-old’s mother hails.
Memories remain vivid of him doing so and scoring in foul conditions when Scotland under-17s beat the Faroe Islands 4-0 during Republic of Ireland-staged European Championship qualifying tournament in front of a mere 25 people at Eamonn Deacy Park in Galway in September 2014.
“If you come and play for the 17s in a tornado in Ireland, you’ve got to be keen,” Gemmill said of first working with St Clair on the international scene. “It is slightly different from Scott [McTominay] in that he has already played for Scotland with both the 17s and 19s. He has already shown that commitment.”
The left-winger’s graduation through the Scotland ranks is a natural consequence of his progress at the Stamford Bridge club he joined as an under-eight. That has accelerated in recent years. Last season St Clair was a member of treble-winning Chelsea under-18 side, earning the step-up to the development team.
At the weekend Gemmill watched him earn his team victory with the only goal in a defeat of West Ham United in the Premier League 2. Contested as an under-23 competition, it is where St Clair is pitching for regular outings alongside fellow under-21 Scotland cap Ruben Sammut, who hasn’t been selected for this latest squad.
The pair were also members of the under-21 side which reached the semi-finals of the EFL Trophy played for by senior lower league sides in England. Their run was ended when they lost a penalty shootout to Lincoln City last month.
“Harvey has really pushed on in terms of his size and speed. And is obviously playing at a great level with Chelsea’s under-23s, which is not easy to do,” said Gemmill. “You don’t get to do that by chance. An opportunity has arisen to get him in the squad, as has always been our intention, it has just been about picking the right moment to do that. “
Gemmill, meanwhile, is happy to continue his player development work at under-21 level – the fruits of which could be seen this week in the form of senior call-ups for two previous U21 mainstays – Barnsley striker Oli McBurnie and Aberdeen centre-back Scott McKenna.
After being touted for the Scotland manager role now occupied by McLeish, Gemmill is seeking to establish pathways for players in the Scotland international set-up, although there is no such trajectory for coaches.
“I was very flattered,” he said. “Hopefully it shows that the work I have done at youth-team level is recognised in some way. I understand there is huge interest in the national team. Everybody wants the national team to do well.
“ They have made their decision and everybody is trying to help the manager and staff achieve that. “