Steve Clarke and assistant John Carver know what not to do when it comes to discussing Scotland’s starting XI for next week’s Euro 2020 showdown with England.
They were part of Ruud Gullit’s backroom team at Newcastle United in 1999 when the Dutchman told the manager’s office that he was ready to bench Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson for the Tyne-Wear derby.
“It would be like Steve Andy dropping Robertson and Kieran Tierney!” laughs the Englishman now known as ‘Jock Carver’ around the Northumberland golf club where we meet.
John Carver helps Scotland in European Championship as manager Steve Clarke’s No. 2
‘I was stunned when Ruud decided to do it. I said, “Do you realize how big this game is?”. Ruud said: “I played in the Milan derby, which is bigger”.
“Steve and I have been talking about it ever since, and I’m convinced it was intentional, that he did it because he wanted to leave.”
Newcastle lost 2-1 amid torrential rain.
“I walked into Ruud’s office to dry off after the game and he was sitting there with a pad,” Carver recalls. “He was writing his letter of resignation. I knew it was the end.’
Though it marked the end for Gullit, this period marked the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between Carver and Clarke, one that has now helped Scotland reach their first major final in 23 years.
Carver was brought in last summer. So is he the reason their tournament exile is over?
Carver recalled Ruud Gullit (center) dropping Alan Shearer (right) and Duncan Ferguson (left) for the Tyne-Wear derby
‘No! And I’m not the best coach in Scotland…’
That last sentence is a nod to the quote he was unjustly known for during his time at Newcastle in 2015.
It made headlines when, after eight consecutive defeats, Carver declared: ‘I still think I’m the best coach in the Premier League.’
As a reporter on the patch at the time, it’s fair to say his words were taken out of context. Instead, he had meant to tell himself that in order to keep the faith.
“I was hurt by the news,” he says. “But you learn from things like that, I left myself open.”
Newcastle survived on the final day when Jonas Gutierrez – who had beaten testicular cancer – scored in a 2-0 win over West Ham.
“I told Jonas on Monday that he would play and said, ‘You could be our hero.’ When he did, it was like a movie script.
The 56-year-old was Newcastle’s interim manager in 2015, helping them avoid relegation
‘It was not fun for me what preceded that day. But for that moment when Jonas scored, it was all worth it.
“I don’t think I could have tolerated the relegation, I didn’t want that on my head. The emotion was more relief than euphoria.’
Euphoria has previously qualified for the European Championship via penalties, even though Carver’s joy at seeing David Marshall’s winning save from Serbian Aleksandar Mitrovic was short-lived.
“I’ve learned that there are highs and lows in football. Well, that was both in the span of 10 seconds.
“The adrenaline rush of the rescue was up there with everything I’ve been through. But then I felt an unbelievable pain, as if I had been shot. I tore my calf muscle while running for the field.’
There’s a clip in the team’s locker room celebrating to the sound of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie – Baccara’s 1970s disco classic – when Carver stumbles past the camera, a late arrival swept down the tunnel by colleague Coach Steven Reid.
“My sister had the record when we were kids, so I knew all the words. I would have sung it with them if I wasn’t in so much pain.
“That pain eased after I had a few drinks at the hotel and watched the boys sing and dance. What a wonderful night. We want more of that.’
Carver has played a part in Scotland qualifying for their first major tournament in 23 years
The coach injured himself during the celebrations when Scotland defeated Serbia in their Euro 2020 play-off
Carver may have downplayed his role in Scotland’s success, but Clarke counts on his opinion and analysis.
He recently took a break to meet Sports post at Close House Golf Club, although there is no time for a round. From here it’s homework again on Scotland’s Group D opponents.
The 56-year-old is a good judge of a player (he sacked me from Newcastle academy before being elevated to Gullit’s senior staff) and he is enthusiastic about those bidding to make history by becoming the first Scottish squad to pass. the group stage goes .
“I knew how good they were when I met them. I have been with a number of special groups in my time. In Newcastle, under Sir Bobby Robson, we had Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Shay Given, all great characters.
‘Scotland is the same, they all want to win for each other, and that goes a long way. You’d think there would be superstars like Tierney and Robertson, but that’s not how they see themselves.
“But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all about the mind, these guys are top quality players. They set a standard and we can’t drop that just because we qualified.
“Steve told them, ‘You can all be heroes now.'”
One player who could become a star is Billy Gilmour, the 19-year-old Chelsea midfielder for whom Carver makes a special comparison.
Carver’s experience puts him well placed to judge the young talent in the Scottish squad
“Technically he has a bit of Phil Foden about him, in terms of that close control. He can play under pressure, in tight areas. He is different from what we have.
“And he’s not here just for the experience. We want the young guys to force their way into the team. Steve is like that – if you’re good enough, you play.’
Carver is well placed to judge such talent as he was forced to rebuild his career as a junior coach after an injury ended his playing days at the age of 20.
He was head pupil at Newcastle when Paul Gascoigne came through, and he will spare a thought for his old friend when he comes on the sidelines at Wembley next Friday.
It was there, as a Rangers player, that Gascoigne scored his famous goal against Scotland at Euro 96.
“Paul proved that you can be a proud Englishman, but also respected in Scotland. I suppose that’s what I want to achieve,” says Carver, who lives a few yards north of Hadrian’s Wall on what he calls the “Scottish side” of Northumberland.
“I’ll stick my chest out for both anthems, but in the day I’ll fight for a win in Scotland.”
The coach believes 19-year-old Billy Gilmour can play a big role at the tournament
Over the next week there will be a lot of attention around Gascoigne and Carver says: ‘It looks like he’s in a good mood now, which is nice to see.
“I remember him as a sassy 16-year-old. I took him under my wing as head student, and it was not easy to keep him in line.
“I had a ground floor flat in Newcastle with two other players. You would be in bed after midnight and hear this dodgy window being forced open, and there was Gazza climbing in! He just loved spending time with us.’
So Carver is well versed in some of the game’s more challenging characters. Take Craig Bellamy, the Newcastle striker with whom he had an infamous stir in an airport departure lounge before a UEFA Cup tie against Real Mallorca in 2004.
A conversation cannot go on without getting Carver’s opinion, although he greets the subject with a smile.
“I’ll start by saying I went to Craig’s wedding after this and we’ve been friends ever since. But yeah, there had been some minor issues and I thought “I just can’t take this anymore” so we had a bit of a roll around at the airport.
Former Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy had an infamous break with Carver in 2004
Carver will use every experience to help his adopted nation make history
“It was funny, we were wrestling when Alan (Shearer) leaned over and said, ‘Come on, the plane is leaving’.
“Sir Bobby held a press conference in the adjoining room. One of the coaches had his foot against the door to prevent Bobby from getting in and getting the story out!
“We thought we could get away with it until my wife called the next morning…”What the hell have you been up to?” She had heard it on the radio.
“We had a meeting and shook hands. We won 3-0 then and Craig scored, so it wasn’t all bad.’
From Gullit’s hand grenades to Bellamy’s fists, Carver will use every experience to help his adopted nation make history this summer.