Club ver­sus coun­try is a no-brainer … but Clarke must crack down on the no-shows

Evening Times - - LAST WORD -

AS foot­ball bat­tles go, club ver­sus coun­try is hardly the most ex­cit­ing of con­tests. We all know who is go­ing to win.

For 100 years and more, club man­agers have been less than en­thu­si­as­tic about watch­ing their best play­ers get kicked up and down the park while on in­ter­na­tional duty. This is why so many ham­strings get tight when­ever Scot­land games come around, only to mirac­u­lously mend in time for the next league match.

Celtic sup­port­ers of­ten moan about the lack of caps given to the Lis­bon Lions, but what is per­haps less well known is the num­ber of times Jock Stein pre­vented his own play­ers from re­port­ing for duty. Why risk Bobby Mur­doch for a Fin­land game when there’s a Euro­pean semi­fi­nal a few weeks away?

Scot­land don’t qual­ify for any­thing th­ese days. We hardly win, let’s be hon­est, and so you can’t re­ally blame a player for won­der­ing if the grief, travel and de­feats are worth it. And where does a player’s loy­alty lie? Is it with their coun­try or the club that pays them a ba­sic wage of £20,000 a week? Those of us not in that po­si­tion can pre­tend to our­selves that we would put na­tion over cash but, come on, let’s not kid our­selves.

Steve Clarke knows all this. He plays the game be­cause he has no choice. He will in­sist the in­jured play­ers are not fit and that he has seen or heard noth­ing to sug­gest that play­ing for Scot­land is pretty far down the list of pri­or­i­ties for his would-be first picks.

Alas, even the fire I once had re­gard­ing my coun­try’s foot­ball team is now a mere flicker.

Per­haps this is why I come down on the side of the clubs in the de­bate over whether Clarke should get Sun­day games can­celled be­fore the Na­tions League play-offs be­gin in March.

In a per­fect world, there would be more than enough wrig­gle room to can­cel an en­tire week­end of fix­tures to al­low our best to work for a week or more with the man­ager and his coach­ing staff.

Scot­tish foot­ball is many things. Per­fect it is not.

Why would any man­ager, from top to bot­tom of the Premier­ship, agree to ad­di­tional fix­ture prob­lems to help Clarke?

Whether they be in a ti­tle race or rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle, the man­ager’s job is on the line. He will have sym­pa­thy with Clarke; how­ever, self-preser­va­tion is al­ways go­ing to beat help­ing out a col­league. I can’t say I blame them. Fin­land have qual­i­fied. They didn’t need any ex­tra help. They put to­gether a good team with an ob­vi­ous phi­los­o­phy and, hey presto, it pro­duced good re­sults. That is what Clarke must strive for be­cause, with the best will in the world, two ex­tra days isn’t go­ing to make that much of a dif­fer­ence.

What I would say is that Clarke and his bosses at the SFA must be stronger when it comes to play­ers pulling out of the squad.

Again, I have to ad­mit I can see were the play­ers are com­ing from. And if they don’t want to risk their club ca­reer then that is their de­ci­sion. But, if that’s the case, they don’t get picked for Scot­land at least as long as Clarke is in charge.

It’s that sim­ple. Kenny Dal­glish never called off but, if the great man was play­ing now, chances are Clarke would give him more lee­way than the rest.

Same goes for De­nis Law and Jim Bax­ter.

Clarke is go­ing out of his way to ac­com­mo­date Kieran Tier­ney and Ar­se­nal. He agreed Andy Robert­son should sit out th­ese games. As for the rest; some are more im­por­tant than oth­ers but none is King Kenny so they are not go­ing to be missed all that much.

I would rather have a lad who might not be what most of us would deem in­ter­na­tional stan­dard but is ready and will­ing to play through pain in or­der to give us sup­port­ers some much-needed good times, rather than a su­pe­rior-minded foot­baller who doesn’t fancy San Marino’s plas­tic pitch on a Mon­day night.

I have no prob­lem with play­ers be­ing self­ish. I be­lieve Clarke has to be self­ish as well. Just like at club level, a fail­ure to im­prove the national side is go­ing to cost him his job.

The player has to de­cide whether in­ter­na­tional foot­ball is for them or not. It’s an all-or-noth­ing sit­u­a­tion.

If Scot­land mat­ters then they tell their clubs that. If they think that play­ing for Scot­land is a nice idea but it’s not 100 per cent for them – then Clarke de­serves to know that.

I hon­estly don’t think we will get through the play-off but stranger things have hap­pened – Prince An­drew lov­ing a bit of Pizza Ex­press for one – and my guess is Clarke would have ev­ery­one to choose from if we get to the fi­nals.

He should stick to those who stuck by him.

And an­other thing

THEY don’t call me Nostradamu­s for noth­ing. Or at all, come to think about it.

How­ever, like a stopped clock, I’ve got some­thing right. It was only a month ago I sug­gested Jack Ross would end up at Hiber­nian. This is an ex­cel­lent move for both par­ties. Peo­ple should lis­ten to me more.

Ross is an in­tel­li­gent man, fine coach and one who won’t have to try too hard to gain re­spect. He’s a per­fect ap­point­ment by Leith’s finest for whom I now pre­dict a strong rest of the sea­son with Ross as their man­ager.

Any time spent in the big man’s com­pany is eye-open­ing. The way he looks at and thinks about foot­ball is fas­ci­nat­ing. He will get Hibs win­ning and scor­ing goals soon enough. Jan­uary is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing. Ex­pect many ins and outs. And, while I’m on this hot streak, Ross will one day man­age an­other team in green and white. They play in Glas­gow.

Why would any man­ager agree to ad­di­tional fix­ture prob­lems to help Clarke?

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