SCOTLAND’S involvement in their first tournament finals in 23 long years is drawing tantalising near now. Steve Clarke selected his 26 man squad for the Euro 2020 finals last week amid widespread excitement. The vast majority of those called up will fly out to Spain for a warm weather training camp on Thursday.

A limited number of fans will be allowed in to Hampden for the Group D matches against the Czech Republic and Croatia at Hampden and England at Wembley due to Covid-19 restrictions. It will not quite be the same as in years gone by. Still, a sense of anticipation is growing among the Tartan Army daily.

Clarke will spend his time at the La Finca Resort in Costa Blanca bonding with his players, assessing their form and fitness and generally fine tuning preparations for the friendlies against the Netherlands in Portugal and Luxembourg in Luxembourg and the finals thereafter.

The trip promises to be absolutely vital to the nation team’s chances or progressing to the knockout rounds for the first time.

Anyone who attempted to come up with the names that Clarke would plump for before the squad announcement last Wednesday would have found the vast majority of them pretty easy.

David Marshall, Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Grant Hanley, Stephen O’Donnell, Stuart Armstrong, Scott McTominay, Callum McGregor, John McGinn, Ryan Fraser, Ryan Christie, Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams will be all be hoping to start and are certain to be involved in the match day 23 if fit and available.

But deciding on the centre backs to take was far more problematic. Who partners Hanley and Tierney in the three man defence that Clarke is likely to once again put his faith in is anyone’s guess. McTominay will, with Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean both sadly injured, be deployed in his favoured position in central midfield. So who does the manager go for?

Liam Cooper has helped Leeds United finish 10th in the Premier League, Jack Hendry of Celtic started in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers against Austria and Israel in March, Scott McKenna has had a fine season with Nottingham Forest and is experienced, Declan Gallagher of Motherwell was sensational in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final and final last year.

Each contender has his strengths and his weaknesses. Cooper, Hendry and McKenna, and even Hanley for that matter, have never wholly convinced onlookers at international level. Gallagher has. But the less said about his performances for his club this term the better. He hasn’t always been fully fit and didn’t feature at any stage in the last triple header as a result.

Personally, I would abandon the three man defence and switch to a back four. Yes, the 3-4-1-2 worked well in those play-off triumphs against Israel and Serbia. But Scotland looked far more settled when they reverted to a 4-2-3-1 at half-time against Israel in Tel Aviv in March. They change allowed them to equalise and salvage what could prove to be a vital away draw.

Robertson is far better as a left back than a wing back. It gives the Liverpool defender the chance to make the same sort of impact as he has for the Anfield club domestically and in Europe in the past. Tierney, Hanley and O’Donnell appeared comfortable with it too. Having two deep-lying midfielders just in front of them offered vital protection.

Every supporter, of course, has an opinion on what is best. But sorting out the defence is the biggest quandry that Clarke faces. It is one he must find a solution to by June 14.


Choosing the Manager, Player and Young Player of the Year before the outcome of the Premiership is decided and the Scottish Cup final has been played has led to some unfortunate moments over the years.

Derek McInnes was declared the outstanding manager of the 2013/14 season by both the Scottish Football Writers’ Association and PFA Scotland only for Aberdeen to be pipped to second spot in the Premiership by Motherwell on a dramatic final day.

Many will argue that Callum Davidson of St Johnstone is more deserving of individual honours than his Rangers counterpart Steven Gerrard following this weekend’s events.

Davidson, who is in his first term as a manager, became only the second man after Sir Alex Ferguson and Alex Smith to lead a non-Old Firm team to a cup double when the Betfred Cup winners lifted the Scottish Cup at Hampden on Saturday.

He has certainly done superbly. But for me Gerrard has been a worthy recipient of every personal accolade he has received. He made history too when his team went all 38 league games undefeated. Not since the 1898/99 campaign has an Ibrox team completed their top flight schedule without losing a match.

The former Liverpool and England midfielder resurrected the fortunes of the Glasgow giants after one of the most troubled periods in their existence, ended Celtic’s unprecedented spell of domestic dominance and prevented the Parkhead club from making history by completing 10-In-A-Row.

Throw in consecutive runs to the last 16 of the Europa League and it is not a bad track record at all for another rookie boss.