Having limited time, sometimes no time at all, with his players on the training ground before important games has been a persistent problem for Steve Clarke during his reign as Scotland manager.
But not being able to work with his captain Andy Robertson until the eve of the Qatar 2022 play-off semi-final against Ukraine in Hampden next Wednesday – one of the biggest matches of his three-year tenure – will hurt him. won’t cause sleepless nights.
Robertson is currently preparing to feature for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris on Saturday night and will only join the national team early next week.
It will take a lot for the left-back, who has already made no less than 54 appearances so far in the 2021/22 season, to give his best so soon after the encounter with Real at Stade De France and with so little preparation.
Still, Clarke can recall how his skipper netted a superb long-range strike in a Euro 2020 qualifying win over Cyprus in his first game in charge of 2019, just seven days after helping the club out. Anfield to win the biggest prize in European club football.
He hopes the defender arrives with another winner’s medal hanging proudly around his neck and can inspire his country to victory.
“Logistically it’s different,” he told the Oriam near Edinburgh after naming a 28-man squad for the games Scotland play next month. “Andy probably won’t show up, and certainly won’t be able to practice, until Monday, maybe even Tuesday.
“But the guys who play at the top clubs understand what it takes mentally and physically to go from a great game to a great game.
“Andy was involved in every game with the Liverpool lads until the death – every tournament, cup final, major league games.
“They understand the level required and how to get up mentally and physically for their next game. Let’s hope he arrives with a smile on his face and they have another Champions League in the bag. It would definitely help his recovery for our game.”
Robertson’s full-back Kieran Tierney was a notable omission from the Scotland squad announced by Clarke yesterday; the Arsenal man underwent knee surgery last month and could not be considered.
Tierney was arguably the national team’s most consistent player in their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign and that’s a huge loss. However, Clarke is confident he has the personnel he needs to reach the World Cup final.
“It’s probably a disappointment for everyone, the fans, the media,” he said. “But we knew for a few weeks that Kieran wasn’t going to make it. And he himself experienced the same thing.
“He has understood now and is working on his rehabilitation to be ready for his pre-season with Arsenal. It’s disappointing, disappointing for Kieran and for us, but it’s a chance for someone else.
“We have a good team and we are in a good moment. Since the Euro last summer, the team has improved. We are on an eight game unbeaten streak and we want to stay unbeaten as long as possible.
“The team is well placed. This is why it is easy to keep the continuity of the group and not to choose other players. They’re not doing anything wrong so let’s hope they keep doing it right.
Nathan Patterson, the Everton right-back who has not played since undergoing ankle surgery last month, was not expected to be involved with Scotland during this international window. However, his manager conceded that he might not be ready to play the play-off semi-final.
“Nathan is slightly different from Kieran,” he said. “He is on time. If you think about it, he’ll probably be back training with a group for the first time when he comes to join us.
“The game against Ukraine will probably come too soon for him, but you never know. He’s a young man, he could start running. We won’t rule him out completely.
Billy Gilmour, another who has excelled in dark blue over the past nine months, has endured a difficult season at club level. The Chelsea midfielder was loaned out to Norwich City, who were relegated to the Championship on Sunday, and has been heavily criticized by some Carrow Road fans. However, Clarke believes the youngster will have matured because of the experience.
“He got no sticks from me or the tartan army,” he said. “He did well for us. He likes coming to camp, he likes the way we play and the way we use him in the team.
“Club business is part of Billy’s learning process. He has to learn that football isn’t always about sunshine and roses. You have tough times. If he’s had a tough season, he doesn’t It will only be better next season.
Clarke, whose side will face Wales in the play-off final in Cardiff on Sunday if they beat Ukraine then Armenia twice and the Republic of Ireland in the Nations League, revealed his preparations had been complicated by non-football matters.
“I think the group is big enough,” he said. “I tried to cover all eventualities. There are other factors.
“Because you have to book your wedding so far in advance, more than one or two of the guys didn’t know there would be playoff games in June and didn’t know the window was going to stretch.
“So there are one or two who have little issues leaving camp for a day to go to a wedding and then coming back. There are those kinds of things that you don’t think about too much. But the size of the team is enough to cover everything.
“I will not name and shame those who go to weddings! Some have to go to a wedding because they are witnesses and some have to go to their own wedding.
“Andy’s is right after camp, which is sensible planning on the captain’s part.”