‘Reasons to be cheerful’ for Scotland

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May 20, 2021
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    Che Adams and Steve ClarkeSteve Clarke (right) has chosen a largely familiar squad and a handful of youngsters

    The joyous nature of the Scottish FA's announcement of the squad for the European Championship was a reminder, in a particularly grim week, of the game's capacity to put a smile on the face.

    Football is meant to be fun and that's exactly what the SFA's video was – an imaginative, humorous and, at times, charming delivery of the chosen 26.

    Saturday night brought the darkness. Wednesday afternoon brought the light. The squad is an exciting one, a combination of experience and youth, a mix of the tried and tested and the coming young men who might be anything at the Euros.

    The thrill is is not knowing how influential Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson, David Turnbull and Kevin Nisbet can be. Their selections add intrigue to the party.

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    Some weeks ago, Scotland manager Steve Clarke said it would not take a genius to predict who was going to make it and who was going to miss out. He said he would not be straying too far from players he had already used.

    He had to tweak that mindset when injury denied him Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean and also Oli McBurnie. He had to tweak it again when Uefa gave all managers the cushion of three extra places.

    Nisbet has taken a spot that had probably been reserved for McBurnie. He got it ahead of Leigh Griffiths, who had his champions, and Lawrence Shankland, whose stock has fallen. Nisbet is scoring goals and has an edge and a hunger about him that's hard to miss.

    He has come up the hard way. Rejection by Partick Thistle. Loan spell after loan spell. The tragic loss of his father followed, within days, by a missed penalty in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Hearts last year.

    The Hibs striker has a resilience that makes him an example to all young players who have experienced bumps in their careers.

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    Plenty of people wanted Griffiths included because of what he might bring off the bench late in a game. There's just not enough evidence that he still has it in him to deliver those performances. Two goals in 2021 is not the stuff of Euros selection. Shankland's nine goals all season was not going to cut it either.

    Would Gilmour have made it had Jack and McLean been available in a squad set at 23 places? Almost certainly not, but by picking him three times this month – playing him for 90 minutes against Fulham and Manchester City and for 45 minutes against Arsenal – Chelsea gave him a chance to make his case and make it he did.

    Gilmour has played more games for Chelsea's first team than he's had birthdays, but only just. He's only 19 but we have seen him in elite company and he's a classy footballer – economical, intelligent, daring. The squad is all the more exhilarating for his presence.

    Turnbull comes into the same category as one who would probably not have been chosen had circumstance not come right for him.

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    Turnbull's fine performances in a lousy Celtic team put him in the mix. It was not just his goals and his creativity that would have impressed Clarke, it would surely have been his refusal to allow himself be sucked into the vortex of mediocrity that claimed so many of his team-mates.

    He has not been at his best of late, but he had done enough to come under consideration. He assumed a lot of responsibility in tough times and that's a testament to his professionalism. He's not the quickest or the strongest and he will have a hard job breaking into this Scotland midfield, but the first job is done.

    Patterson, another teenager, has come up on the rails like a thoroughbred racehorse and sped past Liam Palmer. You have to feel for Palmer, who has been a regular in Clarke's set-up, but there was always a feeling with him that he was vulnerable to a late bolter – and Patterson proved to be just that.

    Pick a solid player from relegated Sheffield Wednesday or a Scottish Premiership winner with pace? Patterson has played just 14 games this season and he's raw and a total unknown in international football. Unquestionably, Clarke has an eye on the future when he opted for Patterson, but it cannot just be a token selection to give the boy a taste of the big time.

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    He has to see him as a viable option on the right-hand side, a surprise packet, a flyer who can play with an abandon that could trouble teams who will not have seen him coming. A useful weapon off the bench in other words.

    Other names jump out. James Forrest has had a miserable time of it this season at Celtic and the fingers are crossed for him. Scotland could do with his pace out wide.

    So, too, Ryan Fraser, who's going through injury problems of his own and has not played since scoring in back-to-back games for Scotland in late March. His invention and ability to deliver precise crosses is needed now more than ever.

    Greg Taylor is not a guy many will be talking about, but he's worth mentioning. He's spent much of the season in and out of the Celtic team. For large parts of it he had Diego Laxalt ahead of him. When Laxalt arrived he was instantly declared a quality player by too many in the Celtic support who looked at his CV rather than what he was actually doing on the pitch, which was often lazy.

    Taylor was simultaneously declared a lesser player, a bloke who was not in Laxalt's class. Some of the things said about the Scot were insulting. Taylor kept his counsel and saw off Laxalt in the end. He's no world beater, but he must have a strong mentality. Good on him for making it.

    You could say the same of Jack Hendry who's in ahead of Andy Considine. When Hendry was toiling at Celtic the notion that he would head away on loan to Oostende in Belgium and be reborn as an international centre-half would have been trippy. That's what he's done. Another tough character.

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    Clarke's mix is a compelling one. Ryan Gauld was unlucky but there's enough in it to quicken the pulse. The next job, and one that Scott McTominay spoke about on Wednesday, is to arrive at the Euros not in a self-satisfied state, not with a mindset that the work was done just by qualifying.

    Light on goalscorers, this is still a group with a lot going for it, a squad that could scare the wits out of all three opponents if they get it right. England and Croatia would be expected to beat them relatively comfortably. Scotland should embrace the underdog status and not be cowed by their reputation.

    No set of fans knows more about the maxim of hope being the thing that kills you than the Tartan Army but, whisper it, there are reasons to be cheerful here. It's almost upon us now – and it's going to be a blast.

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