It felt as though the whole of Scotland – well, those with an interest in football, anyway – were waiting with bated breath last week as Steve Clarke finally named his 28-man provisional squad for the European Championships.

Most of the names that were on the original 60-man list he had scribbled down would have been on tenterhooks too, desperately hoping they had made the cut. Two more players will be lopped off and left behind before Scotland board the plane to Germany, and no one wants to be among them.

It is all a far cry from the early days of Clarke’s tenure, when he was struggling to put a squad together. There were plenty of able bodies, but the national team’s head coach admits he was surprised by how few were willing.

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How things have changed, and Clarke couldn’t resist a wry smile of satisfaction this week as he recalled those early refuseniks, and reminded them of what they have missed out on as Scotland have surged back to a level where participation in major tournaments is becoming the norm once again.

“I remember in my first week, I made a lot of phone calls and actually got a lot of rejections from people who didn’t want to come with the national team,” Clarke said.

“They didn’t know that we’d be as good as we have been, so some of them have missed out on a really good journey.

“It’s amazing to think that now. But here we are, five years later and there will be some of them who wish they’d been more positive to that initial phone call. But that’s the evolution we’ve had and hopefully there is more to come.

“If you look through the squad, there are a number of players who are 32 or 33 so will be 34 or 35 come the next tournament. Craig Gordon will be 43! So, there will be more evolution in the future, no matter who the head coach is. Ben Doak can be one going forward, so let’s have a look.

“I don’t think I’d get many rejections now. I’m sure there will be a number of players out there now who are disappointed not to make the provisional squad. But as James Forrest has proved, the door’s never closed.

“It’s not nice to be excluded from a squad but it’s part of football. James is the example. If you continue to work hard and be professional, you never know what can happen.”

Far from begging people to join up with his Scotland squad now, Clarke has adopted a position of being open to advances rather than chasing answers. This is particularly the case when it comes to those players who may still be mulling over which nation it is they wish to represent, such as Newcastle United quartet Elliott Anderson, Harvey Barnes, Shea Gordon and Tino Livramento.

Was he tempted recently though to reach out to Livramento at least, given the injury situation in the right wing-back position?

“These things, people will never know,” he said.

“I’ve had private conversations with a lot of people. That’s all I’ll say on that. I don’t think it’s fair that I sit here and discuss players who can play for other countries.

“I know what I’m doing.”

As unflappable as Clarke normally is, he concedes that the way Scotland’s players have been dropping like flies over the last few weeks has been a concern. As well as Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson in that right wing-back role, he lost midfielder Lewis Ferguson and even back-up striking option Jacob Brown.

But, he is confident that the men he does have available – touch wood – have more than enough about them to make history in Germany, and become the first collection of Scottish players to get through the group stage of a major tournament.

“Was I panicking when there was a couple of weekends when players were going down injured? Aye,” he deadpanned.

“Listen, it’s part of the game. In March, I said that I knew we’d probably lose players to injury. Historically, it’s usually two in every camp.

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“But this time it’s four who would have been picked - or close to being picked - in Jacob Brown, Nathan Patterson, Aaron Hickey and Lewis Ferguson.

“It was disappointing because I had to make four sad phone calls. But I had to re-emphasise to all of them that they’re young enough to make the next tournament.

“That has to be their focus. They have to realise it’s not just about the injury that puts them out of the Euros. It’s an injury they have to overcome to make sure they’re ready for the next stage of their career.

“They’re all young enough to be ready for the World Cup. They should be disappointed to miss this one - but they have to be ready for the next.

“I would think over the last five years since I took the job we have progressed a lot, we have improved a lot – on and off the pitch.

“If you look at all the players, their careers are on an upward trajectory, which is great. It is what you want, it is what I had in my mind when I started talking about being consistent with my players, picking more players regularly, trying to build up this core group.

“If you look at the number of caps we should be in a much better place, I think we are in a much better place going into this tournament than we were in the last tournament.

“We have tournament experience – hopefully that shows on the pitch.”