PERHAPS it is the occasional pointed remarks about his accrual of just six caps for his country throughout his playing career, but there is little room for doubt about how much Steve Clarke values the opportunity he can now offer players when he hands them the chance to represent Scotland.

A man who has walked in his shoes as manager of the national team, Craig Brown, is pleased to see it, and he has urged the new man in the Hampden dugout to play hardball with any players or managers who may not see that honour in quite the same light.

While Brown was always fond of the mantra that it is better to have a willing volunteer than a reluctant conscript, he wasn’t a soft touch when it came to players pulling out of international squads, whether through indifference or coercion from their clubs. And he believes that Clarke will command, and demand, similar respect.

“One thing that has always annoyed me is reading that so-and-so has withdrawn from the Scotland squad,” Brown said. “They can’t withdraw. Not without sanctions being imposed. Michael O’Neill proved it with what he did to (Kyle) Lafferty.

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“I did it all those years ago with Gary McAllister. I got a call from Howard Wilkinson saying we couldn’t get McAllister the following week, because Leeds were playing Arsenal. I said: ‘Well, we’re playing Sweden!’

“They were top of the league, they won the title that year, 1992. At ten minutes past midnight I got a call from the chairman of Leeds. I was in my bed, the phone goes and I hear: ‘Mr Brown, my name is Leslie Silver, chairman of Leeds United. Mr Wilkinson tells me you are not letting us have our captain and best player.’

“I said: ‘Well, Mr Wilkinson is right.’ He started telling me that he’d invested so much in Leeds, that they were top of the league, what it meant, blah-blah.

“I said: ‘I know what it means. But I’ve got a responsibility to Scotland. And, if he doesn’t report to us, I’ll enforce the FIFA rule and he won’t play for you against Arsenal.’

“I could read him the rule book. I had it ingrained. It said: ‘If the player fails to comply with the summons to appear, sanction will apply.’ The sanction was they couldn’t play in the next competitive game for his club. That still applies.

“Wee Dick Advocaat tried to pull players out. I told him he couldn’t – and he gave me something that I later learned was the Dutch for ‘For F*** Sake’! Wee Dick was the most awkward wee guy, trying to pull players out.

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“It might be worth enforcing the FIFA rule. You can’t withdraw without a stern sanction on the club. If the players know that, they won’t call off.”

It is a rather depressing thought that players would have to be strong-armed into pulling on the dark blue through the weight of the rulebook, but Brown’s counter-point to that gloomy possibility is that in his experience, the vast majority of player share his enthusiasm for the game and for their country.

Even if a player’s head rules his heart, Brown believes even a cold careerist must see what being an international player can do for their market value. But the old romantic in him still maintains that even players such as those will look back one day on the caps they have earned, rather than the money they have squirrelled away.

Brown said: “At the end of your career, you never hear people saying he’s got 23 million in the bank. They say he’s got 42 caps. It should be an honour, playing for your country – and [Steve] understands that.

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“Steve has made a fortune playing football and managing. He’s got all the financial benefits. But he would have liked more caps.

“I think a lot of players will feel that way.”

As far as Clarke’s opening assignment goes, a home game against Cyprus looks rather more favourable than the away trip to Belgium that follows, but as Brown is all too aware from his own experience, beating Cyprus can be a far from straightforward affair.

“It’s not a matter of just turning up and beating them,” he said. “I remember we were into seven minutes of stoppage time over there. But, you should beat them at home.”

*Craig Brown was speaking ahead of a match at Hampden in support of Children 1st and the Tartan Army Children’s Charity. To donate and take part in the game, or to buy a ticket for a draw to take part, visit