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James McFadden: Steve Clarke will be buzzing to get started again. It’s just a pity the Tartan Army won’t be there to see it

© Craig Foy / SNS GroupJames McFadden
James McFadden

Scotland’s first competitive game in 10 months is less than four weeks away.

When Israel come to Hampden Park on September 4 for the Nations League Group F opener, it will be the Dark Blues’ first 90 minutes since they defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 on November 19, 2019.

The Euro 2020 Play-off semi-final against Israel should have been played in March, but was postponed due to Covid-19. It will now take place on October 8.

James McFadden was part of Alex McLeish’s backroom staff when they clinched a play-off place 18 months ago, so he knows his way around the international set-up.

The frustration of not seeing players for three or four months at a time is shared by all national gaffers.

But this gap has been extraordinary, and McFadden feels national boss Steve Clarke will be absolutely buzzing to get back on the training field with the squad.

The former Kilmarnock and West Brom boss will name his squad later this month, and McFadden told The Sunday Post: “Managers at international level need to get used to the stop-start element of their job.

“But this has been unprecedented for Steve and his staff. It’s been a helluva long wait.

“That’s why he will be so looking forward to being involved again.

“He will be ready. The preparation will be spot on. He will be desperate to get started.

“It will be interesting to see how he views the game next month.

“It’s obviously one he will want to win to get the feelgood factor around the place.

“But he may well have one eye on the game the following month. It’s the Euro 2020 play-off and there is so much at stake.

“He might use the September game to try one or two things that he has in mind for October. We will wait and see.

“There would have been things he would have been set on for the March fixture. But with that being postponed, then there may well be a clean slate.

“Some players who might have been available then, may not be available now, or vice-versa.

“Some players might have been flying in March, and in top form, but haven’t had a game in the past three or four weeks. So it’s hard to judge their current form.

“One of the big plus points must be the re-emergence of Kieran Tierney. He is in brilliant form for Arsenal.

“I don’t think he was available for last March due to injury, but he is right in the mix now.

“Whether he is playing at wing-back, full-back or left side of a three-man central defence, he is totally comfortable. There is no risk involved with Kieran.

“He will be absolutely buzzing just now, and so will Andy Robertson.

“He is coming back as a League champion, and we all know how passionate he is about his country.

“Of course, the big question now is where Steve decides to play both of them. It’s not an easy one but at least we are talking about two of the very best players in the business.

“They will provide quality, regardless of where they play in the team.”

© Gary Hutchison / SNS Group
Scotland manager Steve Clarke

Tierney and Robertson won’t have played for more than a month by the time the Scotland game comes around.

It’s the same for the likes of John McGinn, Oli McBurnie and John Fleck.

McFadden knows it isn’t ideal, but he isn’t overly concerned.

He explained: “You would prefer the lads to have had four or five games, of course, but it’s not to be.

“They will have been back in full training with their clubs by then, and in more-than-decent condition.

“You then have the likes of Scott McTominay at Manchester United, and hopefully they are involved in the Europa League right through.

“John McGinn will be on a high because of staying up in the Premier League with Aston Villa. He is another one who probably wouldn’t have been available in March, but is now.

“Oli McBurnie really looked the part after lockdown. He made a massive contribution to Sheffield United.

“We are probably a wee bit light in options in the central-striker role.But a plus point for Steve will be that Lawrence Shankland is now in the top flight in Scotland, and playing weekly for Dundee United against tougher opposition. That can only be beneficial.

“Stevie Naismith is also in the frame and it would be better if Hearts were playing again, but he will still be in good condition.

“Stephen O’Donnell doesn’t have a club yet, and the same applies to Ryan Fraser.

“It’s the same for all of those guys in terms of having a wee concern with regards to match fitness and sharpness.

“Look, it’s not perfect but the manager has trust in the guys and they all look after themselves very well off the park.

“Closer to home, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, James Forrest and Ryan Jack are all playing every week and playing under a high level of pressure with the Old Firm. Steve will be delighted about that.”

It’s highly unlikely the Tartan Army will be allowed into Hampden for the game next month, and McFadden knows that is a setback.

He said: “Everybody has missed football, and the Scotland fans will be the same.

“They’d love to be able to get in next month but we are maybe not at that stage yet.

“It could well be that there is more flexibility for the game in October, and that would be great.

“Having the fans inside Hampden for the Euro Play-off semi-final would be a huge bonus.

“They will want to play their part in trying to help the team qualify for the Euros in the summer of 2021.

“We all know it’s been strange for everyone in the past five months, but there appears to be a wee bit of normality coming back.

“But it’s one day at a time, right enough.

“The stage is set for a cracker, and I hope it leads to a win and the Play-off Final against either Norway or Serbia.

“It’s very exciting because the whole country has the same aim and that is to be at the tournament next summer.

“It’s a tall order, but we do have a good squad of players.

“Having worked with them, I know how determined they are to succeed.

“They have desire and they have talent.

“It’s a good combination, and hopefully it sees the country through in the next two or three months.”