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Analysis: Clarke can't be blamed for exploring every option

The Scotland boss wouldn't be wrong in calling up Steven Caulker or other 'Anglos'.

Clarke (right) has been tasked with reviving Scotland's hopes.
Clarke (right) has been tasked with reviving Scotland's hopes. SNS Group

by Chris Harvey

Scotland arrive in Russia this week looking for evolution not revolution.

In Steve Clarke's first few games in charge, the evidence so far is that this Scotland team are a perpetual work in progress.

The team selected to take to the Luzhniki pitch will be almost wholly familiar to followers of the domestic game. Nearly all of them ply, or plied, their trade at one or other of our SPFL teams for at least part of their career.

But, as Clarke pursues a winning formula, that may not always be the case - a dilemma that vexes a substantial legion of the Tartan Army.

The latest name to be linked to a call-up is the nomadic former Dundee defender Steven Caulker. Now plying his trade in Turkey, the powerful centre-back is eligible for Scotland through his grandmother, but Caulker - like many before him - splits opinion among the fans of the national team.

Many, if not a majority, struggle to fully embrace those who have previously warranted international attention elsewhere. Caulker played ten games for England Under-21s and even earned full international honours in a friendly against Sweden.

That he now sends admiring glances to the dark blue starting XI has been enough for Clarke's scouting team, in the shape of assistant coach Steven Reid, to examine the possibility of bringing him into the fold ahead of the Nations League play-offs.

The conundrum that always faces Scotland national team managers is identity versus success. Neither are mutually exclusive - but since 1998 there has been too little of either in the right amount to propel the team to a major finals - the litmus test for any national side. Too many so-called Anglos and a noisy majority will argue that the relationship between the Tartan Army and the team becomes more distant.

Caulker is keen on a Scotland cap.
Caulker is keen on a Scotland cap. SNS Group

Call-offs and some short-stays have undermined the claims of 'fully committed to the cause' for a few - but there are many born elsewhere and wedded to Scotland by their family heritage that can boast a place in the hearts and hall of fame for Scotland.

Steve Clarke is a pragmatist and his tenure will be judged solely on his ability to fashion a squad that can clear that final hurdle, regardless of birth-places or accents.

It is arguable that if Oli McBurnie had developed his career in Scotland, as he had in England and Wales, then the patience afforded to him by the supporters might be greater than offered thus far. But, like Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland - who can boast a prolific scoring record in our SPFL leagues - it's only on his ability in the dark blue that he will be measured.

I wrestle constantly with both sides of this argument. Pure or poached? Stubbornly refusing a blend while bemoaning another abject failure?

Can you remember which squad of Scotland footballers contained the most Anglos at our World Cups and European Championships? Me neither.

I remember each game and each goal. But I have almost forgotten what the experience of seeing us be there feels like.

If Steven Caulker can help achieve that, even for just one game - then he has my support.

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