Steve Clarke: the unassuming hero who has turned Scotland's fortunes around
“My dad is my hero. Watching my hero take Scotland to an international competition is the greatest thing I’ll ever see.”
So wrote John Clarke, son of Steve, on Twitter shortly after Scotland’s shoot-out win over Serbia. But then, as of last night, we are all sons and daughters of Steve Clarke. We should all now consider him a hero.
Still, we were permitted to scoff a little over a year ago when Clarke urged his side to ensure they had reached the darkest hour following a 4-0 thrashing by Russia that had come hot on the heels of a 4-0 thrashing by Belgium.
After all, there were games still to come against San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan, whose 3-0 win over Scotland set in motion the chain of events that saw Alex McLeish sacked and Clarke installed as manager. Fortunately, McLeish left the gift of a Euro 2020 semi-final play-off place. Scotland completed the process of cashing that in last night.
McLeish should not be forgotten amid the delirium. And he won’t be. Clarke himself has referenced his old international teammate on enough occasions during the last few weeks. But, as much as he won’t like it, the quiet man from Ayrshire must also be hailed.
Indeed, near the end of his pre-match press conference on the eve of the brilliant shoot-out victory over Serbia, Clarke was asked about the potential to have legendary status thrust upon him depending on what happened the following night. He answered: “I have never been one to covet that. Even as a player I liked to be a wee bit under the radar.”
There was no going under the radar from around 10.25pm on Thursday night. He – along with David Marshall, Declan Gallagher, Lyndon Dykes etc etc – was the talk of the steamie. Clarke deserves all the praise going. After all, he is the one who revived goalkeeper Marshall’s international career when it looked over. He is the one who put his faith in Declan Gallagher, the Motherwell centre-half who kept Scott McKenna out of the side in Belgrade.
And then there’s Dykes, perhaps Clarke’s greatest recruitment success. The tall striker has been a revelation since coming into the side against Israel in September after Clarke convinced the Australian native to switch allegiance to Scotland, the land of both his parents’ birth. Although he did not score against Serbia, he was the key factor in their ability to take the game to the hosts in the 83 minutes he was on the pitch.
It did look like things might get a bit dicey for Clarke towards the end of the 90 minutes and then in extra-time. It looked as if his halo might have slipped when he took off three of his best players in Dykes, John McGinn and goalscorer Ryan Christie and replaced them with Oli McBurnie, Kenny McLean and Callum Paterson.
Scotland ceded control and Serbia equalised in the final minute through their own substitute, Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic. Somehow, Scotland survived extra-time. Somehow Scotland settled themselves and produced another flawless display of penalty-taking.
“Was that the best performance Scotland had produced under him?” the man from Reuters asked Clarke after the game. “Yes,” he replied. Man of few words. Man of the year in Scotland.
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