Robert Snodgrass calls time on Scotland but why the change of heart?

Let’s face it, Scotland player draws the 
curtain down on his international career is not a headline to stop the traffic. We’ve been here before. Too many times, in fact.

Robert Snodgrass cuts a dejected figure after Scotland's 4-0 defeat in Moscow.
Robert Snodgrass cuts a dejected figure after Scotland's 4-0 defeat in Moscow.

However, the news yesterday did prompt a second glance. At least it did if you had heard this particular player speak so passionately just five weeks ago about his return to the fold when the squad gathered outside Edinburgh for the September double-header against Russia and Belgium. Robert Snodgrass? Really?

Because, he did not seem like someone on the verge of walking away. Quite the opposite, he seemed thrilled by this second chance in international football. He revealed he was a member of a senior group of players who had been working in tandem with the SFA to improve conditions for the players and enhance the chances of reaching a major finals.

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The pieces that appeared the next day focused on what he had to say about the previous regime, which he claimed – without naming anyone – had not treated him the way he felt he deserved. He wanted to stress that his absence from the squad had not been because he was unwilling to turn up. No, that was unthinkable.

Steve Clarke had now brought him back into the fold and he could not be happier. Everything already felt different. He was even asked outright that if he was not picked in the starting XI for these upcoming games, would he then take a different view? “Listen, it’s not about me not playing,”
he said. This was before he suspected he might not be in the team v San Marino on Sunday, admittedly. He left the camp with an ailment on Sunday.

He was a shadow of his former self against Russia last week, a game that will now stand as the last of his surprisingly low number of 28 caps since making his debut against Northern Ireland in 2011. Injury is the reason 
he is not in the Roll of Honour with 50 or more caps. He’s been a valuable servant, no question.

Sadly, he looked every inch a player
who had not been playing regularly
for his club in Moscow. His last appearance had come more than a fortnight earlier in another 4-0 reversal, when West Ham were shocked by Oxford United in the Carabao Cup.

But it’s still an odd time to walk away, just a few weeks from the end of a campaign and with Scotland, despite recent troubles, still two play-off matches from a major finals, and after stressing he was relishing being a part of things again.

He has gone from there to deciding “now’s the right time for me to step aside,” which is how it was phrased on the Instagram announcement he posted yesterday. It’s natural, then, if news of his retirement has perplexed some. It’s also understandable if it prompts a discussion on Scotland’s curiously high number of players who actively turn their back on the international scene rather than just let their days come to a natural end, without ever actually saying it’s over. Plenty Scotland players of the past have pointed out they remain available to this day. Colin Hendry is one, Christian Dailly another. There are many others of an even older vintage still hanging by the phone.

The core of a pretty decent side – one good enough, perhaps, to secure automatic qualification from a group including Belgium, Russia, Kazakhstan and Cyprus – could be formed by current players who have decided, for whatever reason, to walk away from the international scene. Aside from Snodgrass, there’s Allan McGregor, Scott Brown and James McArthur as well as Matt Ritchie and Steven Fletcher, with the latter two in the still to officially confirm this news, would all be of use to Clarke right now.

This might be the hardest part to accept; players who are apparently resisting call-ups without actually telling Clarke where they stand on the matter; are they in or out? With Ritchie, we can guess he is out. He never seemed completely sold on the idea. The Fletcher impasse is more troubling. It was almost a year ago when he made such an impact on his return to the team, scoring v Albania and leading the line well as Scotland clinched a play-off place a few days later against Israel.

It seems a more prevalent phenomenon with Scotland than any other home nation. Do England have this problem, do Wales or Northern Ireland? When it happens elsewhere, it’s rare enough to cause a national
debate. Oliver Norwood recently
announced he was retiring from Northern Ireland at just 28 years old to focus on his club career at Sheffield United. Since it was so unusual, the exception to the norm, it was treated like major news.

With Scotland, it’s become a depressingly regular occurrence. As was the case with several of his predecessors, a Scotland manager’s job is hard enough without Clarke having to put a line through names before he even starts to assemble a squad.