The manager who started Scotland’s journey to the Euro 2020 play-offs has warned of the danger one of his ex-players poses – but believes Steve Clarke will have a plan in place for success against Serbia.
Alex McLeish was in charge of the national team when they won their Nations League group to secure a play-off place. Now, Serbia stand between Scotland and a place in a major finals for the first time since 1998.
Clarke’s side will come up against a talented team with players drawn from across Europe, and McLeish revealed he had a small role in the development of one key individual.
Speaking to STV, he said: “We’ve an ex-player of mine from Genk playing in Milinkovic-Savic. He was just a kid trying to break through when we brought him into the Genk team and he is going to be one of the dangers.
“Steve will have a plan to stop him. We can’t allow him just to have the ball and do what he wants with it.
“He’s got two great feet and he has some expertise with a football.
“It’s important, it’s imperative that when he gets the ball we either get close to him with an individual or we double up on him.
“He’s not their only player. We know Aleksandar Mitrovic up front and one or two other big names that are playing in Europe.”
Scotland are expected to start with a three-man defence in Belgrade, having enjoyed success since switching shape and, among other changes, deploying Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay as part of the back line.
McLeish sees the benefit of the move and said it was a tactic he had earmarked for the future during his time in charge,
“Stevie has to decide if that’s the right way for any specific game that he goes into,” he said.
“He has Scott McTominay playing back there and it shows you the versatility of the big man. We spoke about whether McTominay could end up as a centre half [in my time in charge]. James McFadden, Peter Grant and I discussed that a lot.
“Steve’s put him back pretty early and it’s suited the team. Tierney has been playing in a left wing-back role at Arsenal so I wasn’t too far off the mark with trying to get them into the team.”
“It’s very much akin to what Sheffield United did when they went up to the Premier League. So there’s all these different categories that you can get these players to adapt to. But the most important thing is that Stevie has made us look harder to beat.”
The former Scotland boss now hopes that his successor can take the team over the line and deliver real success.
“It’s a toughie but it would be great if we could do it,” McLeish added. “It was a great thrill on the night of the Israel game to know that we had that ahead of us.
“In that wee competition the only thing that mattered was that we got to those play-offs.
“Stevie has done the first part and let’s hope we can do it in Serbia.”