The Scots look to be reaping the benefits of a sustained period of form that has led them to the brink of Euro 2024. Players now want to be associated with Clarke’s project.
As well as Barnes, Elliot Anderson, another Newcastle player, was called up for the first time last month. The 20-year-old has played for England Under-19s but qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother, and has already represented Scotland age-level teams, including the Under-21s.
The midfielder could be involved in a fresh tug of war after he withdrew from Clarke’s squad ahead of Friday’s 3-0 win over Cyprus.
England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed he would be interested in reconnecting with the player. "We have previously spoken with him but he was named in the (Scotland) squad here and we assumed that was that,” said Southate last night at Hampden.
Clarke would clearly prefer to do without such background issues affecting his preparations before tonight’s 150th anniversary heritage match against England. The Scotland manager was relishing what he described as a “competitive friendly”.
But it was not possible to ignore the elephant(s) in the room. Clarke once more confirmed that he has been in touch with Barnes, who joined Newcastle from Leicester City this summer for £40 million. “But that was a long time ago,” he said. “I haven’t heard from him since.”
It’s understood that although Barnes had maintained hopes of being recalled by England when Clarke first approached him, he now accepts that his prospects are growing dimmer at a time when Southgate has so many other options. Barnes has one cap to date v Wales three years ago but he failed to make Southgate’s initial 55-man squad for last year’s World Cup. Now 25, he qualifies for Scotland through two grandparents.
Clarke is wise to players suddenly becoming available when it is expedient for them to do so, although he was happy to recruit Che Adams after qualifying for Euro 2020.
“The more successful you are the more people want to play for you," he said. "But there are a lot of Scottish boys not in the squad who want to pay for me as well. Boys who have been with us, boys who have been in previous squads. They want to be involved as well.
“I understand why you ask the questions about Harvey and Elliot, but in my head it’s a little bit disrespectful to the people that we’ve got so far that have put us in this position and put the Tartan Army back in love with the team,” Clarke added. “It just doesn’t sit quite right with me. I’d rather speak about what we have now.
“If we can find people who will improve us and who really, really, really want to be with us then we can improve the squad that way.
“If there are people who have a little doubt and they’re not quite sure then I am not going to be phoning up and trying to persuade anybody to come. We don’t need to do that – we are in a great position with the people we have got here.”
Asked specifically whether he was inclined to call Barnes, he answered, “No”. He added: “The next phone call won’t be from me. I’m not saying he has to call me, but after this camp I probably still have a couple of weeks of fishing and I will be playing a bit of golf and getting ready for the October games….”
Whether Anderson will be available then, Clarke couldn’t say. “Listen, as I said before, there is nothing you can do with it. There was a conversation that I had earlier in the year. All quiet. I then got a phone call to say he wanted to come. So we brought him up, he picked up a knock and went back.
“And it puts him in the situation where he was before he came to camp. He can play for England, he can play for Scotland. That’s it and there is nothing else I can do on that. We will see how it pans out.”