Despite the joy of seeing the flowering of Scotland under the control of his former team-mate and good friend Steve Clarke, it was not all good news or indeed good officiating during the international games according to Pat Nevin, who shares his views in this week’s column…
I do enjoy international football but I know for many people the elongated international break is actually a bit of a pain in the neck. It seems to last for ages, but I understand the idea of getting a whole bunch of games out of the way all together. If that cuts down the overall amount of travelling then I guess, on balance, it is a good thing for the players and not a bad thing for the planet in the long term either.The injury to Ben Chilwell is particularly frustrating, happening just as our defence had begun to have a seriously settled look about it. Hopefully it isn’t something that will keep him out for long. There are a number of players who can step in there of course such as Azpi, Marcos Alonso and Emerson, so no panic buttons will be reached for, but it is frustrating for Frank and the fans nonetheless.
I do have to mention that my beloved Scotland finally managed to qualify for a major Championships, the first time since 1998! To underline how long ago that was, I was still in with a shout of making that squad!Hey there’s a thing! Since I stopped getting picked for the Scottish national team they stopped qualifying for major tournaments. Is that just a coincidence? Actually, the answer is sadly yes. It has however taken one of our greats from Stamford Bridge, Stevie Clarke, to get a hold of the group and make them a force to be reckoned with. Well done Clarkey for becoming a Scottish national treasure and living legend.Here is a quick question. Stevie and I played together for three different teams; can you name them? The answer is at the bottom of the page and it reminds me that after quite a number of people got I touch, I will fairly soon be setting a few quizzes on this page again. Well, as soon as I can rustle together a few decent prizes for the winners.
For all that happiness for my country and my friend Stevie, there was a tinge of frustration again when I considered the Scotland Under-21 match. It was amazing to see Billy Gilmour back on a football field and looking fit and well. It was amazing to see him come on as sub for a whole nine minutes before he was sent off again. If you get a chance to see it, you will be stunned by how daft the referee’s decision is.Billy, just back from injury and desperate to get involved again, makes a challenge which probably isn’t even a foul. The referee whistles and in frustration there may have been a swear word emitted, but in frustration, not aimed at the official directly. Cue a straight red card. If that happens in Under-11s football I kind of get it, but in a top-level game, with the stresses and strains and pressure of the occasion, really referee? Add on top of that the young man coming back from an injury and playing for his national team. I mean honestly ref, have a bit of a look in the mirror and see if you are proud of yourself.This might sound like the rantings of a pro-Chelsea, pro-Scotland, pro-Billy Gilmour fan boy, but it isn’t. I think there is a huge danger that referees are missing serious problems while harshly penalising tiny technical issues.Take for example the sending off in the Chelsea game against Rennes. Now Dalbert is not one of our players and playing against 10 men was undoubtedly a great help to us on the night, but I was furious with those daft decisions. Twice the defender gave away penalties but neither was a deliberate action. I am not even sure the second one should have been a penalty and as for the first, he tried to get out of the way of the tackle. But the referee saw fit to give a yellow card on both occasions.
So there are two possibilities here. The official is a fool with absolutely no understanding of the game and shouldn’t be allowed near a football pitch at that level again, or he has been ordered to officiate in that way, in which case we should get a hold of those writing the rules and make them as welcome as Dominic Cummings at Boris Johnson’s next birthday party.It was to my mind unacceptable, especially when you have players doing very serious things like feigning head injuries or cheating blatantly by diving all over the place while the referee ignores it. VAR would have been applauded and accepted much more had it had been utilised to limit that side of the game instead of being focused on offside toes and armpits!Still you win some and you lose some. Ben Chilwell picked up an injury but Billy Gilmour is back from his enforced absence. It is all part of the sport. Like everyone else I just hope there are no more injuries during the raft of international games that will be played over the next couple of days.Looking around the matches it was good, if not particularly surprising, to see Timo Werner scoring a couple for Germany. Jorginho slotting a penalty for Italy was also far from a huge shock but N’Golo Kante netting the winner for France against Portugal was a real joy. Just seeing our French midfield machine score for his country and then watching his understated, almost shy celebration just made you love him all the more.
There have been ups and downs for everyone on their travels this time but I just hope they all get back with the same spirit and level of confidence they showed before this break. Internationals are supposed to lift you, but on the other hand losing while playing for your country can be a very particular type of downer. Every player tries his or her best to keep it in perspective but there is a niggling voice in the back of your head after a defeat that is whispering ‘You have let your whole country down, haven’t you!’ This is not a good voice to be niggling away in your head, I can tell you.We do not need any of that negativity before the trip to Newcastle and I am guessing there is enough experience in the group to get the feeling back to where it was very quickly. That is part of the job for Frank and Jody this week. Newcastle will be no pushovers, but with the right attitude this is one we should win to keep the good run going. That’s unless the referee decides to send someone off for looking at him in a mildly offensive way. Right now that wouldn’t totally surprise me.Finally, here is the answer to the question I asked earlier in this column. Clarkey and I played together for Chelsea, Scotland and the English Football League Select. The last of those teams was for a game at Wembley with the likes of Maradona and Gary Lineker in the opposition team. An extra mark for pedantry if you also guessed Scotland Under-21s to make it four teams!