The road to the European Championships starts here. That was the message from Scotland performance director and interim head coach Malky Mackay yesterday after he took his first training session with the national squad.

And one of the first things he said to the players he had called to Oriam was that the first step on the path to qualification for a major tournament starts with a positive mindset.

After so long away from the Scottish football scene, Mackay, just as Kilmarnock boss Stevie Clarke had expressed over the weekend, was struck by the negativity surrounding our national sport when he came back north of the border from a prolonged stint in England.

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And as he surveyed the precocious talents he had summoned strutting their stuff on the training field yesterday morning, he couldn’t help but hope that a bright new dawn for Scotland was breaking.

“Having come up with my performance hat on, I see a lot of negativity around the Scottish game in certain aspects of the media, MSPs at times and everybody else who wants to jump on that bandwagon of talking Scottish football down,” said Mackay.

“We’ve got to be careful, because we could end up knocking it into the gutter eventually and it will never recover.

“Football is one of the things in Scotland that brings people together. The Commonwealth Games brought people together in our country. Tragedy brings people together in our country. And Scottish football brings people together in our country.

“When we played England and those goals flew in in the last five minutes, I would defy anybody who is Scottish not to have jumped up or been elated by that.

“These are the things we’ve got to grasp on to, and it’s my job to highlight that and other positives going forward, otherwise it’s just going to be constant doom and gloom.

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Mackay believes that the key to a brighter future for the Scottish game lies in helping the young talent we have at our disposal make that next step, and that is why he has named so many young players in what may be his only national squad as manager.

It isn’t simply about seeing whether these players sink or swim, but more about seeing how they cope with the exposure to such a high level of football, and seeing what they can learn from it.

“I’ve seen young Scottish players that just need a little bit of help,” he said. “They just need a wee hand up, because you’re looking at raw talent with a desire to do well.

“They just need to know how, they just have to unlock that door. It’s the job of Scottish managers and the job of experts that I bring in to help them do that.

“There are certainly attributes there when you think ‘yeah, you could be a player’, there’s a variety of them in this squad who are young and fresh and talented.

“Look at John McGinn, Ryan Christie, Ryan Fraser, Callum McGregor, All very young, gifted footballers. It’s about giving them the confidence to say, ‘you are an international footballer, you can play at this level.’

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“It’s up to them to go and do it, but I’ve got to give them the confidence to want to go and try things, as well as having the tactical discipline to be back into certain areas at certain times against international players.

“I think I’ve picked a squad who are young, hungry and talented. I don’t really care if it’s Scotland or England that I’m picking from, I want to see young, hungry talent.

“It’s about looking at youngsters and feeling them out. It’s a friendly, but it’s not. I expect us to go and try and beat Holland.”

In essence, Mackay feels that this is audition time for our young players, and he has urged them to grasp the thistle, so to speak, when it comes to staking a claim for their international futures in Thursday night’s match against The Netherlands.

“We’ve got four games now before a qualifier, so the players are auditioning for the chance to go on and win 50 caps, and it gives them a little intro into international football, albeit a hell of an intro, because it’s Holland,” he said.

“There’s the possibility of another three friendlies after this, two in March and one in June before we go into a qualifier in September.

“The new manager coming in will have not only the analysis on this match, but it will be up to him what he wants to do with the squad.

“We are coming to the point though that we have a lot of guys coming to a point in their international careers where they have a decision to make, but I just decided that for this friendly, it’s a chance over three or four days to look at some of the young talent that’s coming through.

“It’s audition time for them over the next six or nine months. There’s a chance for them to really grasp something here and kick themselves on to be involved in the Euro 2020 campaign. Without a doubt.”