Grant Hanley could have been forgiven for making himself unavailable for selection for his country some time ago, although had he done so any such announcement would have been met with a shrug of the shoulders: no-one would have had to hold the back page because most observers felt that Scotland had already retired him.

Hanley won his 29th cap under Alex McLeish (the fourth international manager to select him) in a 1-0 defeat at home against Costa Rica in March, 2018. He would not make his 30th appearance for over three years, when Steve Clarke ended his exile by starting him in the World Cup qualifying tie against Austria at Hampden. Which proved to be a shrewd move when the Norwich City centre-back scored the second equaliser in a 2-2 draw: that goal, his second for his country, may yet prove to be vital should the national team successfully negotiate a safe passage to the finals in Qatar next year.

Since his reappearance the 29-year-old has become one of the first names on Clarke’s team sheet. He’s played in nine of Scotland’s ten matches, his only absence coming in the friendly against the Netherlands immediately prior to the Euro 2020 finals.

The improvement in his overall game between 2018 and 2021 has been remarkable but it hasn’t shocked mentor Colin Hendry, another former Blackburn Rovers and Scotland central defender, who contends that those who fill that role mature later than other outfield players. 

“Grant has taken his time to get to where he is now but I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone,” said Hendry. “Centre-halves mature at a different, slower rate to other players and that’s been the case with him.

“He was 19 when he won his first cap and it’s taken him a decade to get to 39 but it’s really only now that he’d become a regular and looks as though he belongs there. Very few kids playing in that position can come into their club or international teams and make an immediate and sustained impact.

“Back in my day there was Alan McLaren in Scotland and Tony Adams in England but they were very much the odd men out, exceptional in every sense. For most of us it was – and is - the case that you need years of hard graft before you’re ready to compete at the highest level.

“You need to experience the ups and downs, take the knocks and come back for more. At Blackburn, Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford would have a real go at me if I made mistakes but that’s part of the process. You gradually learn what to do and what not to do, your decision-making gets better and so does your understanding of the position.

“I was 27 before I made my Scotland debut and 35 when I made my final appearance for my country and it’s between those years that, for me, centre-halves really begin to flourish: look at the Italians! Seriously, I was 29 when I won the Premier League with Blackburn, 32 when I captained Scotland at the World Cup finals and 33 when I won the treble with Rangers.”

Hendry played his part in helping to shape Hanley’s future by dint of individual coaching sessions with the young Hanley at Blackburn.

“I worked alongside Stevie Kean and Eric Black on the coaching staff and I would take Grant for the odd session, passing on advice and tips,” he said. “I could see even then that there was a player in there, though a lot of Rovers fans disagreed with me at the time.

“The one thing he did which got to me was that he would tackle opponents with the outside of his right boot and try and scoop the ball away from them instead of leading with his left foot, which is what he should have been doing.

“I watched him doing it again against Denmark in Copenhagen the other week so it’s clearly a habit he’s never going to lose! On the plus side, he’s quick, he’s strong, good in the air and he’s added nous to his game so he’s ticking most of the boxes now. Plus, p[laying in the Premier League with Norwich, he’ll have plenty of practise defending because, with the way they play, he’ll definitely be busy.

“Him being suspended for the next match against Israel is a problem for Steve Clarke, although Leeds United’s Liam Cooper will probably take his place for that one.”

Hendry also maintains that Jack Hendry is another late developer who is proving his critics wrong.

“I thought he was also excellent in Vienna,” he claimed. “He’s another player who’d been written off and had to deal with adversity but he’s come through that now. He’s a different type, more of a ball player and he’s not yet as good a defender as Grant is - but then he’s only 26!”