Tonight should finally bring an end to Mark Reynolds’ status as a Scotland squad man.
The Aberdeen defender is an established face within Gordon Strachan’s group having first been enlisted last May for the friendly with Nigeria in London. A first cap has so far proven elusive, however.
The friendly with Qatar at Easter Road is the perfect opportunity to remedy that issue. Reynolds has been a willing but frustrated participant in Scotland squads for the last 12 months. Strachan will experiment in one or two areas this evening whilst using the game as preparation for the vital Euro 2016 qualifier with Republic of Ireland next Saturday. It would seem silly not to use the chance to see Reynolds in action.
It is clear in conversation with the 28-year-old that he is itching to play for his country. He has done the patient new-boy bit, he’s done the pushing-to-impress bit, he’s recently been appointed captain of Aberdeen, now he’s desperate to show his worth at international level. He is the only uncapped outfield player in the Scotland squad. Russell Martin and Gordon Greer are the established central defensive pairing, with Reynolds and Christophe Berra more than able deputies.
“It’s just good getting called into the squad. It’s a bit of recognition for your form at club level. It’s nice to be involved but it would be great to get on the park and just get that elusive first cap,” he explained. “It is frustrating. You look at previous Scotland squads and you see guys coming in and out and people getting caps left, right and centre. It’s a double-edged sword because even our friendlies are so competitive now. Everything is geared towards a campaign, whereas before we were out of campaigns and friendlies were just to fulfil a fixture.
“Now, friendlies are preparation for a qualifier. We’re looking to gain points. Nigeria was my first call-up and I’ve been in three or four squads since then. I think I’ve missed one and been involved in the rest of the campaign. It’s great getting a front-row seat and training with the guys but it’s frustrating not getting the game time. Hopefully it will come.”
Grant Hanley’s troublesome calf injury precluded him from this Scotland gathering and perversely helped push Reynolds up the pecking order. It is an unusual scenario for a player to be so close to the starting line-up without any previous international appearances. Central defence requires a certain degree of experience and Reynolds has had to wait longer than most to get some. He hasn’t yet approached Strachan to ask about the delay.
“I haven’t spoken to him yet. He speaks in general about having a long-term goal and everybody working towards that. I know he’s happy with me being here and he’s happy with the way I’m training and playing or I wouldn’t be back. It’s good to stay in about it. Hopefully, if I’m here long enough, I’ll manage to sneak on in one of these games.
“It’s nice to know I’m close. Now I’m right on the edge of being involved and getting the game time. Before the Nigeria game last year, I’d no idea how close I was. I could’ve been seventh or eighth choice or I could’ve been nowhere near their plans. It’s nice to know I’m highly thought of and that they feel I’m good enough to be involved and ultimately, if need be, to play the games.”
Scotland’s renaissance under Strachan is a remarkable work in progress. He has harnessed the best available talent from England and moulded it with the cream of the Scottish league with the aim of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships. The tie with Ireland is potentially pivotal as even a draw in Dublin would keep Scotland in touch at the top of Group D.
The strength in depth within the group has been a key factor in the progress. It is also one of the main reasons Reynolds has been left out of games thus far. “It’s just kind of crept up because of the dynamics of the squad and what the gaffer is building towards. Everything has a purpose and everything is geared towards it,” he said. “I’m sure he’d love to give guys game time and caps but he needs to react to how games are going.
“The manager says he’s picking squads based on the guys he feel are capable of doing the job. i think everybody feels ready. Look at our bench for the qualifiers. With everybody stripped, you could make another starting XI quite comfortably. When you look at the quality and standard of player,I think it’s probably one of the best squads Scotland have had in years.”
Few would disagree, although Reynolds is entitled to feel a little fed up at talking only about squads and not games. That should change this evening.