Aberdeen defender Declan Gallagher will do his nation proud if given the nod to start against the Czech Republic, insists former boss Jim Duffy.
The 30-year-old is in contention to start Scotland’s Group D Euro 2020 opener at Hampden on Monday.
Two of the three centre-half positions in Steve Clarke’s starting XI look certain to be occupied by Kieran Tierney and Grant Hanley.
New Dons signing Gallagher, Scott McKenna (Nottingham Forrest), Jack Hendry (K.V. Oostende) and Liam Cooper (Leeds United) are battling for that final slot.
Gallagher started the 1-0 friendly defeat of Luxembourg on Sunday to earn his ninth cap.
Duffy offered Gallagher a life-line at part-time Clyde in the lower leagues when the defender left Celtic at 19-year-old.
He insists Gallagher has not just the talent but the mental strength to rise to the challenge if selected to start Scotland’s biggest game for more than two decades.
Duffy said: “Steve (Clarke) has plenty of options for defence but Declan has never let Scotland down.
“He has always done well for his country and looks confident and comfortable amongst international players.
“The big move to Aberdeen will have delivered another boost to his confidence.
“If Declan is selected I am absolutely sure he will do Scotland proud and will not let anyone down.
“Declan is a very consistent defender who does his job of winning headers, tackles and using the ball sensibly.
“Consistent defenders is what you need in a team because if the other players have belief in the back-line it makes everyone calm.
“Everyone feels a bit calmer and the forwards can relax a little as they know they have a really good defence.
“So if they miss a chance it is not as crucial as it might have been if they are inconsistent at the back.
“Declan is a terrific signing for Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass and I am sure he will do very well for them.”
Scots won’t be outmuscled at Euros
A powerful centre-back during a playing career with Dundee, Morton and Partick Thistle the 62-year-old is convinced the Scots will not be outmuscled regardless of who gets the call to start against the Czechs.
He said: “As a unit we have some real competition in the defence as along with Declan there is also Liam Cooper who is playing in the Premier League.
“Jack Hendry has come into it in the last few months and there is also Scott McKenna.
“They are all not only good players but are also strong and physical.
“Scotland will not be outmuscled at any stage in the Euros.
“In the past that has not always been the case but we can compete physically.”
Mitrovic threat snuffed out
Gallagher was a late comer to the international scene and earned his debut cap under Clarke at 28-years-old.
He underlined his international quality when keeping the shackles on Serbian danger man Aleksandar Mitrovic in the Euro 2020 play-off final win in Belgrade in November to secure qualification to the finals.
With 41 goals in 64 international appearances Mitrovic is Serbia’s all time leading goal-scorer.
Duffy said: “Mitrovic was a Premier League player last season before Fulham were relegated.
“He has real physical attributes and is a strong player.
“That is the type of player Declan will be happy to play against time after time.
“England will have more flexibility and movement so there are different skill sets you need as a defender these days.
“You can’t just be the big physical centre-back that challenges a big, physical centre-forward.
“However Declan showed in that Serbia game he can match a top player and that will give him belief.”
Gallagher’s quality clear as a teenager
Gallagher’s route to Euro 2020 has not been smooth and he suffered the first of many obstacles when exiting Celtic as a teenager.
For many players leaving one of the biggest clubs in the country could deliver a debilitating set-back – not Gallagher.
Duffy gave him a life-line at Clyde and immediately accepted it would be unlikely he would hold onto the defender for long.
The former Hibs and Dundee boss said: “Declan came in at about 19 years old and you could see his attributes even then.
“He wanted to get games under his belt and that is part of the attraction of clubs like Clyde at that level.
“If you are good enough it will give you experience and you learn quicker playing first team football.
“Then it is up to the talent they have got.
“I can’t even remember Declan asking me for any kind of money whatsoever as he just wanted to play football and get back.
“He read the game well, was strong and physical but was also technically very good and confident on the ball.
“That was probably due to the upbringing he had at Celtic.
“What he had to learn was just a little bit of positional play and game awareness which comes through experience.
