Steve Clarke has some Scotland soul searching to do after another Euros flop has him in danger of delusion - Keith Jackson

Not only is he an honest man and a genuine straight shooter but, more importantly, he’s also done enough to earn the trust of the nation over the course of his five years in charge.

Steve Clarke might be a bit too dry to be everyone’s cup of tea but there can be no argument when it comes to the improvements he has overseen during his time as Scotland’s head coach. And yet, even though he is owed a debt of national gratitude for the work he has done, perhaps the time has come for him to ask himself some searching questions and to come up with some truthful, heartfelt answers.

Before he commits to another qualification campaign, Clarke must first look deep inside and be certain that he is still the man best qualified for the job. And, indeed, if he still has the appetite to keep pushing water up the hill.

If he has even the slightest doubt over his own ability or desire to pick this team up off its knees after suffering this latest humbling trauma on the global stage then he should take this opportunity to step aside and allow someone else to see if they might do better. It’s not that he should be hounded out of office for failing to make the last 16 here in Germany. Of course he should not.

Simply by leading the country to two successive European Championships, Clarke still has a decent amount of credit left in the bank of credentials. But it’s a lot less than he had nine months ago when his team was peaking in the qualifiers as they blazed a trail towards Germany.

That Clarke and his players crashed and burned so horribly on arrival is the reason for a moment of reflection. He was adamant lessons were learned from the Euros flop of three years ago. But the same mistakes have been made all over again which is why Clarke must be brutal in his own self assessment.

The job will be his for as long as he wants it. His superiors at the SFA have already been clear on that when, really, they ought to have been a great deal more circumspect. That’s why his honesty and integrity must now determine the next step.

If he is genuinely convinced he knows how to make this team fit for purpose and capable of scoring the goals required to be competitive at the next World Cup, then he has earned the chance to prove it. However, he’ll have to qualify for that one amidst a great deal of scepticism now he and his players have fallen flat on their faces, when they were promising to become history makers.

The statistics make for some seriously depressing reading. In category after category, the data shows Scotland were the most feeble performers of the tournament. One point and two goals is a lamentable return and Clarke did himself no favours when he resorted to pointing out it’s double what Scotland managed the last time around.

If he truly believes that this should be regarded as a step forward then he is in danger of becoming delusional. And we’ve all know how that movie ends. Clarke deserves better than to fool himself into carrying on for one campaign too many.

He also owes a few explanations to the Tartan Army if he is to salvage their goodwill from the rubble of this campaign. Why on earth, for example, did he invite James Forrest back into his squad only to ignore the Celtic veteran over all three group games?

Especially when Forrest looked perfectly capable of replacing Anthony Ralston at wing back and offering some attacking threat to a side which was so blunt it actually beggared belief?

Clarke’s team was screaming out for a player with a creative edge and an eye for goal. But Clarke stuck stubbornly with Ralston even though the full-back was suffering from an inferiority complex in such esteemed company.

Some of that was admirable as Clarke knew that he was asking for more than he could have reasonably expected Ralston to give. To his credit, the player gave every last ounce for the cause.

But when there were only 45 minutes left in Stuttgart on Sunday night - and Scotland needed to score to stay in the tournament, Clarke’s failure to act smacked of sheer bloody-mindedness. Forrest should have been sent for and told to make himself a hero. Surely, that’s why he was brought here in the first place?

That he did not play for a single minute - and was even left on the sidelines when Lewis Morgan was thrown on in a bout of substitute bingo against the Hungarians - was bordering on insulting.

Then there was the baffling decision to bench the talismanic Billy Gilmour for the opening night against Germany. Clarke insisted afterwards it was all part of a meticulous plan to take four points from the subsequent two games but, let’s be blunt, that backfired horribly too, now that they’re both on the first flight home.

Scotland Set Piece Coach Austin MacPhee takes a selfie with John McGinn and Kenny McLean
Scotland manager Steve Clarke

Clarke may also wish to examine what he is getting form his coaching staff and, in particular, from Austin MacPhee. If this man is being paid on a no win no fee basis for his work as a set piece specialist then MacPhee may actually have returned home owing the SFA money for every one that went wrong. And there were plenty of them.

It was impossible to keep count of the number of corners which were driven at shin height towards the first defender at the front post throughout Scotland’s three games. Are we to believe this was all part of MacPhee’s masterplan?

And who on earth came up with the idea of ordering Scott McTominay to deliver them rather than ask the Man United man to get his head on the end of them? Absolutely none of it made any sense.

Clarke, of course, was undermined by a spate of injuries to key men who might have helped to make a difference. Whether or not he is the man to get more out of them over the next two years, is now a matter for the manager’s conscience.

It’s time for him to be honest with himself as well as with the country. And in return we’ll take his word for it.