Robert Snodgrass sets record straight on Scotland absence

Robert Snodgrass says there's 'never been any doubt' about him playing for Scotland. Picture: Getty
Robert Snodgrass says there's 'never been any doubt' about him playing for Scotland. Picture: Getty
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He scored Scotland’s last 
competitive goal, a late, too late, strike to draw level with Slovenia.

Just a few weeks later he suffered the scorn of the co-owner of his club. All the while he was trying to deal with his mother Irene’s serious illness. Things have not been straightforward for Robert Snodgrass. It’s hardly surprising he chose to take some time away from the international squad after discussions with Alex McLeish. His last appearance under Gordon Strachan was a serious disappointment despite his seventh international goal. On top of what the failure to beat Slovenia signified, which was yet another fruitless qualifying campaign, Snodgrass was a substitute and was only called upon with 11 minutes left. He was also left on the bench throughout the previous match against Slovakia at Hampden.

It’s now clear he had every right to be distracted. If his form was affected, it’s understandable. His mother was gravely ill.

“She took a stroke during the last campaign with Gordon,” Snodgrass revealed. “But she’s alright now and looking forward. You have to think about what is best for your career. That family situation is always in the background and it makes it difficult to make any decision.”

Snodgrass is taking the chance to set the record straight. He was reckoned to be a victim of the expected cull when left out of McLeish’s first squad since returning as Scotland manager. Others such as Barry Bannan and Ikechi Anya, regulars under Strachan, were also excluded. McLeish was asked about their omission.

“They’re not old guys,” he explained in March. “I spoke to all the fellows who have been involved recently and said, ‘I know what you can do. You’re very much in my thoughts but I’m going to look at some other players at this particular international period’.”

Then last week McLeish suggested Snodgrass, along with James McArthur, had asked to be left out. It’s emerged it wasn’t as black and white as that. Snodgrass has jumped at the chance to re-join the group after Matt Phillips’ withdrawal last weekend.

The former Livingston player is certainly not ready to be put out to pasture. He turns 31 on Friday – the day of Scotland’s friendly with Belgium. The Nations League qualifier with Albania, the first competitive fixture of McLeish’s second spell, follows on 
Monday.

Snodgrass is delighted to be back involved. “There’s never been any doubt about playing for Scotland, I love it and I want to play at a major tournament,” he said. “You come up when you have pains and niggles. I am always there and I always will be there. I’ll always support the boys even if I’m not involved.

“I was talking to 
Faddy [James McFadden] about it and age does creep up on everybody but I’m playing in the Premier League, I’m playing in one of the best leagues in the world.

“So I want to bring that to the Scotland team and help the young lads coming through as well. I’m just glad to be here, it’s the start of a campaign and we need to get off to a good start.”

Scotland certainly can’t afford to do a West Ham United and lose their opening four games, which would amount to the entire Nations League campaign. Snodgrass is upbeat at having returned to the West Ham side under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

This is especially pleasing – and surprising – given what the London club’s joint owner David Sullivan said about him last season. In an interview with a newspaper, he claimed his children “begged” him not to sign Snodgrass from Hull City in January 2016. Vice-chair Karren Brady also weighed in to note his 
£10 million transfer “wasn’t exactly a triumph”. The player did not score in the remainder of the season and was then sent out on loan to Aston Villa for the following campaign. Snodgrass responded with admirable restraint on Twitter. “Thanks for your support Mr Chairman,” he posted.

Relations have apparently since been mended. Pellegrini, certainly, has seen things in Snodgrass that Slaven Bilic, the manager who signed him, could not. Snodgrass found Bilic to be distant and it did not help that he played him out of position.

The player claimed that on the occasion of his debut, when he was about to come on against Manchester City, Bilic turned to ask where did he want to play, on the left or right? Pellegrini has deployed him on the right or behind the strikers, his preferred positions.

“I’m working with one of the best managers, he’s won the Premier League and La Liga and I can only learn from people like that,” said Snodgrass.

“He’s been great with me, he’s always talking to me and from the off I spoke to the chairman and put that stuff on the back burner. We sorted that. I feel as though this is it starting [again] because under Bilic, there wasn’t a lot of communication and it was difficult. I wasn’t really playing in the right position, where he signed me for.”

But, he added, he always “had a soft spot” for West Ham and wanted to go back and do well: “That’s all I’ve wanted to do wherever I’ve been.”

Snodgrass has started all four of West Ham’s games this season. Otherwise it’s not been an ideal opening; the side have lost all four outings and sit bottom of the table. Snodgrass was replaced at half-time of Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat by Wolves. The break with Scotland will do him good. He realised just how much the Scotland set-up feels like family to him when his wife, Denise, organised his 30th birthday party last year.

“You get a bond with these people, you’re close,” he said. “My missus invited all the Scotland staff. She knew I am close with the guys who have been here throughout the years and that hit me. I’ve been at it since I was 15 and they have looked after me since then.

“So to say I turned my back on them, that’s never been the case, ever.”