Whilst colleagues like Leigh Griffiths, Tom Cairney and James McArthur make themselves unavailable to Scotland, Charlie Mulgrew remains a constant at international level. Even pressure from club managers through the years has not dissuaded the defender from representing his country.
Mulgrew will win his 39th senior cap tomorrow evening in Haifa when Scotland face Israel in the UEFA Nations League. At 32, the Blackburn Rovers defender will continue to attend every national team gathering and relish such opportunities. Others may disagree, but to him they are priceless.
“It’s different if you’ve got an injury and you can’t actually play. That’s the only time I’ve not turned up,” explained the oldest outfield player in McLeish’s squad. “I’ve always wanted to be here, always wanted to play for my country. I think when you look back, when you’re older, you’d be thinking: ‘Why did I just not go?’ You are a long time retired and you have a long time to sit back and think: ‘I wish I’d gone. What would I give for a trip to Mexico now?
“So I just try to look forward and think along those lines. My missus isn’t too happy about it. We’ve had a couple of discussions! She’s getting worse than the managers now. I just like coming away and look to when I’m older, looking back on my career and thinking what you would give for these opportunities.”
Never has Mulgrew found himself arguing with club managers at Celtic or Blackburn because of his desire to play for Scotland. However, he acknowledged that some have not been overly keen to see him leave. He overcame an injury recently and played twice for Blackburn before heading north to join McLeish’s squad.
“It’s never gone as far as arguing. It would be different if it had,” he said. “This trip, I just came back from injury and played those two games. If I hadn’t played those two games, it might have been the case of the manager asking: ‘Well, you’ve not played for us but you’re going to be all right for them?’
“There might have been a bit of a stand-off but I’ve never got to that point. You know they’re always there, the managers, waiting for you to sneeze so they can say: ‘Right, you’re not well – you cannae go!’ You just know that’s how club managers think, but it’s never got to an argument stage.”
The Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray is happy for Mulgrew to make his own call on the matter. “I have spoken about coming away to Scotland before to the manager. Every club manager I have played under would rather you stayed at your club. That’s just the way it is. Tony is actually one of the better ones I have worked with in terms of this.
“You stub your toe and you pull out! I can understand it because from a selfish point of view they want their players ready to go and get some rest. I have said it before that I love playing for Scotland. You are a long time retired. As long as I can do it I will give it everything I’ve got, I will.
“I can understand Tony. He wants my best form for my club but the discussion we had was about me enjoying it now and then we’ll see what happens.”
If ever asked to choose club or country, Mulgrew would be facing an impossible conundrum. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If he says to me that I’ll have to make that choice well ... I don’t want to make that choice. We will see what happens.
“I feel fit and healthy and I also feel being away from Scotland helps me. I don’t like to take a lot of time off. Maybe as I get older and get into my late thirties I’ll think it’s better to have three or four days rest. Right now, as it stands, I am happy and desperate to be here.”