STEVE Clarke yesterday defended his decision to draft Che Adams into the Scotland squad for the opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers - four years after the former England Under-20 striker turned down the chance to switch his national allegiances.

Clarke sprang a major surprise when he named Southampton striker Adams in his 26-man squad for the Group F matches against Austria, Israel and the Faroe Islands later this month.

The Leicester-born 24-year-old, who has netted seven times in the Premier League in the 2020/21 campaign, qualifies to represent this country due to maternal grandparents who hail from Edinburgh.

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The former Sheffield United and Birmingham City player, who moved to St Mary’s Stadium in a £15m transfer two years ago, rebuffed approaches to play for the Scotland Under-21 side as well as the Scotland team back in 2017.

However, Clarke, who has left Leigh Griffiths of Celtic, Lawrence Shankland of Dundee United and Oliver Burke of Sheffield United out of his squad and handed Kevin Nisbet of Hibernian a call-up, has dismissed concerns about Adams’ commitment. 

The former Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle United assistant is confident his new recruit can add a cutting edge to the national team’s play in the final third and will be a strong  option for him up front in the coming seasons.

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“I’m not so sure it was a case that there was a big reluctance for him to get into the Scotland set-up,” he said. “You have to remember, this conversation he had with Alex (McLeish) was four years ago when he was only a young man finding his way in the English Championship at Birmingham.

“So you can understand he didn’t want to commit early. His career has obviously continued in an upwards path and he’s got into the English Premier League with Southampton where he’s doing very well.

“Recently, he’s been doing really well, scoring some goals, and looking like a player who can play on the international stage. And thankfully he’s chosen us. I didn’t have to work particularly hard to persuade him.

“We spoke mainly about the long-term benefits of being a Scottish international. I was saying that at 24 he’s at a great age to come into international football and have an international career, which is something which still grates a little bit with me.

“I had six caps, but you can’t call that an international career. It’s great to represent your country six times, but I’d rather it was 60 times. And for Che, at his age and with the ability he’s got, hopefully he can go on and have 60-odd games for Scotland. That would be the gist of the conversation we had.”

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Clarke, though, stressed that Adams, who could make his debut for his adopted homeland at Hampden a week tomorrow when Scotland take on Austria, has to continue performing at a high level to be involved in the Euro 2020 finals this summer.

And he rubbished suggestions the player, who only intimated that he was prepared to represent Scotland last week, could decide not to make himself available for selection after the tournament in June and July.   

“I gave him no guarantees,” he said. “The Euros is a separate tournament. He’s coming in for these World Cup games and there are no guarantees for the summer. You just can’t give guarantees - that’s not possible - because you never know what’s going to happen in football.

“So, what? After six, seven, eight games he’s going to do what? Look, it has to be longer than that. That’s why we spoke about long-term. Listen, if you’re successful as an international team then people are going to be more attracted to play for you. That goes without saying.

“But I don’t think that was the be-all and the end-all for Che. The fact that he wants to have an international career is the be-all and end-all. If you go down that other route then you’re saying that after the Euros he’ll back off and not want to play for Scotland again. That’s definitely not the Che Adams I spoke to.”

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Clarke continued: “He wasn’t prepared to play for Scotland when he was a 19 or 20 year-old kid who didn’t know which way his career was going to go. I think you have to respect that. He’d only played two friendlies for England’s Under-20s, it’s not like it’s a massive jump from England to Scotland.

“He’s got Scottish blood, his grandparents I believe are from Edinburgh, so the bloodline is there. I just don’t think you can judge a 19 or 20 year-old harshly. He just wanted to see which way his career went. You have to respect that decision from a young man. I actually think it was quite a mature decision, rather than being rushed into doing something.

“I believe we tried to get him to play for the under-21s as well, but he wanted to take time and see how his career developed. Now his career has developed a little bit more and he’s chosen Scotland. So I think that’s fantastic.”

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Clarke was concerned that Scotland failed to score in their final two Nations League matches against Slovakia and Israel away in November and is hopeful Adams will improve his attack. 

“Che’s going to bring different qualifies,” he said. “But let’s not forget Lyndon (Dykes) who has done terrific for the national team with two goals in seven games, which is a good return. The big man was outstanding in Serbia.

“Lyndon has his own qualities at bringing in others into the game and Che is not as tall and isn’t such an aerial target. But he holds the ball up really well and links the game. He has a little bit of pace to play in behind and plays well off the last defender.

“Those are qualities that other strikers in the squad maybe don’t have with the exception of young Kevin Nisbet. He has similar qualities to Che, but obviously Che is doing out every week in the English Premier League which is a really strong level. He definitely improves the squad and will definitely improve the team as well.”