AS football battles go, club versus country is hardly the most exciting of contests. We all know who is going to win.

For 100 years and more, club managers have been less than enthusiastic about watching their best players get kicked up and down the park while on international duty. This is why so many hamstrings get tight whenever Scotland games come around, only to miraculously mend in time for the next league match.

Celtic supporters often moan about the lack of caps given to the Lisbon Lions, but what is perhaps less well known is the number of times Jock Stein prevented his own players from reporting for duty. Why risk Bobby Murdoch for a Finland game when there’s a European semi-final a few weeks away?

Scotland don’t qualify for anything these days. We hardly win, let’s be honest, and so you can’t really blame a player for wondering if the grief, travel and defeats are worth it. And where does a player’s loyalty lie? Is it with their country or the club that pays them a basic wage of £20,000 a week? Those of us not in that position can pretend to ourselves that we would put nation over cash but, come on, let’s not kid ourselves.

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Steve Clarke knows all this. He plays the game because he has no choice. He will insist the injured players are not fit and that he has seen or heard nothing to suggest that playing for Scotland is pretty far down the list of priorities for his would-be first picks.

Alas, even the fire I once had regarding my country’s football team is now a mere flicker.

Perhaps this is why I come down on the side of the clubs in the debate over whether Clarke should get Sunday games cancelled before the Nations League play-offs begin in March.

In a perfect world, there would be more than enough wriggle room to cancel an entire weekend of fixtures to allow our best to work for a week or more with the manager and his coaching staff.

Scottish football is many things. Perfect it is not.

Why would any manager, from top to bottom of the Premiership, agree to additional fixture problems to help Clarke?

Whether they be in a title race or relegation battle, the manager’s job is on the line. He will have sympathy with Clarke; however, self-preservation is always going to beat helping out a colleague. I can’t say I blame them. Finland have qualified. They didn’t need any extra help. They put together a good team with an obvious philosophy and, hey presto, it produced good results. That is what Clarke must strive for because, with the best will in the world, two extra days isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

What I would say is that Clarke and his bosses at the SFA must be stronger when it comes to players pulling out of the squad.

Again, I have to admit I can see were the players are coming from. And if they don’t want to risk their club career then that is their decision. But, if that’s the case, they don’t get picked for Scotland at least as long as Clarke is in charge. It’s that simple. Kenny Dalglish never called off but, if the great man was playing now, chances are Clarke would give him more leeway than the rest. Same goes for Denis Law and Jim Baxter.

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Clarke is going out of his way to accommodate Kieran Tierney and Arsenal. He agreed Andy Robertson should sit out these games. As for the rest; some are more important than others but none is King Kenny so they are not going to be missed all that much.

I would rather have a lad who might not be what most of us would deem international standard but is ready and willing to play through pain in order to give us supporters some much-needed good times, rather than a superior-minded footballer who doesn’t fancy San Marino’s plastic pitch on a Monday night.

I have no problem with players being selfish. I believe Clarke has to be selfish as well. Just like at club level, a failure to improve the national side is going to cost him his job.

The player has to decide whether international football is for them or not. It’s an all-or-nothing situation.

If Scotland matters then they tell their clubs that. If they think that playing for Scotland is a nice idea but it’s not 100 per cent for them – then Clarke deserves to know that.

I honestly don’t think we will get through the play-off but stranger things have happened – Prince Andrew loving a bit of Pizza Express for one – and my guess is Clarke would have everyone to choose from if we get to the finals. He should stick to those who stuck by him.

AND ANOTHER THING. . .

THEY don’t call me Nostradamus for nothing. Or at all, come to think about it.

However, like a stopped clock, I’ve got something right. It was only a month ago I suggested Jack Ross would end up at Hibernian. This is an excellent move for both parties. People should listen to me more.

HeraldScotland:

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Ross is an intelligent man, fine coach and one who won’t have to try too hard to gain respect. He’s a perfect appointment by Leith’s finest for whom I now predict a strong rest of the season with Ross as their manager.

Any time spent in the big man’s company is eye-opening. The way he looks at and thinks about football is fascinating. He will get Hibs winning and scoring goals soon enough. January is going to be interesting. Expect many ins and outs. And, while I’m on this hot streak, Ross will one day manage another team in green and white. They play in Glasgow.