Gary McAllister tells former Liverpool team-mate Danny Murphy why Scotland can get the monkey off their backs to make history at Euro 2024... and tips rivals England for success

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Talk about timing. When I arranged to catch up with my old pal Gary McAllister on Tuesday evening, I didn’t imagine Scotland would be smashing England about at cricket’s T20 World Cup.

Fortunately for me, rain saved England from further embarrassment. Judging by the smile on Gary’s face, he enjoyed seeing me squirm. ‘If we can beat you at cricket, that’s remarkable,’ he said. ‘Not that we played much growing up in Lanarkshire!’

The Euros are more familiar territory. Scotland kick off the tournament against hosts Germany on Friday night hoping to qualify from their group for the first time ever.

As millions watch on TV, Gary will be in Munich as a guest of the Scottish Football Association.

Quite right too. Not only was he important when our Liverpool team won a cup treble in 2001, Mac is also one of the finest Scottish players over the last 30 years. He twice played in the European Championships — once as captain — and only missed out on the 1998 World Cup because of a ruptured cruciate.

Gary McAllister believes Scotland can create history and qualify from their group for the first time ever at Euro 2024

Gary McAllister believes Scotland can create history and qualify from their group for the first time ever at Euro 2024

Gary McAllister believes Scotland can create history and qualify from their group for the first time ever at Euro 2024

McAllister played at two European Championships and famously missed a penalty against England at Euro 96

McAllister played at two European Championships and famously missed a penalty against England at Euro 96

It was a heartbreaking moment for the midfielder and Scotland did not get out of their group, but McAllister thinks the nation can finally get that monkey off their back this summer

It was a heartbreaking moment for the midfielder and Scotland did not get out of their group, but McAllister thinks the nation can finally get that monkey off their back this summer

He’s also remembered for missing a penalty against England at Euro 96 seconds before Paul Gascoigne ran up the other end and scored one of the most famous goals in Wembley history.

I did bring it up of course and Gary reacted — with good humour — by pretending to get the shakes.

More of that famous game later, but out of respect we should start with Scotland’s prospects this month.

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Personally, I think they face an uphill struggle because after Germany, Switzerland and Hungary are no mugs either.

Gary is a patriotic Scot but that’s not the only reason he’s more optimistic about his nation’s prospects. He argues, with some logic, that the strength of Steve Clarke’s side is in midfield and they may be able to control their final two group games rather than rely on smash-and-grab.

‘Ideally, you might not want Germany first,’ he accepts. ‘Some of the names in their team are “Wow” while our confidence dipped after taking a couple of beatings off England and France earlier in the season.

‘But when you look at the Swiss and Hungarians, I think we have enough to beat the pair of them.

‘Stevie Clarke has replicated the atmosphere Scotland had under Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown. When we met up, it felt like a club side, you were joining friends.

‘Stevie has worked hard so that winning a cap for your country feels like a huge thing again. It had drifted a bit because we weren’t reaching the tournaments.

‘The fans have jumped on the change. They weren’t turning up for Scotland games, now everyone wants to be part of it.

‘These Euros will be a better tournament with Scotland in it because of the supporters. Thousands will go, even if they haven’t got tickets and will watch games from the fans’ parks.

‘I saw Stevie recently at a golf day and said he had to enjoy it and to have a go.

McAllister says he has told Clarke to 'go for it' to get out of their group in Germany

McAllister says he has told Clarke to 'go for it' to get out of their group in Germany

McAllister feels Scotland's midfield is their main strength, with John McGinn (left) and Scott McTominay (right) set to play key roles at Euro 2024

McAllister feels Scotland's midfield is their main strength, with John McGinn (left) and Scott McTominay (right) set to play key roles at Euro 2024

‘We have never qualified for the knockouts. That’s the big thing — the monkey on our back.

‘Scotland’s strength lies in the middle of the park. Scott McTominay has had a good season with Manchester United, Callum McGregor has captained Celtic to the Double. We’ve got John McGinn, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Christie. It’s decent and we need to rely on these guys to get us some ball.

‘You can’t just be hanging on and hoping to break at this level but I think we can keep possession against Switzerland and Hungary in particular.’

McGinn is someone I admire and a major factor in Aston Villa finishing in the top-four.

Gary worked with him during his spell at Villa Park assisting Steven Gerrard.

He explains: ‘John is like an old-school midfield player, box-to-box, but even before we talk about his ability, we recognised instantly that he was really popular as a person.

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‘Steven saw him early as a natural leader and captain. He was well-liked by everyone from the parking attendant to the kit staff.

‘We talk about specific roles for midfielders these days “Oh, he’s a sitter, he’s a 10” but John can’t be defined like that. He gets up and down the park. He’s physical and can make and score goals.

‘I’d always look at my contribution at the end of games. I wanted to score and assist, and if not at least work hard, and make tackles and interceptions. John is one of those. He will always run and fight his corner.’

