Richard Gough says call-off culture is damaging Steve Clarke’s Euro bid
A raft of call-offs and players retiring prematurely from international duty are damaging Steve Clarke’s chances of leading Scotland to Euro 2020 according to Richard Gough.
The former national captain believes head coach Clarke is a victim of a modern trend of clubs downgrading international football.
Four key English Premier League players are not available to face Cyprus on Saturday or Kazakhstan next week as Clarke tries to build some kind of momentum for the Euro play-offs next March.
Captain Andy Robertson of Liverpool, Manchester United’s Scott McTominay and Ryan Fraser from Bournemouth have all pulled out of the qualifiers, joining Kieran Tierney who has been excused at the request of Arsenal.
It has been a recurring theme. There have been 27 withdrawals in the past year while players like Allan McGregor, James McArthur, Scott Brown, Robert Snodgrass and Matt Ritchie have all retired and Steven Fletcher has made himself unavailable.
Gough says it is a sign of the times that there is a lack of commitment to the national team.
“I don’t like seeing so many call-offs,” he said. “It doesn’t help Stevie Clarke, that’s for sure. How is he supposed to get a rhythm going?
“But in the case of Andy Robertson, you can imagine [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Kopp looking at it and saying that Scotland can’t qualify through the group so why should one of his most important players be risked?
“I’m sure Robertson will be playing for Liverpool in two weeks’ time.
“Listen, it’s been going on for years. At Rangers Graeme Souness didn’t like us going to play in friendlies – I’m not sure any manager liked that.
“The thing is the money involved now means that club football is king. Players don’t want to miss six months by getting injured playing for their country and their managers feel the same way.
“But I have been alarmed by the number of call-offs since Stevie took over and I think it has to be addressed.”
Gough, capped 61 times, quit the national team in 1993 after a fall-out with Andy Roxburgh.
He has also lamented the dearth of talent at the back compared to his era.
Gough said: “We used to have an abundance of top-class central defenders. We really were blessed with a number of very good centre backs. We had Alex McLeish and Willie Miller at Aberdeen, Paul Hegarty and Dave Narey at Dundee United and of course there was Alan Hansen and Gary Gillespie at Liverpool too.
“I had to play right back so I could get a game, even although I was playing centre back for Rangers.”
It was while playing in that position 30 years ago that Gough scored two late goals in Cyprus, including a stunning winner five and a half minutes into injury time, for a 3-2 victory that was key to taking Scotland to the 1990 World Cup.
The Scots were 2-1 down when Gough levelled then East German referee Siegfried Kirschen famously added nearly seven minutes.
“The Cypriots tried to play for the draw and they were wasting time at every opportunity,” Gough recalled. “So that’s where the referee got the added time from – although none of us knew how long he was going to play. It was big Roy Aitken who played in the free kick and I think it was one of the best headers of my career.
“Obviously this game [on Saturday] doesn’t come anywhere near the stature or the importance of the game we played in 1989, but it’s still a big game.”