Steve Clarke reveals his thoughts on Hearts keeper Zander Clark as a potential Scotland No.1
Three capless goalkeepers will compete for the Scotland No.1 position next week as Hearts’ Zander Clark, Norwich City’s Angus Gunn and Motherwell’s Liam Kelly stake their international claims.
Coach Steve Clarke has recalled the Tynecastle Park keeper following some impressive performances at club level since Craig Gordon’s unfortunate double leg-break. Kelly remains in the 23-man group, whilst Gunn’s name is listed for the first time since he switched allegiance from England to Scotland earlier this year.
Clarke travelled south for talks with Gunn earlier this year and admitted he did not need too much persuading. Born in Norwich as the son of former Scotland goalkeeper Bryan, the 27-year-old is no longer on England’s radar despite previously training with the squad under Gareth Southgate.
For several reasons, this is a clean slate for all concerned. Scotland need a new and reliable No.1 to start their European Championship qualifying campaign as a result of Gordon’s absence. Previous stalwarts Allan McGregor and David Marshall have retired, so a week of opportunity awaits for Clark, Gunn and Kelly. None of them have played any senior international football.
The battle will soon commence to see who gets selected to face Cyprus at Hampden Park a week on Saturday. Spain then visit Glasgow three days later for matchday two in the qualifying series.
“The good thing is we have a full week of training,” said Clarke when asked about whether Gunn would be his new first-choice. “I have got three good goalkeepers. Liam Kelly has been in almost every squad, Zander has been in the squad, obviously lost his place when he wasn't playing and he was sitting behind Craig at Hearts. Zander is back in the squad and Angus comes into the squad. None of them have got any caps so all to play for in the week.”
The lack of international experience across all three candidates will be a concern for the national coaching staff. Gordon, McGregor and Marshall dominated the Scotland goalkeeping department for more than a decade and potential successors often found it difficult to break through.
A consequence of that is the current situation where a new goalkeeper is required but no-one is already in the frame. Clarke was asked whether the three men he has selected will pose any issues given they don’t hold any senior caps. “I'll tell you after the qualifiers,” he replied. “But if you look at it there are not a lot behind Craig, David Marshall and Allan McGregor. There are not many capped in that period anyway. Everyone starts afresh and it can be a big chance for somebody to nail down the number one spot.”
Gunn’s change of allegiance comes five years after the Scottish Football Association first asked him if he would be willing to represent his father’s country. Bryan Gunn was born in Thurso and won six Scotland caps between 1990 and 1994. He was part of Andy Roxburgh’s squad for the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy, although he did not feature in any games and remained third-choice behind Jim Leighton and Andy Goram.
Gunn Jnr is now poised to follow in Dad’s footsteps. Angus was capped by England at under-16, under-17, under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels, and also trained with the senior squad before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That year, he refused then-Scotland manager Alex McLeish’s invite to represent Scotland and has since undergone a change of heart. Face-to-face discussions with Clarke paid off this time and he will report to the national team hotel at the start of the week eager to seize an international opportunity.
“I went down to meet him at Norwich and I didn't have to persuade him too much, it all fitted in quite well,” explained Clarke. “He felt his best chance of playing international football was with Scotland.
“We've lost Craig, who was the undisputed number one, and I looked at the pool of goalkeepers. I felt that, if we could improve the pool of goalkeepers, that's what we should do and that was the thinking behind bringing Angus on board.”
Clarke would not be drawn on Gunn’s previous decision not to accept the offer to play for Scotland: “The only time I've spoken to him he's chosen to play for the Scottish national team. What's gone on before has gone on before.”
Gunn declared himself excited at the opportunity in wait. He is the regular first-choice at Norwich as they sit seventh in the English Championship table with designs on a play-off place come May. He was originally involved in the youth system at Carrow Road before joining Manchester City as a schoolboy in 2011 for £250,000. Southampton paid a considerable £13.5million to sign him in 2018. After a loan spell at Stoke City, he returned to Norwich in 2021.
His entire career has been spent in England to date. Now the focus is Scotland. “I've changed allegiances, exciting times for me,” said the goalkeeper a few days ago. “I had a positive meeting with the manager a couple of months ago. I'm available and hopefully I can get in the squad. People have talked about it before but I don't think I’d been playing regularly enough to warrant a call up with Scotland or England. It's a time in my career when I want to playing lots of games. I want to push myself and get that consistency.”
Norwich team-mates Grant Hanley and Kenny McLean are mainstays in the Scotland squad and offered the new recruit an insight into the atmosphere. “Grant and Kenny have spoken to me about how positive the group is at the moment,” added Gunn. “My dad is happy as well.”