Monday , July 4 2022

Andy Robertson: ‘We have to be ready for the emotion Ukraine will provide’ | Scotland

The rise of Andy Robertson is such that he was associated with fairytale in Scotland long before the sampling of good times with the international team. It is just that there are parallels between the journey of a kid from stacking supermarket shelves to the summit of club football and what has transpired in the colours of his country.

When Scotland drew 1-1 with Canada in a 2017 friendly, the crowd at Easter Road was below 10,000. Hampden Park was more than half empty for the visits of Israel and Portugal a year later. Campaign after campaign of failure had sapped the energy from the Scottish public. Robertson’s supposed battle with Kieran Tierney for the left-back position created a narrative that quite evidently neither player could be bothered with. The mood between the Scottish squad and the media – who obviously wanted matters to improve – was routinely tetchy.

“The last 18 months or so have been amazing, really,” Robertson says before Scotland face Ukraine in a World Cup playoff semi-final at a sold-out Hampden on Wednesday. “You felt the mood in the camp change. The lads and staff have really come together.”

Never more so than when Scotland saw off Denmark in front of euphoric scenes at a packed Hampden in late 2021. “The Euros last summer was a massive experience for us but being able to secure this playoff then going up against one of the big nations, Denmark … that’s all that was missing, a performance and result against one of the big countries,” says Robertson, whose season with Liverpool ended only on Saturday with the Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid. “We did it in front of a full house and I can’t tell you how much of a difference that makes. I have played in front of those small crowds at Hampden. The pride it gives me in front of 50,000 is incredible. I hope that continues and I know that’s up to us; it’s up to us to continue with the positive performances to keep the fans there but they have been excellent.”

In overseeing progression to Euro 2020 Steve Clarke broke the spell. After Craig Brown guided his country to the 1998 World Cup, Berti Vogts, Walter Smith (twice), Alex McLeish (twice), George Burley, Craig Levein and Gordon Strachan presided over a variety of botched qualifying campaigns. Robertson does not have any issue whatsoever with punters who lost a degree of faith.

Steve Clarke with Andy Robertson and Lyndon Dykes
Steve Clarke and his coaching staff have been ‘a breath of fresh air’ according to Andy Robertson. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

“It was because of the performances,” he says candidly. “The country wasn’t behind us and I don’t blame them. We have shown them that we can get results, we can qualify for a tournament and now it’s about getting to the next one. We didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder team, qualify for the Euros and that’s it done. We wanted that to be the catalyst for more and now we have a chance to make that the case. It’s important we take the confidence of the last 18 months into these games. Qualifying for the World Cup would be huge for our country.”

Scotland played just three matches in the Euros. A sense of frustration that their involvement could and should have been more meaningful seems to have fuelled subsequent attitudes. “We now have 23 lads who have experienced a tournament, which can only be valuable given we waited so long to get back to one,” Robertson says.

“Ultimately we wanted to get out of that group. We knew it would be tough: Croatia and England, fantastic teams, Czech Republic likewise. The performance against England was really good, first half against Croatia really good, the Czech Republic game will go under the radar but I thought it was a really good performance. We just weren’t clinical enough. We can take a lot of positives but we went home in the group stages and we want to do better than that. But we need to get to tournaments to prove that point.”

The backdrop has altered so much since this World Cup playoff draw was completed. Ukraine will arrive in Glasgow, almost three months later than scheduled, with the weight of popular opinion behind them. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has a link to football only in the sense that every non-Scot – and maybe even a few Scots – want Oleksandr Petrakov to guide his team to Qatar. Robertson, who will win his 57th cap, and teammates are in the strange position of trying to quash that dream.

“We have huge sympathy for the people of Ukraine, of course we do,” says Scotland’s captain. “I think it’s fair to say everyone at the Scottish FA and in this team has stood behind them from the start. What we have seen there is horrendous. For 90 minutes or 120 minutes, we need to separate our thoughts. We want to get to the World Cup, we have to be ready for the challenge and emotion Ukraine will provide.”

Che Adams with his teammates in front of cheering Scotland fans
Scotland fans and teammates cheer Che Adams after he scores his side’s second goal against Denmark in the World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

In an otherwise troubled second reign McLeish is due credit for appointing Robertson as the captain. It is under Clarke that this group has collectively developed so strongly. In ordinary times, which of course these are not, and despite the detail of Fifa rankings Scotland would strongly fancy themselves to beat Ukraine. Wales lie in wait for the winner.

“He has made us believe,” says Robertson of Clarke. “He has made us believe that we are a good team. I believe with the players we have, the standard we play at [domestically] is high but it was always about bringing that together into a team. Sometimes we didn’t have the balance quite right; the formation, the tactics.

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“The gaffer and his staff have been a breath of fresh air. I have a really good relationship with him, which always helps, but everyone has the same. We now have a squad where we all show up, the training is always competitive, we make it hard for the manager to pick a team. We now have options.”

That and the hope of a World Cup. Robertson has played a key role in yet another endearing tale.

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