THERE were no qualms and no hesitations from SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell when he was asked yesterday if he still believes Steve Clarke is still the right man to lead Scotland.

“No doubt at all, no doubt at all,” Maxwell shot back.

There may have been some within the Tartan Army who had their own creeping misgivings about their manager after the painful losses to Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland earlier this month, but as with the majority of fans it seems, there is still faith in Clarke within Hampden’s corridors of power.

Maxwell concedes that missing out on the World Cup is hugely painful, and costly too for the SFA both in financial terms – though bitter experience ensures they would never budget to qualify – and in terms of the residual benefits a major tournament brings when it comes to engagement with the national side and the game itself.

But the question of whether or not the nation has the best chance of getting back on the big stage with Clarke at the helm or without him doesn’t seem to have been one that has caused Maxwell to lose much sleep over the last few weeks. And if Clarke doesn’t take Scotland to the next European Championships, it doesn’t necessarily mean his journey with the national team will end there either.

“There’s no conversation to have, there’s genuinely no conversation to have,” he said.

“There’s been nothing that’s happened that gives me any doubt at all that he is the guy for the job.

“If he doesn’t get to the Euros then we’ll need to look at things on balance and see what’s happened over that period of time.

“It’s not a ‘if we don’t get to the Euros, Steve Clarke won’t be the manager’ headline, it’s not a ‘if we do get to the Euros, Steve Clarke will be the manager’ headline.

“We need to assess things at the point in time and see what’s best for the national team.

“We will lose games of football, we are not a nation that can win every single match that we play, it doesn’t happen. You need to be balanced about it, you need to understand the reasons why, you need to assess it and you need to look at the broader picture.

“It’s not as simple as ‘you lost two out of four in June, that’s terrible’, or ‘you won eight out of the last 10’, you need to go back over the period and look at what has actually happened with it.

“I remember being in a club environment and you would always take time to assess things. You can’t make a knee-jerk reaction, because you are then constantly changing because of the size of country we are and the standard that we’ve got.

“We’re not a Germany, but even then, Germany, France and England have all lost games in June and none of them have sacked their manager as far as I’m aware.

“So, there’s always that question when there’s a negative spell of results, but it’s about being balanced and coming through it.”

Maxwell’s line of thinking suggests he feels that there are now unrealistic expectations being placed on Clarke and his team, making them victims of their own relative success.

“You need to look and ask: ‘has there been progress?'" he said. "Have the team done what we wanted them to do?

“We can’t expect to go from a team that was in League C that had never been really anywhere close to a play-off or a qualifying spot for a major tournament for a long time, to not losing games of football. That’s not the real world. It just doesn’t happen. You have to go on a journey.

“The disappointment [against Ukraine] was hard to take. But it’s good thing that we’ve got to the point where we are really disappointed and everyone wants to progress and do better the next time.”

Perhaps one of the most important metrics to back up Maxwell’s view of his manager is the fact that engagement with the national side is as high as it has been in a generation, with attendances healthy and Supporters’ Club memberships at record levels.

The court of public opinion would appear to be backing Clarke too, then, and the Tartan Army are giving their vote of confidence with their feet.

“They are both linked,” Maxwell said. “You only get the increase in numbers if things are going well on the pitch.

“When Steve was appointed I remember saying we need to make a Pot 4 team into a Pot 2 side and that’s what he did in the Qatar campaign. We finished second, we won the last six games, we’ve won eight out of our last 10.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we played Israel at Hampden or Kazakhstan and we were selling 20,000 tickets. We have now sold 38,000 Scottish Supporters’ Club memberships which is the highest we have ever had and actually the highest we can get to so we can give them all a ticket, because we still have to have room for away supports and everything that comes with that.

“That’s massive for us and of that 38,000, 29,000 bought a five-game package. We hooked in the Ukraine play-off semi-final with the rest of the Nations League matches to try and make it a bit more attractive. 29,000 is absolutely huge for us.

“We had 42,000 sold for Armenia, less turned up because of the train strike. I would think Ukraine in September will be a sell-out or really close to it given it is a really important match because of their last result. You then have the Republic at home which would probably sell out anyway because it is the Republic and all the interest which comes with that.

“I would love Steve Clarke to take us to the World Cup. Everyone wants to get us to the Euros and then the World Cup and if that cycle happens then brilliant.

“It’s exactly what we want because the country benefits from it.”