NEARLY three decades have elapsed since Steve Clarke was overlooked for the Scotland squad that travelled to the World Cup in Italy in 1990, but the pain of that omission still lingers.

So, too, does the fact that, despite playing for Chelsea for over a decade and winning trophies both in England and Europe with the London club, he only made six appearances and featured in just two in competitive matches for his country.

There may be an ambivalence, an antipathy even, towards international football in this country in certain quarters these days after 21 years of failure, frustration and foul-ups

Yet, for Clarke, whose three year contract will give him the chance to qualify for both Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022 and so atone for missing out on Italia ‘90, there remains no greater honour for a player than representing his country at a finals. The new manager will expect exactly the same attitude from those who play under him.

“If you are a serious professional footballer surely you want to play for your country at a major tournament,” he said after being paraded in front of the media at Hampden yesterday.


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“The biggest regret I have got in my career is only having six caps – I feel I deserved more. I was in the pre-squad for Italia ‘90. Andy Roxburgh took 26 players to Genoa for a camp in the February. I was one of the ones that missed out from that 26. It still hurts me now.

“I have a chance to put that right with this job and hopefully lead my country to a major tournament. If you are a top player you want to play in the best tournaments, you want to challenge yourself.

“You hear them. They all want to play in the Champions League or whatever. So surely to go with your country to a major tournament and represent your country should be right up there with the pinnacle of your career, should be at the very top.”

It has been suggested that Clarke will endeavour to tempt the likes of Tom Cairney, Steven Fletcher, James McArthur, Matt Ritchie and Robert Snodgrass back into the fold in the coming days.

But with players like Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Ryan Fraser, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, Andy Robertson, who he spoke to on his first day in the job yesterday, and Kieran Tierney at his disposal he is liable to spend more time concentrating on those who are currently available.

Is such a non-nonsense individual really going to chase after some highly-paid prima donna who doesn’t appreciate what an honour it is to don the dark blue of the country?


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“It’s important to stress if someone has retired from international football, fine, we will respect that decision,” said Clarke. “If they want to un-retire themselves they have to come back to me or someone else at the SFA.

“Then you have the grey area where some are not quite sure – those are the ones you have to speak to. If they are not committed I would rather they were just honest and said they won’t come.

“Come if you want to be part of what we are doing. Anyone who comes to the squad now I am expecting them to be fully committed.”

Clarke continued: “I look at the core bunch and I get excited and think: ‘We can do something with this group of players’. If they are all committed and want to be here, the hardest thing for me should be who do I leave out of the squad?

“It should not be about having to tempt them to join the squad and phoning them up and saying: come on we need you. The hardest part of the job should be leaving one or two out who still want to be here.”

Clarke has admitted that he will miss the day-to-day involvement with players that he gets at club level. But stepping into the unknown also holds an appeal for the Ayrshireman. He is intrigued to see how he copes with life as an international manager.


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“People who know me know I like a challenge,” he said. “If I wanted an easy life, or didn’t want any challenges in my life, I would still be assistant manager of Chelsea, because I could have had that job for life and been paid good money.”

It is not just the players who have deserted Scotland in their droves recent years, it is the supporters as well. Attendances for matches have been bitterly disappointing and those fans who have turned up have made their unhappiness at the poor fare they have witnessed well known. Clarke hopes to change that too. He certainly brought spectators flooding back through the turnstiles at Rugby Park.

“To the fans, the message is if you are excited then come to the Cyprus game and show the players that,” he said. “If we could fill the stadium, it would be fantastic. Let the players know that the fans want them to be at a major tournament.

“If we are all pulling the same way, we have a chance. We want the supporters to come along and then the players have to perform on the pitch. I need to pick the right team, tactics and make the right subs at the right time. If we get all that right...come on, let’s have a go.”