WHEN Alex McLeish was appointed Scotland manager for a second time earlier this year he was under no illusions about the enormity of the task facing him.

He had to introduce younger players to international football and, at the same time, end an interminable wait to reach the finals of a major tournament at the same time. No pressure then. He was well aware just how traumatic that process was likely to be.

“To think you can come in and change it right away into some kind of utopia is a bit of a fantasy,” he said at Hampden yesterday as he announced a significantly understrength squad for the Nations League double header against Albania and Israel.

Injuries to Leigh Griffiths, Steven Naismith and John Souttar have lessened his chances of satisfying the demands of an ever-hopeful support in the forthcoming Group C1 fixtures and securing a potential Euro 2020 play-off spot.

Yet, his hopes of resurrecting the ailing fortunes of the side he represented on 77 occasions as a player have been significantly damaged by the retirement and unavailability of key personnel.

Scott Brown, the Celtic midfielder and Scotland captain, immediately revealed he would not continue after he took over.

James McArthur, the Crystal Palace player who would have been the automatic choice to take the place of his former skipper, then declared he did not want to be considered due to injury problems. Last week he, too, announced he would be not play international football any longer.

Robert Snodgrass, one of a handful of Scots playing in the Premier League in England, sat out the opening games due to family issues. But the forward, who has featured regularly for West Ham this term, was conspicuous by his absence from the squad yesterday.

On top of that, Matt Ritchie, the Newcastle United winger who was named SFWA International Player of the Year back in 2016, has informed McLeish he doesn’t wish to be considered “for the foreseeable future”.

And Tom Cairney, the Fulham man who has been linked with a switch to England despite playing in two friendly matches for Scotland against Canada and Costa Rica, was another absentee even though he has started in the Craven Cottage club’s last two matches. Tongues will, inevitably, wag.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the modern day footballer, due to the untold riches which are available to him in the top flight down south, puts his club career ahead of their country.

McLeish tried in vain to persuade McArthur to continue with Scotland. But even he understands the reasoning behind his decision. He said: “He’s a great player, he’s been a great servant, but he’s clearly wanting to make sure his professional career is fulfilled in terms of his club.”

The 59-year-old is adamant that has always been the case. “People say it’s a modern thing, but it happened back in my day too.,” he said. “Players stopped playing for the international team because it was too much for them with the amount of games.”

But it appears to be very much a growing trend - and one that does not augur well for a national team that last graced a European Championship or World Cup finals a lifetime ago at France ’98.