Devilish Doak has the kind of talent Scotland can't ignore... if he's fit, he simply HAS to get the nod for Euros

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TWENTY-SIX days to go until the absolute deadline for Steve Clarke to name his Scotland squad for Euro 2024. And just 33 until he leads his side out in the Allianz Arena in Munich for the opening game of the tournament against hosts Germany.

Not a lot of time, then, for Ben Doak to prove he is capable of making some kind of contribution after recovering from the knee surgery that stopped a promising season dead in its tracks at Liverpool in December.

However, if the 18-year-old can convince Clarke he is in a condition to make an impact at the finals — at some stage in Scotland’s campaign, if not that high-octane curtain-raiser — there should be no hesitation at all in putting his name down for a plane ticket.

The news this week that Doak is back in training at club level created a stir. And that says something in itself. There is a buzz about this boy. Something different. Something genuinely exciting. Just like there was with a 19-year-old Billy Gilmour ahead of the last European Championship.

Clarke gambled on him after no more than a handful of first-team outings at Chelsea and was rewarded with a man-of-the-match display in a goalless draw with England at Wembley that could have been so much more. Who knows if things would have been different against Croatia in the closing, spirit-crushing match of the group had Gilmour not tested positive for Covid beforehand?

Of course, Gilmour was playing first-team football in the lead-up to that tournament. Whether Doak can get game time for Liverpool before the end of the campaign remains to be seen.

Ben Doak is back in training at Liverpool and could be a Scotland contender for the Euros

Ben Doak is back in training at Liverpool and could be a Scotland contender for the Euros

Ben Doak is back in training at Liverpool and could be a Scotland contender for the Euros

Doak battles with Chelsea's Levi Colwell on the opening day of the Premier League season

Doak battles with Chelsea's Levi Colwell on the opening day of the Premier League season

The lively winger also started for the Anfield side in three of their Europa League group games

The lively winger also started for the Anfield side in three of their Europa League group games

Yet, one thing is clear. No matter who else has been performing manfully throughout the course of the season, Scotland do not have any other attacking players on the fringes of the starting XI at a megaclub. Scotland do not have any other attacking players hailed as ‘special’ by Jurgen Klopp and handed a new long-term contract at Anfield back in September when he’d only signed his previous agreement 10 months earlier.

Sometimes, you can just feel that a player is separate from the rest, based on what the word is around the game about him, what people tell you in quiet moments around dinner tables, rather than anything you have actually had the opportunity to witness in the flesh. That existed with Gilmour three years ago. And it most definitely exists with Doak now.

It is hard to judge just how good he is. He only made five top-team outings with Liverpool before his injury, six if you include an outing against Bradford in the EFL Trophy.

He got three starts in a much-changed team in the Europa League groups, came on against Chelsea for a late cameo on the opening day of the Premier League season — then didn’t play in that competition again — and was handed a jersey for a 4-0 win over Leicester in the Carabao Cup.

And that’s about it. That’s the thin gruel you are judging him on at club level. Gilmour, though, had only made 11 appearances in the major competitions at Chelsea during season 2020/21 — seven of those starts, with a knee injury disrupting his progress along the way — when he went to the last Euros. He had only managed one start and one substitute appearance in the EPL.

But we had seen real signs of his ability. Real signs he had the minerals to succeed at a high level. He was outstanding, just 18 years old and only just promoted to the first-team set-up, in a 2-0 FA Cup win over Liverpool during the previous campaign. Demanding the ball. Taking it in tight spaces. Using it cleverly. Bossing it against established opposition. Exactly as he did at Wembley just over a year later.

Gilmour battles with his former Chelsea colleague Mason Mount at Euro 2020

Gilmour battles with his former Chelsea colleague Mason Mount at Euro 2020

The tenacious midfielder displayed no nerves as he battled England star Raheem Sterling

The tenacious midfielder displayed no nerves as he battled England star Raheem Sterling

Gilmour earns praise from national team boss Steve Clarke following his Wembley display

Gilmour earns praise from national team boss Steve Clarke following his Wembley display

That same ability to rise to the occasion, remain undaunted, express himself, exists in fellow Ayrshireman Doak. In creating the case for the youngster to be included in Clarke’s squad for these now-imminent finals, it is necessary to go back to a September evening in the Estadio de la Victoria in Jaen and a 1-0 loss suffered by the Scotland Under-21 side to their Spanish hosts in a European qualifier.

Doak had already earned rave reviews for his displays during a pre-season tour of Germany with Liverpool. But friendlies are no dependable indicator of anything. This was Doak’s first competitive match for Scot Gemmill’s Under-21s against a side rated to be one of the best in the world at that level. And, for the first hour at least, he was easily the most electrifying player on the park.

Fielded up front on his own, Doak stood out like a sore thumb from the get-go. He tormented Spain, got shots off, set up big chances for others. His fast feet, willingness to take people on and blistering pace were there for all to see.

And while doing well against Spain’s Under-21s is considerably different to going up against seasoned pros at international level, it is worth pointing out that the home side that night were not some bunch of raw kids. They possessed measurable quality and experience.

At right centre-back was Rafa Marin. Over 30 appearances for Alaves in Spain’s Primera Division this term and tipped to move on to bigger things.

Beside him was team captain Alejandro Frances. He has been an ever-present for Real Zaragoza in the Second Division this term and is expected to join a top-flight team this summer with only one year left on his contract. Around the time of that Scotland game, he was also called up to train with the full national team.

