Playing for Scotland, Lee McCulloch experienced the ultimate high and a few lows on his way to accumulating 18 caps.
He knows only too well what it’s like to be the target for heavy criticism from fans and pundits towards the international manager and his players.
Now Hearts assistant manager, he watched Steve Clarke’s side take four points from their opening two Nations League games to go top of their section, and remain unbeaten in their last five games.
However, that wasn’t enough to satisfy some people.
McCulloch reckons that is totally unfair and has appealed for unity ahead of the Euro 2020 Play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden on October 8.
The 42-year-old told The Sunday Post: “I was proud and privileged to play for Scotland, and gave my all in every game. We all did.
“Every player had a desire and hunger to win and achieve success.
“It was the same with every international manager I played under – Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein.
“Nobody should ever doubt the commitment.
“I was lucky enough to have played the night when James McFadden scored that stunning winner against France in Paris.
“It was one of the best nights of my life. People still talk about it, and being part of it makes me very proud.
“But I was also in the team that struggled to beat Liechtenstein a decade ago at Hampden.
“We scraped a 2-1 win, and Stephen McManus scored the winner in the fourth or fifth minute of stoppage time.
“We’d rather have had the game signed and sealed much earlier, but we didn’t.
“We were expected to win that game by four or five goals but we struggled.
“However, we still got the points and showed the right attitude by never giving up.
“The bottom line is that sometimes it doesn’t go your way, and there has to be a bit of realism and understanding.
“It can be easy to criticise, but there is also a need for people to look beyond an obvious answer or soundbite.
“There are always reasons behind things, and more often than not they are kept private.
“I look at the performance last Monday night against the Czech Republic away from home, and the first thing that hit me was that Scotland won the game. They got the three points. Job done.
“I’d congratulate Steve Clarke and the players for winning a competitive match away from home.
“Sure, the Czech side was under-strength, and the circumstances for them were far from ideal.
“But they still had talented players, and there was a clear determination on their part to beat us.
“The Scotland players showed patience, character and bottle to come from behind and win the game.
“Lyndon Dykes scored a really good equaliser, and then Ryan Christie kept his nerve to slot home the penalty.
“There was a fair bit of defending to do in the last 10 minutes to stop the Czechs, but that’s fine. It’s part of the game.
“Yes, we’d all have liked to have been more comfortable and won by two or three goals.
“But having that bit of pressure to handle in the closing stages might just stand the guys in good stead for the Israel game next month.
“What about the old saying that ‘It’s great to win when you haven’t played well’. Surely that should apply to Scotland as well?
“Remember, the manager had limited options in certain positions for both games, particularly in the centre-forward position.
“For one reason or another, Oli McBurnie, Lawrence Shankland, Leigh Griffiths and Stevie Naismith were all missing. That makes life much more difficult.
“But Lyndon came in and didn’t let anyone down. He was first-class.”
The former Rangers, Motherwell and Wigan midfielder hopes it clicks into place for the current squad, and that Andy Robertson is skippering at the Finals next summer, the first time the nation will have been at such an event since the 1998 World Cup.
McCulloch said: “We should all know by now that nothing comes easy in football, especially for Scotland.
“I don’t think we ever make life easy for ourselves on the international stage.
“If it was always smooth and straightforward, then we’d be qualifying for major tournaments on a regular basis. But we’ve not been to one for 22 years.
“That’s one of the biggest regrets and disappointments of my career, that I couldn’t have been involved at a tournament with my country.
“It would have been very special.
“All the guys felt the same. Whether it was Darren Fletcher, Kenny Miller, Scott Brown or James McFadden, they wanted it badly.
“I could go on and on naming players.
“The current group will be the same. They are in the fortunate position of being able to do something about it.
“For me and the guys I’ve just mentioned, our time has come and gone.
“Steve Clarke and the players are two games away from becoming legends.
“They are within touching distance of being involved in the Euros next summer, with the chance of playing games at Hampden Park.
“That said, I am taking nothing for granted because it would be dangerous to underestimate Israel.
“They showed at Hampden last week that they are a more-than-decent outfit. They have three or four players of real quality.
“But we also have top players, and we only need to look to Andy Robertson for proof of that.
“He is one of the best left-backs in world football, and he is our captain.
“We all know how desperate he is to lead the country to a Finals.
“He has won the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool, but he will not rest until he has achieved great things with Scotland.
“I think we could tell he was frustrated at full-time after the Czech Republic game.
“He knew there was criticism coming, but he appealed for everyone to get behind the manager and the players and he was quite right to do so.
“The last thing the players need is to turn up next month with a feeling of negativity in the air.
“There needs to be full support and optimism. The manager and players deserve that, surely?
“We must all hope that the team plays really well against Israel, and gets the desired result.
“It is achievable, and with the backing of the country there is a better chance of it happening.
“It would give everyone a lift if the Tartan Army were allowed into Hampden. I know from experience their backing can be invaluable.
“But, at this stage, it looks unlikely that they’ll be in. We can only keep our fingers crossed.”
McCulloch thinks there are some really-talented players in the team, and said: “We have players playing at the highest level. They know their football.
“It was just unfortunate that they lost any chance of a rhythm under Steve because they went 10 months without being together due to Covid-19.
“So there was bound to be a wee bit of rustiness against Israel and the Czech Republic, but they overcame that to take four points.
“That is a real positive and something to build on next month.”
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