Decision time: Steve Clarke poised to name his Scotland squad for Euro 2024

The Tartan Army will find out on Wednesday which players are boarding the plane to Germany.

Who will make the Scotland squad for the Euros? Steve Clarke set to reveal his 28-man squad SNS Group

“Who will be on the plane?” The questions about the Scotland squad that will travel to Germany for Euro 2024 began just as soon as the national team booked their place at the finals.

Injury developments and players being in and out of form have meant the Tartan Army have all been pondering the final make-up of Steve Clarke’s squad for months now, and they will get (almost all of) their answers on Wednesday when the head coach reveals his selection.

With the group games against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary drawing ever closer, Clarke and his staff have pondered every position, the back-up for that position, the versatile players who can fulfil more than one role, and the impact players who could turn a game when brought on from the bench.

Now it’s decision time.

Decision: Steve Clarke will reveal his provisional squad on Wednesday. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

Clarke doesn’t actually have to submit a final 26-man squad to UEFA until June 7, one week before the team walks out for the opening match at the Allianz Arena.

Like many international managers, he’s decided to go early and make his selection now, but the national team boss has decided to take two extra players into the pre-tournament camp and make what could be an agonising decision later down the line.

Not so long ago, Clarke was confronted with the difficulty of settling on a final 23-strong group to take to Germany, having used 29 different players across the qualifiers. Competition in every position meant tough choices, and most people could have had a fair guess at the starting line-up for the match against Germany.

Then two things happened that changed the thinking over the squad. First, UEFA agreed to expand the size of squads to match the 26-man group that had been allowed for Euro 2020 as the sport coped with Covid-19. And second, injury struck a number of Scotland players but hit one position in particular.

Aaron Hickey's absence through injury is a big blow for Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Alan Harvey via SNS Group

Aaron Hickey is only 21-years-old, and only made his Scotland debut in 2022 but his performances across his 14 international appearances had him nailed on for a Euros place at right-back and he was tipped to shine on the big stage as he has done at every level from his Hearts debut through a stint with Bologna in Serie A and in the Premier League with Brighton.

But a hamstring injury picked up in October sidelined him for the reminder of his club season and after months of concern about his availability it was confirmed on Monday that he has lost his battle to be fit for the summer tournament.

Directly behind Hickey in the pecking order was Everton’s Nathan Patterson, another burgeoning talent who has already earned 21 caps for his country. The former Rangers player has also suffered a hamstring injury and will miss the Euros.

In addition to the two young full-backs, Bologna midfielder Lewis Ferguson injured his cruciate ligament towards the end of a stunning season in Serie A, depriving Clarke of another of his developing talents.

Add to that a number of players returning from injury or short on game time, and Clarke has quickly found himself with more spaces to fill than he would initially have thought, and arguably more difficult decisions to make.

Speaking to STV News on Monday, Scotland assistant coach John Carver revealed the decision to name an initial 28-man squad was made to allow staff to look at those players who were recovering from late-season injuries, or who hadn’t played much for their club in the league run-in.

Carver said Clarke and his colleagues have been monitoring a group of “around 40 players” who are with clubs in “Scotland, England, Europe and America”. They have not just been looking at performance either, but also at data on minutes played and other statistics.

A larger group will mean fierce competition for places but also a brutal late call to cut two players, who will already have been involved in the build-up and have their own dreams about impressing in Germany.

All of these factors mean there is even more speculation about who could get the call, and there are bound to be surprises.

Carver gave nothing away when asked about individual players; the Geordie repeating “you’ll have to wait and see” whenever a name or even a particular position was put to him.

Clarke’s time as Scotland boss over the last few years, including the last Euros, has shown us there’s often a balance in his selections.

The former West Brom, Reading and Kilmarnock boss shows an admirable loyalty to the players who have put in a shift for him before, and he is quick to remind others of the value of those who helped get the team to this point.

That was in evidence when Lawrence Shankland’s goal-scoring form saw plenty of talk about him being Scotland’s starting striker, but Clarke addressed those questions by pointing out the contributions of Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams over the last couple of years.

Continuity and the benefits of a group that has bonded over time are clearly valued by Clarke but he has also shown a willingness to take a bold decision when the opportunity presents itself.

That was evident when naming his squad for Euro 2020, when the core group that had ended the decades-long exile from international tournaments were rewarded with a place at the finals. But Clarke also sprang a surprise when he named a trio of uncapped players, with Patterson, Billy Gilmour and David Turnbull all called up.

Space in the squad, particularly in the initial 28, means there’s real potential for similar surprises this time around and there have already been reports suggesting players who might be the beneficiaries.

Ross McCrorie has been mentioned, as have Liverpool youngster Ben Doak and Aberdeen’s Connor Barron. None have international caps but they’ll certainly have made sure their phone was nearby over the past few days.

