Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna admits captaining Scotland this summer was the highlight of his career – so far.
Now as he readies to earn a fifth cap against Israel tonight the centre-back is determined to add many more highs with both his club and country.
With Aberdeen, that is winning silverware with a Betfred Cup semi-final with Rangers looming.
With Scotland, it would be pushing for the Euro 2020 finals, starting with the UEFA Nations League clash with Israel in Haifa tonight.
In leading out the Scots as skipper McKenna joined an illustrious list of legendary Dons centre-backs to have worn the captain’s armband including Gothenburg Greats Willie Miller and Alex McLeish, the current national manager.
Aberdeen’s greatest player, Miller was 28 when he first captained his country, just months after conquering the continent and lifting the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a 2-1 final win over Spanish giants Real Madrid.
McKenna was only 21 and had just completed his debut season in the Dons first team when awarded that captaincy.
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson has subsequently been named permanent captain and will lead Scotland out in Haifa tonight.
Having missed games against Belgium (4-0 loss) and Albania (2-0 win) last month with a hamstring tear, McKenna is tonight set to play for the Scots for the first time since leading them out in a 1-0 loss to Mexico in June.
He said: “Leading out Scotland as captain was a massive honour and probably the best moment of my football career so far.
“It was totally unexpected. The team was named at lunchtime on the day of the Mexico game and when the manager put it up on the board there was a C next to my name – for the captain’s armband.
“After that he (McLeish) just told me to go out and enjoy it.
“It was absolutely massive for me as there have been great centre-halves here at Aberdeen who have captained Scotland over the years and I want to try to follow in their footsteps.
“I bumped into Willie Miller and he joked that he had to play about 50 games for Scotland before he got the captain’s armband.
“I have been lucky in that I managed to get in at the right time and performances kept me in the team.”
Performances for club and country have not only kept McKenna in McLeish’s squad, they have also moved him on to the radar of other clubs.
Aberdeen rejected a £6.5 million bid from Championship Aston Villa on transfer deadline day. That followed a £3.5m move from Celtic for the defender, who is contracted until summer 2023.
McKenna has no problem with the Dons knocking back a big money move to England.
He said: “There had been offers earlier in the window but I thought they had passed by.
“I was injured at the time. I was not expecting anything to happen and was not even thinking about it. Then on deadline day I had been doing some running at the barracks and when I got back in my car there were missed calls from my agent.
“I phoned him back and he said there had been an offer from another club, Aston Villa.
“The club decided to knock it back and it is fine. It was the last day of the window so it would have been difficult to get someone else in within that space of time.
“So I completely understand why they did it. I was just fully focused on getting back fit.
“A move was not at the forefront of my mind. The next day it was forgotten about.
“Offers coming in like that are very flattering. If I keep playing well there will be more to come in the years ahead.
“If there is an offer that is right I will get a chance to move on but now I am enjoying playing for Aberdeen and want to be part of a successful team, winning trophies.”
Both approaches for McKenna came in the midst of a six-week injury lay-off with a hamstring tear sustained in the first Premiership game of the season – a 1-1 draw with Rangers.
Momentum at domestic level was further hampered when the defender was hit with a two- game ban retrospectively for a challenge on Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard in a 1-0 loss.
Although referee Bobby Madden gave no foul at the time, McKenna was later cited with a notice of complaint by the SFA for “serious foul play” and offered the ban.
Aberdeen lodged an appeal but the ban was upheld, ruling McKenna out of the 4-1 defeat of St Mirren and the upcoming clash at league leaders Hearts.
He said: “I am extremely disappointed that I am going to miss two games when at the time there was not even a free-kick awarded against me. To get a phone call from the manager a few days later to say that I had been given the ban, it was a shock.
“I got to the ball clearly before Edouard and got my foot on it. I am trying to clear the ball or hit it hard enough so if it does hit him he has no chance of controlling it. That is what happened.
“There was always going to be contact, whether I kicked the ball off him or not. To get a two-game ban was disappointing when it was a genuine attempt to play the ball.
“The photo which everyone has seen was taken after I had made contact with the ball and Edouard.
“He made contact with my right leg which has swung me around. My body was in the air which made it look like a two-footed lunge but it was nothing like that.”
For now McKenna will focus on Scotland duty as he readies to secure a fifth international cap.
He said: “Being in that environment will no doubt help make me a better player. Concentration is absolutely massive.
“If you switch off for a split second then you will be punished.”