Steve Clarke uses three extra places in Scotland squad to nurture next generation

UEFA allocating three extra places in European Championship squads gave Steve Clarke a priceless opportunity. He seized it with a vice-like grip.

If Scotland are to qualify regularly for major tournaments again, nurturing the next generation of international footballers is vital.

UEFA permitted larger squads of 26 players rather than the standard 23 for this summer’s finals to help with Covid 19 challenges. That offered Clarke room to develop the undoubted talent lurking beneath the national team and he has used it wisely.

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It is encouraging to see the uncapped names of Billy Gilmour, David Turnbull and Nathan Patterson in Scotland’s pool for next month's finals.

Clarke could have taken the easy option and filled those three slots with experience such as Aberdeen’s Andy Considine, Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Palmer and Leigh Griffiths of Celtic. All three could offer Scotland something at the Euros, with Considine and Palmer especially unfortunate to miss out.

Farense’s Ryan Gauld is another with a justifiable claim to a call-up after an outstanding season in Portugal.

The inclusion of Chelsea midfielder Gilmour and Rangers defender Patterson, both 19, plus 21-year-old Turnbull of Celtic is a clear and important nod to the future.

Major international tournaments have not witnessed the unique Tartan Army camaraderie for 23 years. If the Scots are again to party regularly with the best, the likes of Gilmour, Turnbull and Patterson will be better equipped for this experience.

Chelsea's Billy Gilmour is in the Scotland squad for the Euros.
Chelsea's Billy Gilmour is in the Scotland squad for the Euros.

The Bologna defender Aaron Hickey might also have been considered but for a season-ending shoulder injury. Motherwell’s outgoing midfielder Allan Campbell and Aberdeen’s Lewis Ferguson are others who could also make an international breakthrough in the next year or two.

For now, Clarke has picked 26 players who provide a combination of experience, versatility and youthful exuberance. He has major selection decisions to make before the opening Group D match against Czech Republic at Hampden Park on June 14, but will now feel well equipped to make those choices.

Craig Gordon or David Marshall in goal is one such dilemma. Clarke is expected to start the tournament with a three-man defence and it remains to be seen if anyone can oust Jack Hendry, Grant Hanley or Kieran Tierney in that department.

The Scotland squad for Euro 2020.

None of the uncapped youngsters are likely to start against the Czechs but pre-tournament friendlies against Luxembourg and the Netherlands could change Clarke’s thinking.

Stephen O’Donnell and captain Andy Robertson are anticipated to take the wing-back roles. After 14 appearances for domestically-unbeaten Rangers this term, Patterson will probably be O’Donnell’s deputy on the right.

In midfield, Gilmour faces a fight with Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong for a start. Any involvement in the forthcoming Champions League final with Chelsea could help the youngster from Ardrossan’s case.

The fitness of Newcastle United’s Ryan Fraser is another key issue for Clarke. That may be one reason he included Turnbull, whose attacking play has been one positive of an otherwise depressing campaign for Celtic.

At centre-forward, it appears a straight choice between Queens Park Rangers’ Lyndon Dykes and Southampton’s Ché Adams. The latter is favourite right now.

Regardless who plays, the evolution of Scotland at international level must continue after the Euro 2020 banners are taken down at Hampden. Youngsters in Clarke’s squad can watch, listen and learn knowing they are the future.

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