Evening Express

Aberdeen’s McKenna ideal for top English club – Scotland team-mate Mulgrew

Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew.

Having played alongside Scott McKenna for Scotland, former Don Charlie Mulgrew says he is good enough to play in the English Premier League.

Mulgrew is gearing up for the national side’s friendly with Belgium on Friday and Monday’s UEFA Nations League opener against Albania.

One player who won’t be lining up alongside the 32-year-old is Aberdeen’s McKenna, who is not in the squad due to a hamstring injury.

But having played alongside the Reds centre-back in his first four caps – the last of which saw him captain against Mexico – Mulgrew is in no doubt that McKenna has the ability to play in the Premier League.

During the transfer window the 21-year-old was the subject of plenty of interest from other clubs, with the Dons turning down an approach from Swansea City and bids from Celtic and Aston Villa, with the last offer from Villa on deadline day understood to be £7 million.

Scott McKenna in action for Scotland.

Mulgrew believes when McKenna does leave Pittodrie he can move to the English top flight.

He said: “He definitely could (play in the Premier League).

“I’ve not seen a lot of him at Aberdeen.

“But from my experience of playing and training with him for Scotland you can see he has a lot of the attributes.

“He’s a level-headed boy who keeps his feet on the ground and you can see that right away.

“He’s willing to learn and there’s no reason why he can’t play at that level.”

Mulgrew, who played for Aberdeen from 2008 until 2010 and is now with Blackburn Rovers, has become the elder statesman of the Dark Blues’ backline.

Against Belgium he could line up alongside skipper Andy Robertson, 24, Kieran Tierney, 21, and John Souttar, 21.

On the summer tour to South America, Mulgrew lined up alongside McKenna, 21, and Celtic’s Jack Hendry, 23.

He is impressed by the likes of McKenna, Souttar and Hendry and believes the future is bright for Scotland in defence. Mulgrew said: “There are good players coming through, like John Souttar. I’ve not seen a lot of them but I’ve heard a lot of positive things.

“Scott McKenna is obviously a top player who has done very well in his Scotland games so far and Jack Hendry at Celtic has done well in a Scotland jersey too.

“These are young players that need time and patience, but hopefully the future is bright for Scotland.

“At the end of the day we need to qualify for a major tournament. It’s well over-due.”

With young defensive talent emerging, Mulgrew – capped 36 times by Scotland – could be seen as a mentor to the youngsters.

The former Celtic player said: “It is a role I enjoy. We don’t know the team yet or the formation or who will be playing where.

“I don’t do any different, I continue as I always have done and if I can help anyone along the way on the pitch or off the pitch then hopefully I can do that.

“There are a few experienced boys here and there are a lot of good players in the squad.

“I hopefully can lead by example with the way I train and play and take it from there.”

This double-header marks the beginning of a new era for Scotland with Gothenburg Great Alex McLeish preparing to embark on his first qualifying campaign in his second spell as manager.

The Dark Blues’ squad has been overhauled by McLeish following Gordon Strachan’s failed attempt to get the nation to the World Cup in Russia.

Mulgrew sees this as a new dawn and said: “It (Belgium) is a big game and with Scotland you need to treat every game like a cup final.

“We’ve got a friendly on Friday but the main game is Monday.

“We take one game at a time and prepare for Belgium. They did well in the World Cup and are a good team.

“But the main game is on Monday. It is big, but we’ll be well-prepared for it and look towards Albania after we are done on Friday.

“There have been a lot of changes in the squad compared to the last campaign and it is a new era.

“We want to end with a major tournament and all the focus is towards that and we’ll be doing everything we can to get there.”