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'He’s one of the stand-out players in European football'

Steve Clarke has explained his Scotland squad selections

‘Aaron Hickey is one of the stand-out players in European football’ – Steve Clarke on his Scotland selections Getty Images

Steve Clarke says Aaron Hickey has strong competition for a Scotland starting spot but has shown in Serie A that he could be an asset for the national team.

The 19-year-old full-back was called up to the senior squad for the first time ahead of the friendlies against Poland and Wales or Austria.

Having made the breakthrough to first team football with Bologna after making the move from Hearts in 2020, Hickey’s profile has risen sharply and Clarke says he’s made his mark this season and earned a chance.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson and Celtic’s Greg Taylor are the current left-backs in the squad, though Hickey can also play on the right and could compete with Everton’s Nathan Patterson and Motherwell’s Stephen O’Donnell for a start.

“I think if you look at the course of the season and the way that Aaron has played for Bologna, he’s one of the stand-out players in European football at the moment,” Clarke said.

“It’s a chance for me to bring him in and compare him to the people that are in the squad, his competition if you like, and he’s got hefty competition in front of him. It’s a chance for me to look at Aaron up close.”

It was one of a number of selection issues that Clarke explained when announcing his group of players for two games that will be a warm-up for the World Cup play-off semi-final.

The national team boss recalled David Marshall as his second choice goalkeeper, with the veteran having missed out previously because he wasn’t playing regularly. Motherwell’s Liam Kelly was preferred to Zander Clark as the third-choice.

“Obviously David lost his place in the Derby team, probably due to financial circumstances as much as anything,” Clarke said.

“He managed to get a move in the January window. He has been playing at QPR, reasonably regular. It’s nice to have David back involved. I always like to have at least two senior goalkeepers, so with Craig and David, I’ve got that.

“Younger goalkeepers is a different kettle of fish. I have been rotating Liam and Zander and I’ve gone for Liam this time. So we are strong in that department.”

Clarke said it was “a boost” being able to call up Ryan Jack. The Rangers midfielder had originally been in the frame for Euro 2020 but has suffered a long spell on the sidelines with injury before returning for his club and impressing in domestic games and in Europe.

“Ryan Jack coming back is a big boost for us,” he said. “Ryan was an integral part of the qualification for the Euros. Unfortunately he picked up a really serious injury that took a long time to recover from.

“But his recent performances for Rangers merit his place in the squad and it will be great to see him again.”

There was no place for Newcastle attacker Ryan Fraser though. Clarke said he had discussed an issue with the player and told him he would have to earn his place back on merit after missing a previous call-up.

“I had a chat with Ryan,” he explained. “There was a situation in November where Ryan didn’t come with the squad but trained with his club. Ryan has apologised for that situation.

“I decided not to pick him this squad and we have decided that Ryan’s club form moving forward will determine if he is involved in the next camps. So it’s down to Ryan how he plays for his club. He has done well recently. I’ve watched him live a couple of times.”

Despite an international break with no competitve games, following the postponement of the play-off, Clarke sees the benefit in keeping his core group together and working towards the challenges ahead.

“My thinking on this camp was to work on one or two things, to get together after four months – it’s a long time we haven’t been together,” he said.

“It’s important to get the bulk of the squad together, work on what we are good at, and try and prepare as best we can for the June games.”