WHEN David Marshall saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty in the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade back in November and clinched Scotland a place at a major tournament finals for the first time in 23 years, he instantly endeared himself to hundreds of thousands of his compatriots forever.

But Jon Gould was an unashamed admirer of the goalkeeper long, long before his spot kick shoot-out heroics in the Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia.

The former Celtic player - who moved into coaching after he hung up his gloves and worked in the Championship and Premier League in England before returning to New Zealand, where he had started his career, last year – has lost count of the failed attempts to land Marshall that he has been involved in.

“The number of times I have tried to sign him is ridiculous,” he said. “We tried to get him at both West Brom and Middlesbrough. Sadly, it never quite happened.”

Gould could, then, appreciate why Steve Clarke was so keen to bring Marshall back into the fold when he was appointed Scotland manager in 2019 and has been unsurprised by how well he has fared in international football since returning.

He fully expects the Derby County man, who will take to the field at Hampden this afternoon to play the Czech Republic in the opening Group D fixture, to excel in the coming eight days and, should a place in the knockout rounds be secured, after that.

The London-born 52-year-old, who won two caps for his adopted homeland and was in the squad for France ’98, first became aware of his countryman’s talents when he was at Parkhead and has been pleased to see him flourish since.

“David was a young goalkeeper at Celtic when I was there,” he said. “He worked closely under Terry Genoe. He obviously had his wonder days with Celtic in Europe right back at the start, but he has never lost that.

“He obviously had a couple of injuries and that hasn’t helped him. But I always felt that somewhere down the line he had big games in him still. It doesn’t come much bigger than that play-off final match.

“He doesn’t get ruffled by much. He is very, very steady. That was the big thing when he was young – his composure. He learned very quickly, about the importance of managing his back four, the players in front of him. For a big guy his reflexes are top drawer as well. That isn’t always the case when you are 6ft 4in.”

Marshall and his understudy Craig Gordon are, at 36 and 38, by far the oldest members of the 26-man Scotland squad. But Gould, who helped Celtic to win the Premier League and League Cup double in 1998 and stop Rangers completing 10-In-A-Row in the process, knows that keepers improve with age. He thinks their experience will be invaluable at Euro 2020.

“I probably didn’t hit my straps until I was 30 and I went to Celtic,” he said. “I maintain that from a personal perspective that I was still as good at 37 when I retired as when I was 30. Physically, I was just as capable. We have long lives us goalkeepers! That has certainly been the case with David.

“Craig is an excellent goalkeeper. He was a great goalkeeper with Celtic. People thought the game had caught him up when it became more of a passing game. And became more lateral in its movement. It didn’t really. Coaches and goalkeepers must never lose sight of that.

“Our job is to keep the ball out the back of the net, it isn’t to be the first pass of 20 to get it up the other end and score a goal.”

Gould didn’t play for Scotland against Brazil, Norway or Morocco at France ’98 despite his outstanding form for Celtic that season – Jim Leighton of Aberdeen was chosen by manager Craig Brown and Neil Sullivan of Wimbledon was second choice.

However, the former Coventry, Bradford and Preston keeper was just happy to be involved and knows how much Andy Robertson and his team mates will enjoy being at Euro 2020. 

“I always thought it was possible,” he said. “When I was at Coventry and was in decent form I got selected for a Scotland training group up in Aberdeen in 1993. The lads were playing Switzerland. So I knew it was a possibility.

“I knew the bread and butter of any goalkeeper was to play well for their club side. I was quite disappointed when I wasn’t initially called up for the World Cup. I had been in good form and won a league with Celtic. But in the end, due to Andy Goram’s withdrawal, it came right and I had a wonderful opportunity.

“It was amazing. When you consider how long it has been since we have been to a major tournament you look back and realise how privileged you were. Obviously they have done it again now. It is an amazing achievement.”

Gould can still recall the incredible backing that Scotland received from the Tartan Army at the World Cup; tens of thousands of fans descended on Paris, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne to cheer on their heroes whether they had a ticket for the Group A matches or not. 

He is pleased that there will, despite the coronavirus pandemic, be a limited number of supporters inside Hampden and Wembley and expects it to make a huge difference to the national team’s fortunes.

“I am so glad Covid restrictions have been eased to an extent and some members of the barmy army can go and cheer them on,” he said. “They are absolutely fantastic. They will go anywhere to watch their country. They bring cities and towns to life when they travel.”