Scotland fans have needed to develop a black sense of humour over the years because of the different ways they’ve missed out on qualifying for the latter stages.

Euro 96 was particularly painful. They played well in their second game against England but trailing 1-0 with 11 minutes left, Gary’s spot-kick was saved by David Seaman.

Even then, they beat Switzerland in their last group game and were heading through until Patrick Kluivert’s late consolation goal for Holland against England denied them on goal difference.

I’d never worked out why Gary had blasted his penalty. His placement was usually so good. Later on, he converted from the spot against Barcelona and Alaves when Liverpool won the UEFA Cup

Uri Geller got publicity for claiming he’d used mind control to make the ball move at Wembley. Nothing to do with Uri, but Gary did admit the faintest of rolls had put him off his usual routine.

‘You know my penalty technique Danny. It was always a fast sidefoot,’ he explains.

Paul Gascoigne scored a wonder goal a matter of seconds after McAllister's penalty miss at Euro 96

Paul Gascoigne scored a wonder goal a matter of seconds after McAllister's penalty miss at Euro 96

‘I would go to the keeper’s left or if I saw them go a wee bit early, wrap my foot around and go the other way.

‘This time, the ball moved. As I plant my left foot and I’m right over the ball, I’m actually millimetres from the ball.

‘The number of things that went through my head in that millisecond, you could write a book!

‘I am thinking if I try and stop, I might just fall into the ball. Then I’m thinking I’ll try and lift my foot above the ball. Then I decided to blast it.

‘It was just a smack. The ball had only moved a fraction but enough for me to notice. It broke my concentration.

‘David Seaman saves with his elbow, it goes up the left wing and Gazza flicks it over Colin Hendry and from being 1-1 it’s 2-0 to them.

‘It was only during Covid that I watched the game back properly. I realised if I’d scored, we win that day. We were on top of England and it was a massive turning point. Not that I think about it much!’

It’s also interesting to chat with Mac about Gareth Southgate’s current England.

Gary believes England should be adaptable. In the group stages, he thinks it’s possible for Southgate to play three attacking forwards behind Harry Kane, plus Jude Bellingham breaking forward from deep. Then, be a bit more pragmatic when you face a France or Portugal.

McAllister is adamant Southgate does not need to play Kobbie Mainoo (left) alongside Declan Rice (right) during the group stages

McAllister is adamant Southgate does not need to play Kobbie Mainoo (left) alongside Declan Rice (right) during the group stages

McAllister would like to see Jude Bellingham moved deeper into midfield

McAllister would like to see Jude Bellingham moved deeper into midfield

This would allow Phil Foden (left) and Cole Palmer (right) to play together behind Harry Kane

This would allow Phil Foden (left) and Cole Palmer (right) to play together behind Harry Kane

‘England have three natural 10s (Foden, Palmer and Saka) who can support the front man. It would allow Bellingham to take the ball off the backline,’ he argues.

‘Some players are better starting deeper. Foden and Palmer like getting on those half-turns, Bellingham is different. He can run the ball from the other box rather than stand high all the time.

‘England have some fantastic options. For the group games, two centre-halves and Declan (Rice) is enough protection. Bellingham can make his own decisions when to break.

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‘If the opposition have one up front, England don’t want four players stood at the back.

‘I saw Kobbie Mainoo in the FA Cup final and he was fantastic. But you don’t need him and Declan alongside each other in the group stages. Then, when you face the big boys, have two centre-halves and two sitters in a box. It’s horses for courses.’

Gary also worked at Villa with Ollie Watkins who he thinks could be England’s secret weapon in the knockout stages.

‘Ollie works better when he has space to run into rather than linking. Against the bigger nations, that’s when he will be a fantastic addition,’ he points out.

‘The Bosnia friendly on Monday when they played three centre-halves in low block, that’s not Ollie’s game.

‘But when teams try to press you high, his eyes light up so he can spin centre-halves. You can see him making runs and someone like Trent Alexander-Arnold would be able to put the ball on a sixpence.

McAllister insists Ollie Watkins can take his club form at Aston Villa onto the international stage

McAllister insists Ollie Watkins can take his club form at Aston Villa onto the international stage

He also believes England can go all the way in Europe under Gareth Southgate

He also believes England can go all the way in Europe under Gareth Southgate

‘England can win it. On paper, they look really good. But so do France, Germany and Portugal.’

Gary missed out on the opening game of the 1998 World Cup when his knee got caught in the ground playing for Coventry against Leicester and required an operation.

At least he’ll be able to witness Scotland kicking off a major tournament again, albeit from the posh seats in Munich.

Scotland no longer have a Denis Law or Kenny Dalglish but history beckons if they can get through the group.

Mac is feeling half glass-full. Despite the Scottish cricketers best efforts, he smiles: ‘Football is still our national sport and I think we’ve got the players to make the breakthrough.’

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