Doak's performance against Spain's Under-21s suggested he has a bright future at elite level

Doak's performance against Spain's Under-21s suggested he has a bright future at elite level

Doak leaves Atletico Madrid's Pablo Barrios in his wake as he rampages into another attack

Doak leaves Atletico Madrid's Pablo Barrios in his wake as he rampages into another attack

The Liverpool starlet was a constant menace and didn't deserve to end up on the losing side

The Liverpool starlet was a constant menace and didn't deserve to end up on the losing side

At right-back stood Arnau Martinez, who has had considerable first-team action in Girona’s drive towards Champions League qualification. At left-back, Wolves’ Hugo Bueno, who, although not a regular starter at Molineux, has still made over 20 outings.

Defensive midfield was Pablo Barrios. He played seven times for Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, scoring in the 6-0 home win over Celtic, and would have made more than his existing 16 starts in La Liga were it not for a winter knee injury.

Elsewhere in the team, Gabri Veiga had just moved from Celta Vigo to Saudi club Al-Ahli for £25million, Javi Guerra has proven himself a regular starter at Valencia, striker Samu Omorodia plays every week for Alaves, as does Diego Lopez at Valencia, with Villarreal’s Ilias Akhomach now a Moroccan internationalist.

Sure, it’s not going up against Toni Kroos and the guys in the Allianz Arena — nowhere near it — but it still points to Doak being able to handle expectation and deliver.

Scotland do not have another player with the kind of pace to burn that Doak possesses. Not even close. And pace, plus the ability to beat a man and take opponents out of the game, makes all the difference.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has referred to team-mate Doak as a 'Tasmanian devil'

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has referred to team-mate Doak as a 'Tasmanian devil' 

Scotland skipper Andy Robertson puts an arm around the shoulder of his countryman

Scotland skipper Andy Robertson puts an arm around the shoulder of his countryman

Even if there’s a lack of gas in the tank to last 90 minutes, that speed won’t have gone anywhere. If nothing else, what a weapon Doak could be in the later stages of against Hungary and Switzerland when legs are tiring and the games are becoming stretched.

That, alone, makes the lad worth a gamble. He’s not the finished article. He runs into trouble at times. Makes the wrong decisions. But he can do things no one else at Clarke’s disposal can. And that’s why, if he’s anywhere close to fit, he has to go to Germany.

Virgil van Dijk calls Doak ‘the Tasmanian Devil’ on account of his on-field energy. Let’s turn him loose then. And watch him run riot.

 

THE SAD TRUTH IS TAKING FLAK IS PART OF THE JOB FOR PLAYERS 

ONE dispiriting part of society, especially when it comes to football, is the number of idiots who feel they can say whatever they want with no comeback. Another is the army of absolute twonks who seem incapable of enjoying life, the most wonderful thing to immerse yourself in, without recording every aspect of it through the camera of a mobile telephone.

Put the two together and you’ve got a match made in hell. As Rangers players Jack Butland and Borna Barisic will testify after the week just gone.

Football players often get a bad press. Most are good with fans. Most give their time when asked. It must get under your skin when some geezer starts shouting through a metal fence outside a stadium, when you don’t do as he desires, that he pays your wages and effectively owns you.

Jack Butland should have known better than to get dragged into an exchange with a supporter

Jack Butland should have known better than to get dragged into an exchange with a supporter

Footage emerged of Borna Barisic confronting a fan who had said something unsavoury

Footage emerged of Borna Barisic confronting a fan who had said something unsavoury

That does not excuse Butland getting into verbals with a punter after last weekend’s home win against Kilmarnock, though. And it certainly doesn’t excuse Barisic having to be restrained after appearing, on footage from one of said mobile phone owners, to react badly to a comment from another.

Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan called it right years ago when pointing out that you get paid the big bucks at the Old Firm as much for what comes at you off the field as on it. Even during the week, he stated in an interview that he rarely went out socially during his time at Parkhead because of fear of getting dragged into things.

Over and above everything else, the reactions of Butland and Barisic fed into a narrative this week. That Rangers were rattled ahead of going to Parkhead. That the place was heading for the buffers. Another thing Strachan always used to point out is that, no matter how anxious he was feeling, he always felt he had to show in public that he was in control — because every element of your body language is measured to the nth degree at Rangers and Celtic.

It is, of course, yet another reflection of our society that all kind of workers in front-facing positions — nurses, doctors, police, bus drivers, ticket-collectors — have to deal with abuse.

They are expected to deal with it calmly and professionally. With good grace. And not bite back. They also get paid a heck of a lot less than Butland and Barisic. Hard as it is, and wrong as it seems, they just need to learn just to keep the head down, let it wash over them and not get suckered into the kind of spats that are never going to do them — or their clubs — any favours.

 

McINNES WORTHY OF MANAGER PRIZE 

DEEP congratulations to Derek McInnes for leading Kilmarnock into the Europa League qualifiers at the end of a season which has seen them really punch above their weight by beating both Celtic (twice) and Rangers.

McInnes has rebuilt his reputation with an incredible campaign at the Rugby Park outfit

McInnes has rebuilt his reputation with an incredible campaign at the Rugby Park outfit

He took on a job many people might have thought below him when going to Rugby Park with Killie rooted in the Championship. Yet, he has built them into a strong unit and reaffirmed his coaching credentials after things went, well, just a little bit stale at Aberdeen.

With Steve Clarke failing to land a nomination for taking Scotland to the Euros, let’s hope the nation’s football writers do what PFA Scotland didn’t — and give McInnes the Manager of the Year gong at their gala dinner later in the month.

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