Steve Clarke must evoke the spirit of his Killie success to give Scotland a chance

He needs something to beat Russia and Belgium.

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His appointment was the most universally popular since Walter Smith’s.

Indeed, Steve Clarke was the obvious choice to replace Alex McLeish as Scotland manager, with many drawing comparisons between the 56-year-old and Smith, the man who set the national team on the right path again in the mid-2000s.

There were also parallels between the situation Clarke inherited as Scotland boss and the one Smith was dropped into.

Smith took over a team with next to no chance of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, with Scotland suffering disappointing results against Slovenia, Norway and Moldova. That meant that the first campaign under him was about preparing for the next one.

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Defeat to Kazakhstan in the opening fixture of Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualification all but ended their hopes of making it to a first major tournament in 22 years before they had even been raised. Clarke, therefore, has something of a free pass, a honeymoon period to get things right before the next qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

Yet, there’s still a chance that Clarke could forge a route to Euro 2020. This is, after all, a man who made a habit of upsetting the odds during his time as Kilmarnock manager, leading the Ayrshire club to third place in the Scottish Premiership last season.

He ended his Killie reign with a win over Rangers and was consistently a thorn in the side of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic too.

Clarke must evoke the spirit of his Kilmarnock tenure in the upcoming home qualifiers against Russia and Belgium.

He must foster an underdog mentality and use it to Scotland’s advantage, much like Smith did in guiding his side to positive results against France and Italy. Russia, in particular, can be taken down.

Organisation, or a lack thereof, was an issue under McLeish, but that won’t be a problem in Clarke’s team.

“Everybody knows their roles and responsibilities on the pitch. That’s, first and foremost, set out by the manager and his staff and it’s very, very clear what everyone has to do on the pitch,” Scott McTominay explained earlier this week, demonstrating the difference between Clarke and McLeish.

This is conducive to the strategy of becoming the quintessential underdogs.

Injuries might prove a barrier to this, with Liam Cooper and Grant Hanley forced to pull out of the squad late last week. The absence of Leigh Griffiths is also a hindrance, leaving Clarke without a proven scorer at international level to lead the line.

Nonetheless, Scotland’s core is stronger than it has been in a generation.

Andy Robertson is arguably the best left-back in the European game right now, while Scott McTominay is a first-team starter for Manchester United. Finding a position for Kieran Tierney in the same team as Robertson has long been a challenge, but Arsenal’s new £25m signing is adept at right-back and on the left side of a back three.

Then there’s Ryan Fraser, who finished last season as the Premier League’s second most prolific assist-maker behind Eden Hazard, and Oli McBurnie, the striker who netted 22 league goals for Swansea City last season prompting Sheffield United to pay a club-record £20m for him this summer.

John McGinn has also made an impression in the Premier League for Aston Villa.

While Clarke might have inherited a mess in taking over from McLeish, the outlook for Scotland is brighter than it has been for a long, long time.

Clarke is charged with ensuring the sun shines at some point on this generation of Scottish talent and the next week offers him and his team with an opportunity.

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