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John Carver Gears Up for Scotland's Euro 2024 Campaign

John Carver can see Hadrian’s Wall from the back garden of his home in Northumberland. And he’s well aware of the anticipation and excitement building up on the northern side of that famous border landmark.

As No. 2 to boss Steve Clarke, John has helped guide the Scotland national team to this summer’s Euro Championships in Germany, and can’t wait to do battle with Europe’s elite in a mouth-watering group that includes the tournament hosts as well as Switzerland and Hungary.

Englishman Carver has watched the level of expectation grow among fans after Scotland’s hugely impressive qualifying campaign. He knows that the hordes of Tartan Army footsoldiers will head to Munich in June bolstered by the belief that this is a Scotland squad which can finally bury the hoodoo of never having progressed beyond the group stages in any major tournament. It’s a view he shares.

Football Careers client John said: “I think it’s definitely a realistic target. And if we can get out of the group, who knows where that might take us.

“Personally, I can’t wait for the tournament. To be involved in the first match against the host country in Munich… well, it doesn’t get any bigger or better than that.

“And I believe we now have a group of players who can compete on that stage. We have that mix of experienced players and good young players that you need at international level, and we have leaders throughout the team – guys like Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor, John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Kieran Tierney, and others. With every cap, they’ve gained more experience, more maturity, and have become so influential on and off the park.

John Carver at training with Scotland’s men’s national team. Image: Getty Images

John’s insights into the current Scotland squad

“They are all different personalities but what they have in common is a humility and a work ethic that is second to none. I know it’s mentioned quite a lot, but there really is a great team spirit and togetherness within this group.

“That hasn’t happened overnight – it’s a culture that Steve has created in his time as manager. It’s about making every player in the squad feel equally valued, treating them all with honesty and respect. Steve is upfront, honest, and straightforward with the players and they respond to that.

“We have also developed a shape and system where every player understands their roles and responsibilities, and they have become more and more comfortable with it the more games they play together.”

That spirit of togetherness doesn’t just apply to the playing squad. It also permeates the whole Scotland backroom set-up, from officials and coaches to analysts and sports science specialists, fuelling a feel-good factor that has galvanised the nation. Carver, who first teamed up with Clarke when the pair were young coaches at Newcastle United in the late 1990s, said:

“There is a sense now that everyone is pulling together in the right direction and we’ve taken the supporters and the country with us. When Steve first started the job, before I was appointed, I was doing a bit of work for him watching opposition games and reporting back. I remember going up to a game at Hampden on a horrible rainy night. The ground was half-empty and the fans were nervous and edgy.

Assistant Manager John Carver and Manager Steve Clarke. Image: Getty Images

“It just feels so different now. I sense the whole nation getting behind the group, and the players feed off that. They are desperate to be part of what we are building and you don’t always get that at international level. I can remember times when I was at Newcastle that some players didn’t want to go out on international duty. It couldn’t be more different with this group of lads. You even get them turning up for camps when they’ve been ruled out with injuries, which I find incredible.”

Carver and Clarke have spent the last week checking out the facilities at Scotland’s base on the outskirts of Munich along with senior SFA officials. They are determined that no stone will be left unturned to ensure the preparations are perfect for a tournament that could elevate this talented generation of Scottish players to national hero status.

“Everything will be done to make sure the environment is right,” says John. “We have a great team behind the scenes, led by Performance Director Graeme Jones, who are working hard to create the best possible environment for the players.

“The last European Championships were affected by the Covid pandemic so it was a strange tournament in a lot of ways, with the matches spread out across Europe in front of a limited number of fans. It didn’t really feel like a proper international tournament. We had our base in the north of England and I don’t think that gave us a real connection with what was happening in Scotland.

“This time it’ll be different. We’ll set up our camp in Glasgow and stay there until five days before the tournament, when we’ll head to our HQ in Germany. Steve believes it’s important that the players remain in Scotland for as long as possible to get a full understanding of just how much it all means to the country.

“Not that we don’t already know that, mind you! We can already sense the excitement building among the Tartan Army even though the tournament is still months away, and that’ll only grow as we get closer to the summer.”

Those fanatical supporters played a huge part in a dream qualifying campaign, responding in numbers as Scotland rattled off five victories in a row to ease within touching distance of qualification. Memorable victories over Spain at Hampden and Norway in Oslo provided the platform for success and led the Tartan Army to confer on Carver the status of “honorary Jock.”

He grinned: “I think I’ve been adopted by the Scots now! Seriously, I’ve had a good relationship with the fans in the three years I’ve been working alongside Steve. And I’ve always had a close affinity with Scotland anyway. Edinburgh has been my favourite city to visit for years, and my house is literally on the border, just yards from Hadrian’s Wall. I don’t think it matters one bit that I’m an Englishman, I’m just determined to do the very best I can for Scotland.”

Carver’s commitment to the Scottish cause has even led him to turn down job opportunities because it would have meant severing his connection with the national team and his partnership with close friend Clarke.

However, at 59, he still harbours ambitions to return to club management and firmly believes his stint as Scotland No. 2 has strengthened his coaching credentials and made him even better equipped to take on a club role in the future.

Carver, who has previously managed in Canada and Cyprus and has held senior coaching roles at Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United, and Sheffield United – including several spells as caretaker boss – said:

“I love what I’m doing with Scotland and it would take something really special to make me move on. But I’m on a part-time contract with the SFA and I am still ambitious and enthusiastic so I would never rule out the possibility of returning to club management. I still have that drive inside me and I still want to get out on the grass every day. That will never leave me.

Scotland skipper Andy Robertson with Steve Clarke and John Carver. Image: PA

“I’ve had a few opportunities which I’ve turned down because the clubs wouldn’t allow me to carry on with the Scotland role at the same time. And I’ve also been turned down because I insisted that I couldn’t walk away in the middle of a Championship campaign.

“But if the right project came along, of course I’d have to consider it. I’m always looking for opportunities that will excite and stimulate me and I do believe I’d be a better club manager now because of my time on the international scene. Working with elite players, and trying to find ways to gain even the tiniest tactical advantage over elite opposition, sharpens your coaching skills.

“Some people might think that because I’m 59, I might be a bit old-fashioned in my ideas. But that’s not the case. I’m always open to new methods of working. If you don’t move with the times you get left behind. I can’t just watch games on the telly or even down the park – I’m always sitting there analysing what I’d be doing as a coach to break teams down, or looking for special set plays that I haven’t seen before.”

“I consider myself fortunate to have had a really good career in football. I had good times as a player at Newcastle, coming through the youth ranks with the likes of Paul Gascoigne – by far the best player I played with and one of the kindest guys you could ever meet – and I was lucky enough to coach some great teams as Bobby Robson’s No. 2 at Newcastle.

“I learned a lot from Bobby, especially about man-management. He knew how to get the best out of his players and we had some fantastic footballers over the years. Bobby used to call them his ‘Blue Chip Boys’ – guys he could always hang his hat on, like Gary Speed, Aaron Hughes, Lauren Robert, Nobby Solano, Craig Bellamy, and Shay Given. But the best I’ve worked with was definitely Alan Shearer, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my golfing buddy! He was just the complete striker, an unbelievable finisher.

“But this current Scotland group is right up there. There is some seriously good talent in this squad and we have a really good age profile at the moment. We have lads reaching their peak at the right time for this tournament, and they’ll still be around for the next World Cup and probably the Euros after that.

“I also sense a clear determination in them to do better than the last campaign three years ago, when we only took one point in the group stages.

“After working so hard to qualify, that was a big disappointment, and the players want to put that right this time around.”

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