It’s very likely you will need a reminder of who appeared at centre-half the last time Scotland played a competitive game, or, indeed, played a game of any sort. It was a long nine months – or 257 days – ago.
Kazakhstan were the opponents. Scotland won 3-1 after responding well to a scare when the visitors took a 1-0 lead. Scott McKenna and Declan Gallagher teamed up in the centre of defence, as they had done a few days earlier against Cyprus.
And they did a decent enough job for the most part and may well be in the box seat for when Scotland next play. That day is – hopefully – drawing near. Scotland are scheduled to return to action against Israel at Hampden on 4 September before heading to Prague for another Nations League clash against Czech Republic.
Steve Clarke’s thoughts have already turned to assembling a pool of players, a task made somewhat trickier due to the staggered starts of leagues across Britain.
While McKenna is currently Scotland’s first choice centre-half, he and Gallagher might not be everyone’s idea of a centre-half partnership at international level.
Gallagher remains a pivotal player for Motherwell but showed he is prone to rashness when conceding a penalty when diving into a challenge against Ross County on Monday night. McKenna’s situation was already slightly concerning before recent Covid-19 related events at Aberdeen. He spoke at length earlier this week about needing to manage a hamstring injury.
Clarke will be relieved that Liam Cooper – a left-footed centre-half – is continuing to be so influential at Leeds United, who he has just led into the Premier League. That said, some aren’t convinced he is fully committed to Scotland. And then there is the recurring and currently very pertinent issue of Steven Caulker, who has distinguished himself in Turkey with Alanyaspor to the extent that Turkish media are reporting he is on the verge of a move to Fenerbahce, one of the country’s traditional giants.
The Alanyaspor manager Erol Bulut has just made the same switch and Caulker looks set to follow him after a season where his club finished a very credible fifth in the league after being top for a spell earlier in the campaign. They also reached the final of the Turkish Cup, where they lost to Trabzonspor last Wednesday evening.
There are no issues regarding Caulker’s commitment. I understand he remains as willing to answer any call as when he contacted Scotland coach Steven Reid last year to stress his availability if required. Of course, there are potential complications in terms of registering him. This process involves him switching nationality having already appeared once for England.
That match – against Sweden in 2012, when he scored in a 4-2 defeat– was a friendly so Caulker is still permitted to change nations.
He is eligible for Scotland because his grandmother, Jessie, hailed from Dollar. His aunt and uncle still live in the region and he stayed there for a spell after signing for Dundee three seasons ago.
“I’ll get one or two people to track him down and see if the interest is a bit more than what’s been said in the paper,” said Clarke in October last year. “We’ll try and get someone across to watch him – if I can get over there myself, I will do it.”
That hasn’t happened largely due to Covid-19 restrictions put in place in March. However, Alanyaspor recently received a request from the SFA for an update on Caulker’s form.
The 28-year-old has featured regularly at either right or left centre-half in a defence that conceded the second fewest number of goals in the Turkish top-flight.
It might be too late to get Caulker’s papers in order for next month. But games are coming thick and fast, including the pivotal Euro 2020 play-off clash with Israel in October. And Scotland need all the help they can get.
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