In the closing stages of their Euro 2024 group game against Hungary, Scotland were crying out for something different in attack.

Steve Clarke's side had plenty of the ball but they lacked any sort of inspiration when they got into the final third. Substitutions were made. Lawrence Shankland came on for Che Adams up front. Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean, three long-established rotation players, made their way on to the park, but it didn't relieve Scotland's attacking frustration. 

In one final throw of the dice, Lewis Morgan was introduced. The former Celtic attacker had been a late addition to the squad after Ben Doak was forced to pull out through injury. Prior to the 2-2 draw with Finland a week before the Euros started, he hadn't featured at all during Clarke's tenure and last played for the national team in 2018. He gave it his best, but it didn't fill the void. Scotland were crying out for someone with a bit of creative ingenuity; someone to pick the lock of the stubborn Hungarian rearguard. There wasn't a player in the squad who could be seen as fitting that particular profile, and Scotland exited a second consecutive European Championships with little more than a whimper.

Among the many questions asked of the Scotland manager in the wake of the latest tournament disappointment, one kept popping up among supporters: why wasn't Ryan Gauld included in the squad?

It's something a portion of the fanbase has queried for some time. Gauld has been playing well consistently for first Farense in the Portuguese top flight and then MLS franchise the Vancouver Whitecaps, but he's not even had a sniff of the Scotland squad, much to the chagrin of those who champion his talents and want to see what he can do on the international stage.

Their argument was bolstered last week when it was revealed Gauld was included in the MLS All-Star game alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Christian Benteke. So, case closed, right? This is Clarke simply being too stubborn, failing to recognise what is available to him and hurting Scotland's chances of glory as a result. Well, not exactly.

Let's work backwards. Some of Gauld's potential team-mates for the All-Star game are legends of the sport, but they're all very much in the twilight of their careers. And with the exception of Jordi Alba and goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Roman Burki, the defensive players are nowhere near the same level and never have been. There's one US international, four US-born players who haven't won a cap for their national team and a bunch of other unknowns who had middling careers in Europe and South America before choosing to go to the MLS.

That's what the league is. It's a glorified retirement home for some of the best in world football to go pick up a good pay-cheque, live in one of the most desirable countries in the world (this remains true in the present before America fully embraces fascism) and enjoy their football by scoring easily against hapless defenders. Gauld's numbers are impressive – nine goals and six assists in 20 appearances – but context needs to be applied. He's not doing it in a top five league, he's not even doing it in a middling European league. He's arguably not even doing it at a level as good as the Scottish Premiership, certainly from a defensive sense.

Let's look at the evidence regarding that last sentence. Earlier this year, Danny Wilson recently came back to Scottish football after spending six years in the MLS where he played consistently for Colorado Rapids. He didn't sign for a Premiership club, but instead went down to Queen's Park, who were in danger of dropping into the third tier. Sam Nicholson also recently returned from the States (also Colorado) and has largely been a squad player at Motherwell.

Perhaps the most damning example of recent years was Chris Mueller, the hyped-up Hibs signing from the 2021/22 season. A former Rookie of the Year runner-up in MLS, he was a consistent threat for Orlando City prior to his move to Edinburgh. I don't want to be mean about Mr Mueller, but in Scottish football he was hopeless. I also didn't think much of Hearts' former US international Perry Kitchen.

You could argue the MLS is weak but Gauld still deserved a call-up. After all, the best international managers combine the skills of players from varying levels and make a functioning team. There have certainly been examples from other, better, teams at this tournament. Gauld may not be better than the likes of Armstrong or Christie or McGinn or McTominay, but he does offer something different, doesn't he? In theory, he does. He's more of a traditional No.10; a creator who is about technique and through balls. He's about creativity, rather than hard running.

However, the same could have been said about Ryan Christie at his pomp in the Scottish Premiership. At Aberdeen and at Celtic – at least initially before a horrendous final season in which he consistently tried to shoot from a mile away – he was a very creative player. He's not at the English Premier League level and he's limited in that regard at international level because it's a serious step up in quality. The pace of the game is much quicker, the gaps are much narrower and your opponents often know what you're going to do even before you do. Would Gauld really have outperformed him? If your answer is yes, what's that based on? At least Christie has his world-class pressing ability to fall back on.

Morgan also plays in the MLS so it's not like the manager is entirely dismissive of the league, but ultimately he wasn't the answer either. It would be great if Gauld was the answer. Scotland could really do with something as simple as 'pick this player and everything will be fine' at this moment in time, but there's just not anywhere near enough evidence to say that Clarke is wrong about this decision.

Serious questions do deserve to be asked of the national team boss for Scotland's dismal showing at Euro 2024. Not selecting Gauld isn't one of them.