The window of opportunity was rapidly closing for Scotland’s fringe players. This week, UEFA will crack it ajar.
Teams will be permitted to select squads of 26 for the upcoming European Championships — rather than the usual 23 — following a meeting of the governing body’s national teams committee on Monday.
The change is set to be ratified in the coming days, with no reported opposition to the plan, and is designed to lessen the effects of fatigue following a hectic club campaign due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the reasoning is entirely human, the footballing consequences are fascinating.
Three extra bodies will allow Scotland boss Steve Clarke to consider depth, versatility and, perhaps, an unforeseen wildcard when he weighs up his options — and hopefuls from Perth to Portugal will wait with bated breath.
Jason Kerr (St Johnstone)
Should the McDiarmid Park defender be overlooked once more, then he could be forgiven for wondering what more he could possibly do in order to win a call-up.
‘Move clubs, probably,’ comes the rueful response from disgruntled Saints fed up seeing their heroes snubbed.
Kerr, 24, is now 180 minutes away from captaining his club to a domestic double; a truly staggering achievement for a team who, prior to 2014, had never won major silverware.
But even without adding the Scottish Cup medal to his Betfred Cup one, the Edinburgh lad has done enough to be in contention for his country.
Following a slow start to the campaign, he has been immense as part of the Saints’ water-tight defensive three since the calendar ticked to 2021.
He is an unshakable presence in a relatively youthful back-line — along with the excellent Liam Gordon and Jamie McCart — and his composure shone through against Rangers on Sunday when he lashed a firecracker of a spot-kick beyond Allan McGregor in the penalty shootout.
Kerr has also spent this season playing as part of a three, meaning there would be scarce teething required if Clarke needs to throw him into that shape with Scotland.
Lawrence Shankland (Dundee United)
Kevin Nisbet’s selection ahead of Shankland for the encounters against Austria, Israel and Faroe Islands last month will have landed like a haymaker in the sternum for the Tannadice marksman.
From his initial selection while still plundering goals in the Championship in October 2019, he has accrued three caps and scored his first international goal in a 6-0 demolition of San Marino.
The United attacker also showed nerves of steel from the penalty spot during the Euro 2020 playoff semi-final win over Israel.
However, Hibernian’s Nisbet — four goals in his last eight — is timing his run perfectly and, within a 23-man squad, there would only be space for one of them, particularly given Che Adams’ availability and immediate impact. Leigh Griffiths also remains a tantalising maverick option.
Shankland continues to perform and was magnificent against Aberdeen on Sunday, allying some fine attacking moments with a tireless work ethic and commitment to his defensive duties in wide areas; something a coach like Clarke will appreciate and have taken notice of.
His dream may be fading but, in light of the impending UEFA decree, it has not been extinguished just yet.
Ryan Gauld (Farense)
The Ryan Gauld hype train is standing room only at this point. Every pass, swivel or moment of magic seems to go viral on Twitter as his substantial band of social media advocates do his bidding.
And you can see why.
The Tannadice youth product has been irrepressible in the Portuguese top-flight and would seem to provide a wealth of attributes not currently in abundance in the Scotland set-up, most notably his offensive dribbling in central areas and an eye for a killer pass.
Ryan Gauld with a lovely assist for Pedro for the opening goal In the Algarve Derby.
That In-swinging cross is his 6th Assist in @ligaportugal this season, adding to his 8 goals.
The Captain turning up again.
— ScotsAbroadPod (@ScotsAbroadPod) April 27, 2021
As recently as Tuesday evening, Gauld notched an assist in a 1-1 derby draw against Portimonense. He has now teed up six goals and scored eight himself for an otherwise ordinary Farense side, of which he is the captain.
It would seem almost cruel for the national side to set up camp in the Algarve, seven miles from Farense’s home ground, for matches against the Netherlands (June 2) and Luxembourg (June 6) and still overlook Gauld.
More than that, it would be leaving a top talent unexplored.
Shaun Rooney (St Johnstone)
Rooney is assured legendary status in Perth following his winning goal in their Betfred Cup final triumph against Livingston — not to mention his strike in the semi-final demolition of Hibs.
His exploits, which amount to five goals and three assists this term, prompted tentative talk of Scotland recognition.
“He is Scottish and Scotland are looking at that position, so potentially he can go on and fill the right wing-back or centre-back role for the national team,” said Saints boss Callum Davidson, speaking in the afterglow of that Hampden glory day against Livi.
One suspects that, should Clarke opt to use one of his three new places to beef up his right-back options, Rangers’ Nathan Patterson may have usurped Rooney, largely due to the exceptionally-talented youngster being considered the heir apparent for that role in the coming decade.
Rooney, however, has illustrated that he would add physicality, energy, versatility and a ferocious will-to-win to any group.
John Souttar (Hearts)
The European Championships may come too soon for Souttar, given he only returned to competitive action following a third serious achilles injury on April 9.
Nevertheless, the former Dundee United defender has not skipped a beat since his recovery.
He may be playing in the Championship — as was Shankland when he received a call-up — but he has been a bright spot for Hearts in recent games and it is no coincidence that his inclusion has brought about an upturn in the Jambos’ form.
With him in the side, the capital club have played three games without conceding a goal, scoring nine.
Souttar is no stranger to the Scotland set-up, boasting three caps, and his game is pitch perfect for Clarke’s set-up.
If Scott McTominay is to be utilised in his best position of central midfield, then we need a defender who is comfortable striding out and making passes; there are few better options in that regard than John Souttar.