Scotland just won their sixth consecutive game for the first time in 90 years. Is their boss Steve Clarke finally pulling out all the stops?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today… Steve Clarke’s Scotland revolution.
Anybody who has watched the film “Trainspotting” will know that Scotland and self-deprecating humour go hand in hand.
You might remember Mark Renton – the character played by Ewan McGregor – going on a rant which starts with the line, “It’s shite being Scottish.”
And fans of the national team can be forgiven for identifying with that sentiment.
Scotland have never progressed beyond the group stage in a World Cup… and, until recently, their form has been woeful.
“But then, at the turn of the century, something in Scottish International football went seriously wrong. In some of the most ridiculous, embarrassing and unfathomable ways.”
“From France ‘98 onwards, essentially it’s a story of eternal disappointment.”Copa90 YouTube
In the summer of 2019, the Scottish FA appointed Steve Clarke as the national team boss.
Clarke had worked as an assistant under Ruud Gullit at Newcastle before becoming Jose Mourinho’s number two at Chelsea.
More assistant roles followed at West Ham and Liverpool… and then he landed his first job as head Coach in 2012, with West Brom.
He’d built his reputation slowly but steadily. But you could forgive Scotland fans for feeling underwhelmed when he was appointed – especially as he lost four of his first five games in charge.
Even though Scotland qualified for Euro 2020, they exited after the group stage with just one point. For the Tartan Army it was the same old, same old.
And even as recently as September, Clarke was taking flak from the press.
“You’ve just been caning them for not scoring goals…over the last little spell. Everybody’s criticising that they don’t score goals but what they do is they work their socks off for the team. Defend from the front, start from the front. Two really good players, made us much better in that department of the pitch, and I’m delighted to have them on board. They’re gonna pick up more caps, they’re going to get more experience, they are going to get better. And the goals will come.”PLZ Soccer
As you just heard, Clarke is always ready to defend his players… but behind the scenes, things were changing.
He set about his job by creating a solid defence – and against England in the Euros it did its job, holding them to a 0-0 draw.
But it wasn’t very exciting to watch.
Clarke was criticised for being too serious.
You can understand why Scottish fans describe themselves as “eternally disappointed.”
But that was then. Fast forward to earlier this week and…
“And he put it through for Adams, Che Adams is onto it…It’s Adammmmmms! Hampden Park is home sweet home and could be home to a playoff in March! Scotland hitting heights here with a pulsating performance!”Sky Sports
The cheering in that clip was not from a fan in the crowd but from commentator Ally McCoist.
He couldn’t hide his delight with Scotland clinching a home draw in the playoffs for a place in the World Cup.
“So come on then Ally…”
“Oh, Natalie….best performance…right you ready?
“I thought I would’ve calmed down by this morning. Best performance, easily in about 20 years.
“In 20 years?”
That 2-0 win over highly rated Denmark was Scotland’s sixth consecutive victory… the first time they’ve managed that in 90 years.
It was a huge result for a country whose clubs can’t compete financially with their counterparts in England.
And there were cracks even in the stony-faced demeanour of Steve Clarkr:
“Steve, a great way to end the campaign, how do you sum it up?”
“[laughs] I’ll just start with a smile. I always get criticised for not smiling, but if you can’t smile after a performance from your players like that then…there’d be something wrong with me so…”Steve Clarke
So what’s Clarke’s secret?
Well, according to Scotland fans it’s because players are no longer weighed down by expectation. They stick to a formation that suits them, and they look to play and control rather than react and contain.
Exciting new players are coming through… and Clarke’s defensive base is now so well-embedded that the attackers have more freedom.
But the overwhelming feeling is that Clarke seems to have the knack for getting the very best out of each of his individual players. He’s created a tight-knit group with his “us versus the world” mentality.
It reminds me of someone. His former mentor, Jose Mourinho.
The end result?
An almighty party. The Scotland fans’ passion is contagious. They may not be able to contain their expectations for long. The song they’ve adopted captures the mood perfectly.
“Ohhhhhh! Yes sir! I can boogie, but I need a certain song. I can boogie! Boogie woogie! All night long!”Scotland fans
And in the early hours of the morning after the Denmark game, an earthquake was registered in the West of Scotland.
Coincidence? Who knows!
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Studio Klong.