John McGinn might not get on the Wembley pitch with Aston Villa.
But Steve Clarke is going to do his level best to have him there in the summer with Scotland.
Last Tuesday, the Birmingham club booked their place in the Carabao Cup Final in London on March 1 with victory over Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City.
That, though, is almost certainly going to come too soon for McGinn, with the midfielder still recuperating after surgery on his fractured ankle.
On his radar, however, is the Euro 2020 Play-off semi-final against Israel on March 26, and with it the prospect of meeting either Norway or Serbia four days later for the chance to reach the summer extravaganza itself.
Ending the country’s 22-year wait to get back to a major Finals is Clarke’s quest, and he makes no bones about the importance of McGinn to his plans.
“I think I know how I want to play,” said the national coach. “The shape of the team since I took over has been quite consistent.
“We found a good way of playing, with John the link between the midfield and forwards, and it has worked well.
“Fingers crossed his improvement is quick, and his recovery is good.
“At the moment, you would have to say it is going to be very close.
“If John is not available, I would need to look at other options in midfield.
“I have an idea in my head who I want to play in those positions. Whether they can do the role the same as John is open to debate.
“I have a long time to think about that, and things can change between now and the end of March.
“I also need to have a safety net if someone gets injured, or someone else hits a great run of form.
“I just want everybody fit and available, so I have the hardest-possible selection when it comes to the squad in March.
“You want them all pushing, and playing well in every position.
“If I have a choice of two or three for every position, that’s great. That’s what I want.
“You want John McGinn to come through his recovery process probably a little bit quicker than it’s mapped out to be at the moment.
“But that’s possible. It can happen.”
While Clarke doesn’t have an Erling Braut Haaland – the Norwegian teenager who can’t stop scoring – at his disposal, he does have an on-form alternative.
“John Fleck has been really good,” the Scotland boss enthused.
“I have watched Sheffield United a few times this year – as well as John, we have Oli McBurnie there – and I have enjoyed the experience.
“They have been refreshing.They went up to the Premier with a lot of players who came up through the leagues, and people questioned whether they were up to the job.
“But they have done fantastically well, and it is great to see John doing so well.
“He doesn’t look out of place at all and, in recent weeks, Oli has got in the team and done well.”
Another possibility as a goalscoring midfielder is Stuart Armstrong, who currently has a hip injury but has been doing well in England’s top flight with Southampton.
“Stuart’s done well, after struggling earlier in the season to get in the team,” said Clarke.
“On the back of the 9-0 home defeat against Leicester City in October, he got his chance and he has grabbed it with both hands,” added the national boss.
“But I don’t think Southampton will be inviting me back! I went to watch them a few months ago and they lost to Everton.
“Then they went on a great run. Stuart was playing every week and scoring goals.”
Israel have lost young striker Manor Solomon to injury, but otherwise the Scotland coach expects them to be much as they were when the sides met in the Nations League qualifiers in 2018.
“They will be pretty similar,” said Clarke. “They play the same system, with three at the back. In-game, they can change to a four, but they normally start with a back-three or a back-five.
“The front two are good. Eran Zahavi is still there and still scoring goals from 25 yards, top corner. Moanes Dabbur is a good player.
“They are a talented team, and we are not in a position where we can look at anybody and think we are better than them.”
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