Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack: "I know I should have had more caps."
It isn’t difficult to conclude that Ryan Jack and Scotland once had a stop-start relationship. Mostly, it was stop.
A mere seven caps, two of them coming within the last seven days, stretching back to 2017, when he made his international debut at Pittodrie of all places shortly after joining Rangers from Aberdeen, is a paltry return for the 28-year-old midfielder.
Then came an incident last year when Steven Gerrard accused Scotland manager Steve Clarke of running his player into the ground two days after a hard-fought Old Firm derby. Jack had to pull out of the forthcoming Belgium game after a knee injury flared-up.
The Ibrox manager branded the Scotland staff’s treatment of his midfielder as “careless” after Jack had run a total of 11 kms in a double training session. Clarke later responded in conciliatory fashion, agreeing that he would have been better had Jack not taken part in the afternoon session so soon after playing 90 minutes against Celtic and that “lessons will be learned”. Still, it all felt slightly ominous as far as Jack’s Scotland career was concerned.
Another Celtic v Rangers clash looms on Saturday but Jack is prepared to make it three appearances in seven days for Scotland against Czech Republic this evening. It has proved a restorative period for the midfielder’s international ambitions.
He has started four of Scotland’s last six internationals and has struck up an effective midfield partnership with Old Firm rival Callum McGregor. They were both named on the bench against Slovakia on Sunday, only coming on in the final minutes as Clarke turned to his dependable pair for help in seeing out an important victory.
At the risk of irritating both Gerrard and Celtic manager Neil Lennon, Clarke might well be preparing to restore them to the starting line-up tonight as Scotland seek to consolidate their place at the top of their Nations League group. Jack seems on board with this. He knows he’s making up for lost time. There are those who contend the concept of international football should remain parked during the pandemic. Jack is not one of them.
“Our careers are short enough and you don’t want to be missing a year of internationals, or six months, or whatever it may be,” he said. “We always want to be here every time there is a chance or there is a squad announced, you want to play and be a part of it. Personally, I think it is great that we are still playing the games.”
In terms of squad morale and willingness to be involved it also helps if things are going well on the pitch. And, for now, they are. Jack is more than happy to be on-board.
“It’s a long time since we’ve had this type of run,” he said. “We’ve always said when we met under the gaffer that we wanted to build something and wanted to build momentum to take into each camp we turn up to and so far, so good. This game is another chance for us to keep this going.”
Jack already had 250 game under his belt for Aberdeen when he signed for Rangers three years ago. Although he played 19 times for the Under 21s, his relatively meagre number of full caps clearly irked someone who turns 29 at the start of next year. Clarke agreed this tally was not commensurate with his talent. They had what Jack describes as a significant conversation at the start of the manager’s tenure.
“I’ve not really had a lot of caps,” he reflected. “That’s the honest truth. I was I could have had more, but since the manager has come into the job, and we had that conversation - I missed the first squad through injury - he’s always said he wanted me to be part of it. He’s always made me feel part of it. As a player, that’s all you want.”
Clarke’s methods are certainly beginning to bear fruit as Scotland seek to extend an unbeaten run stretching back more than a year. Some unlikely characters have put their shoulder to the wheel, including Andrew Considine. Jack is thrilled to be reunited with his popular former Aberdeen teammate at international level.
“Big Andy has been brilliant and everyone saw on Sunday how good he was,” he said. “He brings that calmness and experience. I spoke to Andy after it and he was buzzing. It was a great opportunity for him and there is no doubt he grabbed it with both hands. Hopefully going forward we will see more of Andy as well.”
The Aberdeen player’s post-match interview has become a study in how to express what it feels like to pull on an international jersey. Like Considine, Jack appreciates every time he has turned out for the international team. With three games still to come after this evening, including next month’s crucial Euro 2020 play-off final v Serbia, he stands to reach double figures in terms of caps by the end of the year.
“I always said that if it didn’t mean that much then there was no point in you turning up,” he said. “It has got to mean the world to you to come away and put that shirt on and try and perform. Look, there are going to be times when you are going to have a bad performance or it is not going to go well and you get beat. But I have always said that every time you get the chance to put on that shirt you have to grab it and give it your all.
“Andy comes in on Sunday for the game,” he continued. “He met up the day before, got told he was playing and goes in, grabs it with both hands and was excellent. It is credit to Andy and he thoroughly deserves it because he has had a great career.”
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