Each area of the team has settled regulars and nailed-on starters but throughout the squad there’s potential for surprises.

Clarke will now put his larger group through their paces in training and in the friendlies against Gibraltar and Finland before making his final call for the Euros.

Does four need to fit into three for the number one spot?

Craig Gordon says it would be a career highlight to make the Euros after a long fight back from injury.  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)SNS Group

Norwich City’s Angus Gunn declared his allegiance to Scotland last March and has been undisputed first choice ever since. The 28-year-old has nine caps so far and it would be a huge surprise if anyone else was in goal when Scotland kick off the Euros against Germany.

Zander Clark’s season as Hearts number one has surely cemented his place in the squad but there’s genuine uncertainty about the remaining place – assuming Clarke names only three keepers, as he did for Euro 2020.

Craig Gordon was out for more than a year after a horrific double leg break and while Clark has remained first choice at Tynecastle, Gordon has played in Scottish Cup games and the last three Premiership games. The 41-year-old has 74 caps and would bring huge experience to the squad.

Motherwell’s Liam Kelly has just the one cap, against France last year, but has been a squad regular over the past four years and had been vying with Clark to be back-up to Gunn before Gordon’s return.

Clark may name all four for the provisional squad but a tough decision will need to be made by June 7, if not this week.

Injury nightmares cause defensive headache

Opportunity: Anthony Ralston could be a starter for Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Clarke won’t have wasted much time in jotting down the names of the players who have been regulars across the qualifying campaign.

Captain Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Jack Hendry, and Ryan Porteous will all be rightly confident of their place.

Greg Taylor is the settled deputy for Robertson, while Liam Cooper and John Souttar are likely to be included. Fit-again Grant Hanley is a Clarke favourite and his return to the Norwich bench will probably mean a return to the Scotland fold.

Filling that right wing-back spot is the big decision here and Celtic’s Anthony Ralston is expected to be the man who steps up in the absence of Hickey and Patterson.

Ross McCrorie might be called up and Max Johnston could also be in contention, though a lack of game time at Sturm Graz may count against the 20-year-old.

Settled midfield but room for a surprise

Stuart Armstrong was injured towards the tail end of the season but could get a chance to prove his fitness for the finals. (Photo by SNS Group)SNS Group

The strongest area of the team makes for the simplest decisions. John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie are certainties to be in the final squad. Kenny McLean was robbed of a place at the last Euros after injury and he is another who can count on being on the plane to Germany.

Ryan Jack and Stuart Armstrong are both returning from injury and lacking match fitness. But when Carver talked about the expanded squad allowing space to have a look at players who don’t have a lot of recent minutes, those two midfielders are exactly the players he would have had in mind.

There looks to be room in midfield for at least one surprise, with Connor Barron fitting the bill for an uncapped player who is given the chance to step up and benefit from the experience.

Ryan Gauld’s exploits for Vancouver Whitecaps mean he has his fans but that hasn’t been enough to persuade Clark so far. Could the versatile attacking midfielder be an option the manager decides is good to have in Germany?

Attacking options and a possible wildcard or two

Lawrence Shankland could star for Scotland after enjoying a stellar season at Hearts. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

One of the stories of the season has been Lawrence Shankland’s prolific goalscoring and the Hearts captain has gone from being Scotland contender to must-have. He’ll be in the squad alongside Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams but that’s unlikely to be the extent of the forwards in the squad.

Jacob Brown has been capped eight times by Clarke and while he hasn’t scored, the manager sees something in the Luton attacker and may add him to the mix.

Beyond that, there’s the possibility for something more intriguing. Liverpool’s teenage forward Ben Doak has been mentioned, and though injury disrupted his season after he broke into Jurgen Klopp’s first team squad, he is back in training.

Ross Stewart is back in the Southampton squad after missing almost the entire season but might be a more likely challenger for a place further down the line. Tommy Conway’s 12 goals for Bristol City this season catch the eye when looking for other potential goalscorers.

Lewis Morgan’s sparkling form for New York Red Bulls (nine goals from 14 games this year) make him an intriguing wildcard choice, but the 27-year-old’s two caps came under Alex McLeish back in 2018.

If one player has timed a run of form to perfection ahead of the squad announcement, it’s Celtic’s James Forrest. Sat on the sidelines for most of the season, the winger returned to first team action late in the season and showed his enduring value to the Parkhead side with goals and impressive performances.

Not so long ago, Forrest was the main man for club and country. With the possibility he could solve a problem at right wing-back, as well as providing creativity and a goal threat if introduced to the attack, the 32-year-old might have staked his claim at just the right time.

Carver said that Clarke and his staff will be going over their selection right up until Wednesday morning. The time for the final decision is near and the verdict on whether the right calls have been made will come in Munich, Cologne and Stuttgart next month.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code