By News Team
10th November 2020
Steve Clarke is on the brink of creating history by being one match away from taking Scotland to their first major international tournament in 22 years.
The former Chelsea coach admits while he doesn’t like putting individual moments at the top, taking Scotland to the European Championships would be “right up there” for his career highlights.
“I’m confident because I think the players are in a good place. We’ve worked a lot since the Russia defeat and we couldn’t allow ourselves to go any lower. We’ve won the games that we should win against countries that we should be beating, no disrespect to them.
“I feel now that the players understand what’s expected of them when they come to the camp. We don’t have to do too much work on the training pitch. It’s just a case of patching them up and making sure they’re ready to go for the games.
“It would be up there with all the good achievements I’ve had before (to qualify for the Euros). I don’t like to take a lot of the praise for myself, so I’ll be praising the players to the hilt. If they can do it then it would be fantastic for the nation.
“It would give the country a lift. It’s been too long since we reached an international tournament. But I think it’s also unfair to put that amount of pressure on this group of players to say that they have to be the group that do it.
“Without putting too much pressure on them, it would make a big, big difference. The country would feel good to qualify for Euro 2020, it would be a massive boost for the nation.
Clarke is under no illusions that Serbia will be a tough game and that there are a few individual players the Scots must watch out for.
“It’ll be a tough game. They’re a very good team technically with some key players. They have a big, strong, physical striker who has a great eye for a goal in Aleksandar Mitrovic. In midfield Milinkovic-Savic likes to get into box and get goals. Dusan Tadic is a key player for them.
“The key to stopping Mitrovic is to stop the service into him. If we can do, then we’ll have a chance.
“I know everyone was expecting Norway to beat them. I wasn’t one of those people. I looked at the qualities of both teams and I expected to be going to Serbia for the play-off game.
“Hopefully, they’re looking at our squad and thinking ‘that’s a decent squad of players’. I think it’ll be a good game and hopefully we get the rub of the green and get the qualification that everybody wants.”
Clarke also looks back on his time at Scotland, from being approached to take over at Hampden, as well as the rocky start that came with it.
“I was proud to be approached the manager and to come through the selection process. And to get the job was great.
“I’m always a little bit reluctant to describe it as the pinnacle of my career because hopefully my career hasn’t finished yet, and I’ve also had a lot of good moments as a player, a coach and as a manager so it’s important for me not to put one thing at the top of the list.
“It was a very proud moment, and I was delighted to be offered the job. It came at the right time because I was starting to think I would need to go back down south. I was missing my family and felt it would be good to go back there.
“It wasn’t the easiest start with games against Russia and Belgium that felt sore at the time, but I learned a lot of lessons from those games and hopefully the recent matches show that I’ve done quite well and the players are understanding what they have to do to get results at international level.
Asked whether he learned more about his players in the games against Russia and Belgium, Clarke believes he did.
“I think you do (learn more about the players in those games). With that run of four games and four defeats, we suffered. It was sore but you learn a lot about your players and yourself.
“There was certainly a lot of soul searching and I had to ask questions of myself about how I could adapt and bring my club philosophies to international level, but hopefully we’re starting to show that there are some answers there.”
Adapting is a key word in Steve Clarke’s time as Scotland manager so far, and he’s also had to learn what he needs to do in the short time he has with players when they arrive for the international matches.
“Coaching on the grass is where I like to be with the players. When I first came in, I wanted to coach them too much. It’s more a case of trying to piece them together rather than coach them. At international football I’ve learned to separate the physical and technical aspects.
“When they come to us, they don’t need as much physical work because they’re getting that at their clubs. Here we try to give them more tactical guidance and teach them the key principles that make us as a team hard to beat and win matches at any level.
“I’ve learned a lot and I think the players are now understanding more from I want from them which is great. You always question yourself when you get beat heavily from any opposition, but you’ve got to ask yourself ‘how do I find a way?’
“That question then goes back to the formation and while I’ve always said I like to play with a back four in defence, I looked at what I had and what the strengths in the team were and how we could improve and I felt going to a back three would help us.”
Scotland are in the position they are in thanks to a penalty shoot-out win against Israel, and Clarke says that penalties will be addressed in training in the lead up to the Serbia game too.
“We practiced them before that game. At the end of every training session I give the players a ball and say to them that they have one kick.
“There’s no practice. I stand closer to them than the referee would and get the lads to put a little bit of pressure on them. You can’t replicate the pressure, but I tell them to concentrate on the fact that they have one penalty and tell them to hit it the way they would in a shootout.
“You saw with the quality of the last penalties that they were different class. I didn’t have any doubts that Kenny would score because he had a few really good penalties throughout the week (in training) and I was confident he would score.
“We’ll be working on them in the lead up to the Serbia game just in case because you never know. It could come down to it because I think it’s between two teams who are closely matched and if it goes to penalties then we have to be ready for them.”