Charlie Nicholas has praised Steve Clarke for banishing any doubts about his suitability to manage Scotland by presiding over a golden period for the national team.
After appearing at Euro 2020 in the summer – their first major tournament in 23 years – the Scots ended their qualifying campaign with six wins on the spin to secure a World Cup play-off place
In an interview to promote the recently launched Prostate Cancer Memorial, former Scotland striker Nicholas told the PA news agency: “It’s been absolutely outstanding how the team have performed, the energy and drive they’ve shown. They’ve raised the bar.
“I know it’s only a play-off semi-final we’ve reached and I know we played in the Euros in the summer, but this is the most encouraging it’s been for a long, long time.
“I think everybody’s heart is beating a lot stronger and a lot more pride is coming back around the national team. I think they’re now earning a great amount of respect so it would be wonderful to see it through and qualify.”
Clarke has not always been universally popular among supporters, with criticism coming his way after the Euro 2020 exit and following the demoralising 2-0 defeat in Denmark in September.
But Nicholas, who won 20 Scotland caps and played at the 1986 World Cup, believes nobody can have any gripes about the overall job the former West Brom and Kilmarnock manager has done since replacing Alex McLeish two and a half years ago.
He said: “I think he’s there now, he’s won the majority over. If we don’t qualify for the World Cup, some people will still pick holes in it – that’s the reality of the modern-day blame game.
“I was convinced he was the right man at the time. I thought he was a bit slow to get the attacking formula of the side working but now it’s there.
“He’s had his critics and I think he’s sometimes tried to answer them when I don’t think he needed to, but he did because he’s a strong-willed man.
“Everyone likes to be in favour, I know that personally. Nobody can turn round and say he’s not done a magnificent job since he came in. He really has done an excellent job. No doubt about that.
“Scotland have players playing at a significant level such as the English Premier League and the top teams in Scotland, as well as youngsters coming through. The difficult thing is blending all that together.
“I played in a lot of teams myself where I was playing with a lot of stars, but we couldn’t gel. Steve has always had the defensive structure and organisation.
“His CV told us we had got a good manager but gradually what he’s done – which is what I’ve been asking for – is to get a bit more on the front foot.
“He has brought in Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams, who have added something, he’s fixed the Kieran Tierney/Andy Robertson scenario, and at the back, which is what he’s always done well, we look strong.
“It’s been refreshing. Six wins on the trot tells you the story of how well we’ve done. I know people can pick bones out of that and say we got lucky against Israel and we were awful against Faroe Islands but they’re the type of games we used to blow up in – now we get the results.”
The Prostate Cancer Memorial is a 10-foot tall mirrored steel pyramid dedicated to those lost to prostate cancer. Among those names on the sculpture at London Bridge Station is Charlie’s father Chic Nicholas, who died of prostate cancer in 2009, six years after being diagnosed with the most common cancer in men.
People will have the chance to purchase a permanent name engraving on the memorial to celebrate the life of a loved one they have lost to prostate cancer, with all proceeds helping fund life-saving research. To find out more, visit prostatecanceruk/org.