“He has definitely done that.”
Gallagher would play for Clyde in the old Division Three, the fourth tier of Scottish football, for a full season before switching to Dundee in the top flight.
The catalyst for that transfer was Duffy recommending the centre-back to then Dundee boss Barry Smith.
Gallagher was a regular for Dundee that season and although the Dens Park side were relegated he would go on to win the Championship with the Dark Blues.
Troubled road to Euro 2020
However Gallagher’s life took a dark dark turn following a jail sentence for his involvement in an assault outside a Lanarkshire hotel in 2013 that would bring a three-year jail sentence in 2015.
Gallagher was released a month after his sentence on appeal, but failure to overturn his conviction saw him go back behind bars in February 2016.
The defender served 11 months and upon release was given a second chance at a football career by Livingston.
He won the League One title with Livingston before securing a move to Motherwell which would bring the club captaincy, international recognition and a move to Aberdeen on a two year contract.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) June 8, 2021
Duffy said: “One of Declan’s biggest assets when he came into Clyde was that he was willing to take advice and learn.
“With his physical attributes there was always the chance he would go on to play at a higher level.
“How high is ultimately up to the player.
“He was always a good footballer and when Declan came in I thought he is far too good for this level.
“I knew he wouldn’t be at Clyde too long.”
🏴 Scotland International Declan Gallagher signs pre-contract agreement with The Dons.
🔴 The 30-year-old central defender will join the Club this summer on a two-year deal.#StandFree
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) May 6, 2021
Lower leagues offer redemption
Gallagher is not the only player in the Scotland squad who has had to drop down into the lower leagues after suffering the set-back of exiting a team.
National skipper Andy Robertson resurrected his career at Queen’s Park having been released by Celtic.
He moved up through the ranks via Queen’s Park, Dundee United, Hull City and then Liverpool.
The Champions League and Premier League winner will join an elite band of Scots on Monday when leading the nation out in the finals of a major tournament.
Duffy said: “If you look at the Scotland set up there are boys like Andy Robertson who went to Queen’s Park and Declan to Clyde.
“There are also players like Scott McKenna who went on loan to Ayr United whilst at Aberdeen.
“These lower league clubs give players an opportunity at a fragile stage in their career.
“This is the reason why we need smaller and provincial clubs to develop players.
“These clubs are invaluable.
“If the attitude is right from the players they can bounce back and for players like Declan to do that and become an international is credit to his mentality.
“It is all about the desire and mentality.
“Declan has taken it to the next level by not just playing international football but also tournament level.
“He is one of just a few in a generation that will be able to achieve that.
“Some fabulously talented players over the years haven’t managed to achieve that.
“You have to congratulate Declan on that and his move to Aberdeen is also fantastic for him.
“It is a very important summer for Declan and one that he has worked hard to achieve.”
Optimism on group qualification
Scotland have lost just twice in the previous 16 games under Steve Clarke who was appointed successor to Alex McLeish in May 2019.
Duffy, who left Dumbarton after leading them to League One safety in the play-off final last month, believes Clarke has instilled self belief into the squad.
He is optimistic Scotland can qualify from the group stages for the first time.
It is optimistic based on what he has witnessed under Clarke and not hollow, false hope.
He said: “In Scotland we tend to go from one extreme to the other.
“We either underplay it and say everyone is hopeless or we say we are world beaters.
“It is getting that happy medium and Steve Clarke has done that.
“Squad strength now is much better than it has been.
“He has also brought a belief into the players that they can compete.
“That belief is not an arrogance and not false optimism.
“They have worked hard to get to the Euros and will want to do themselves justice.
“We have players good enough in all areas of the pitch now.
“We were a bit shy up top but that has definitely improved in the last year to 18 months.
“Overall we are in a good position to compete.
“We will go into the games as underdogs, even the Czech Republic game which is at Hampden.
“That first game on Monday is vital because if we can get a good start it will give everyone even more confidence.
“However I already have real confidence we can qualify from the group.”