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By Graeme Croser

VYING for prizes with a big

London club yet struggling for game time, the travails of Kieran Tierney are familiar to Steve Clarke.

As the Scotland boss explains how he would advise the defender to handle his peripheral status at Arsenal he lets slip a surprising admission.

One of the game’s straightshooters and apparently a model professional during a playing career that took him from St

Mirren to Chelsea, Clarke admits his standards slipped when he found himself in a similar situation during his early years at Stamford Bridge (pictured right).

‘I actually had six months where I let myself down,’ he reveals. ‘I didn’t train as hard as I could or work as hard as I could to be in the team.

‘Bobby Campbell was my manager. Thankfully, I saw the error of my ways, knuckled down and got back in.

‘Everyone deals with these situations differently. If I could go back, I would do it differently.

‘So I can pass that on now and give players the benefit of my experience. It didn’t do me any good whatsoever.’

A working-class kid who still regularly returns to his roots in Wishaw, there seems little prospect of Tierney venturing off the rails.

Yet it’s only natural that he might be feeling restless. Marginalised since Mikel Arteta moved to bring in Ukrainian captain Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City, the 25-year-old’s future has been the subject of some conjecture.

Last summer, Newcastle United showed an interest in making him part of the first phase of Eddie Howe’s big build in the North East.

Tierney rebuffed the chance to pursue that move but if, as expected, the cash-rich Magpies firm up their interest this close season he will have a decision to make. With Arsenal leading the table, a Premier League winner’s medal could complicate his decision.

‘It’s one of the things you have to deal with when you are playing at a top-level club,’ continued Clarke. ‘I had it myself when I was a player. In the early days at Chelsea, it was a little bit easier but once the foreign influence started to come in and better players turned up, you find you are maybe not going to be selected for every game.

‘You have to deal with that. I have spoken to Kieran and he is handling the situation well.

‘He understands why he is not getting so many minutes in the Premier League.

‘You have a choice. Run away and try somewhere else or stick it out.

‘I didn’t have too many suitors at the time. I don’t think anybody else

wanted me! I was settled in the area and settled at the club.

‘I tweaked my position a little bit and moved inside to centre-back and that seemed to help me get more games.

‘Towards the end of my career, I picked up a few trophies. That was a nice way to finish my career, with two or three winner’s medals in my pocket.

‘As manager, you try to impart that knowledge to players who are experiencing something similar.

‘You say “look, I made an a**e of myself there, just be careful what you are doing, do the right thing”.

‘Kieran is probably in a slightly different position. He is certainly good enough to play at the highest level in the English Premier League.

‘His club are flying at the top of the league, so he can take some comfort from the fact the team is playing well.

‘I think he should knuckle down, see this season out like the good professional he is and see what the summer brings.’

More immediately, Clarke must assess what to do with Tierney as he shapes his team for the opening Euro 2024 qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain. Benched again for Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Sporting

Lisbon on Thursday night, Tierney may be fully fit but lacks match sharpness as Scotland seek to hit the ground running against the Cypriots next Saturday.

Ideally, he would likely start with Tierney on the left of a back three and Andy Robertson at wing-back.

Yet with the team successfully adapting to a back four during the Nations League campaign in 2022, Clarke may opt to start Robertson at full-back and keep Tierney in reserve.

Of course, setting any firm plans a full week out from an international match is a fool’s errand. Clarke suspects — if not expects — a call or two informing him of call-offs following the completion of the weekend club card.

If the squad is intentionally tight, with goalkeeper Angus Gunn the only fresh face, Clarke reserves the right to draft in reinforcements.

‘It was a conscious decision to go with the bare minimum of 23,’ he said. ‘We’ve two home games, so it’s pretty easy to call somebody into the squad.’

Blackburn’s Dominic Hyam, capped at Under-21 level, has attracted recent media coverage but mention of his name prompts Clarke to list several others who can consider themselves on standby.

‘Dominic has done well, Murray Wallace has done well at Millwall, Liam Lindsay at Preston,’ he said.

‘Lawrence Shankland is having a good season at Hearts and can consider himself a little bit unfortunate.

‘Kevin Nisbet came back from his first injury and was on fire. Unfortunately, he has picked up another injury and that seems to have held him back a little bit.

‘Tony Ralston played for Celtic the other day.

‘So there are loads of people round the periphery and I know they all want to be selected.’





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