Stuart Armstrong clearly isn’t the sentimental sort.
Having grown up in Aberdeen, where he attended Hazelhead Academy and began his footballing journey with Dyce Boys Club, the midfielder might be expected to experience some kind of emotion as he returns to the city to play for his country. Apparently not.
“No, this is obviously where I went to school but I have been around the block since and it doesn’t really hold anything special,” was Armstrong’s deadpan response to that particular line of enquiry.
But the Celtic man was more forthcoming about some of the familiar faces from his younger days who will line-up alongside him for Scotland against Netherlands at Pittodrie tonight.
They include his club-mate Ryan Christie, currently on loan at Aberdeen, and Ryan Jack of Rangers who will both make their full international debuts in the challenge international.
“Ryan Christie’s dad [Charlie] used to take one of the teams below mine in Inverness when I went up there,” said Armstrong. “So I’ve known him a good few years and he is a nice friendly face around the squad. I’m close pals with him and it’s good to have him about the team this week. When he was training with us at Celtic, he was very good but sometimes competition for places there can be high. It’s important to go and get games and he is now showing with Aberdeen what a quality player he is.
“I’ve also known Jacko a long time, from my younger Aberdeen days, as well as Graeme Shinnie. I had five years at Dyce Boys Club. I have very good memories of my time there and played some good football with some good boys so that was nice.”
Armstrong will win his fifth cap for Scotland tonight, having proved a catalyst for the upturn in performance levels which revived hopes of qualification during the second half of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The 25-year-old’s debut against Slovenia at Hampden in March was hailed by Gordon Strachan, pictured, as the best he had ever seen for Scotland. But Armstrong missed the last two games in the group through injury as a place in the play-offs slipped away and Strachan’s time as manager came to an end last month. “It was a disappointing end for the team and not being involved was frustrating for me,” added Armstrong. “Myself and Scott Brown were very disappointed that we couldn’t be there to help the team get over that final hurdle. That was a really nice compliment for Gordon Strachan, right, to give me after my debut. It was a really nice day for me, making my first start and winning my first cap. My family were there to watch and his comments after the game were the icing on the cake for me.”
Armstrong now hopes to become an integral part of a revamped Scotland squad ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers. While the search for a new permanent manager continues, he has been impressed with the input of interim head coach Malky Mackay this week.
“We are looking forward to the new objectives and a new campaign,” he said. “For the players and staff, it definitely feels like a new venture. Malky has been very good. The training has been really enjoyable. It’s been a short time together, only a couple of days. We’ve been getting used to a new style but it’s been good.
“It’s a chance for new individuals coming into the squad and team. It’s about gelling together as a team and looking forward to being part of a new group.
“The boys who were part of the last campaign are here with a desire to go one better next time. The desire is still there and you also have the new ambition of the fresh faces coming into the squad.
“As with any new manager coming in, every player wants to impress, keep their place in the team and come back time and time again. In the latter stages of the last campaign we showed what a good football team we are. The results were very positive. Within that, there are a lot of things to take positives from going forward.”
As Scotland look to end their 2017 schedule of fixtures on an unbeaten and positive note, Armstrong is wary of the challenge posed by a Dutch squad who also missed out on a place in next summer’s World Cup Finals.
“We are under no illusions they are a quality team,” he added. “They also have very good individual players so it will be a tough game for us.”