Home » UEFA Champions League » Chelsea heartache resurfaces for Scotland boss Steve Clarke returns to the scene of Champions


IT seemed an obvious subject to raise with Scotland manager Steve Clarke returning to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for the first time since the Champions League final in 2008.

But mention of that game, which saw Chelsea, when he was the assistant manager at the club, suffer an excruciating penalty shoot-out defeat to their English rivals Manchester United, still produced a groan and a roll of the eyes.

“Someone had to drag it up,” said Clarke, pictured inset, with a wry grin last night after his players had taken a look around the 81,000-capacity arena where they will play their Euro 2020 qualifier against Russia this evening. The memory of that loss still smarts 11 years on.

“A Champions League final is a big, big occasion,” he said. “And for Chelsea at that time it was the first time, so it was a really big occasion. It was certainly a disappointing night, especially having come so close.

“It was a good game, a very competitive game. United started very well and got on top of us. They deserved to be in front. We got a little break with a fortuitous goal, a little deflection meant Frank Lampard scored. In the second half I thought we were the better team. Obviously we could not manage to get the winning goal and the rest is history.

“It is not very often you have a player going up to take a penalty to win the Champions League. Unfort-unately, John [Terry] slipped and hit the post with the penalty. It was not our night. Hopefully I come away with much happier memories this time.”

Clarke, who was No.2 to Avram Grant in 2008, recalled that many of the locals in the 67,310-strong crowd backed Chelsea, due to them being bankrolled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but they certainly won’t be backing his team tonight.

“We had the connection with the owner,” he said. “So if there were any neutrals in the stadium they were probably rooting for us.

“I didn’t speak to Roman an awful lot. He was a very private man, kept himself to himself. I was only the assistant. The various managers I worked with at that time were more likely to spend time with Roman than I was. But any conversations we did have were very good. He was a good owner for the club.”

Despite Scotland’s chances of finishing in the top two in their section and making it through to Euro 2020 automatically, being over, Clarke is optimistic the Group I match in the Luzhniki tonight will be the start of something exciting rather than a sad end to a campaign as his last visit was.

With the play-off matches that offer a back door into next summer’s final still looming next March, he is

treating it just as seriously as Chelsea’s meeting with Manchester United.

“I said when I took the job in the summer that this was the pinnacle, it was the top of my career as a manager,” he said. “People say it is a dead rubber. I disagree entirely. There’s never a dead game when you are representing your country. You want to win, you want to perform well.

“I think we are taking at least 1,000 people over there, who are going to the game. It is really important. Listen, those guys have shelled out an obscene amount of money to get to Moscow. I know from trying to get together a squad how difficult it is to get visas. They have gone through a lot of trouble to get there.

“So that is an objective – to perform well and play well and try and give those boys something to smile about and cheer about on the way home. That’s important.

“It is also important – and we touched on this after the last games – that we finish at least third in this group. That is important because we are the third-ranked team in the group. That is the minimum position we should finish in. So we have to put ourselves under pressure to finish third.

“And it is also important to remember we are only potentially two games away from Euro 2020; we need to use these games to make sure we are in the best possible shape going into those games in March.”

Clarke added: “Hopefully in this short space of time, four games, we can pick up enough points to finish third. We can pick up enough points to feel good about ourselves, knowing that whoever we play in March we are going to give them a hell of a game, and give ourselves a chance of qualifying.

“Yes, it has been disappointing up to now, there is no getting away from it. It has been a disappointing campaign points-wise but we still have the capability and possibility of qualifying. So we can beat ourselves up and knock ourselves down if we want, but let’s try and remain a little bit positive and work to be even more positive come March.”

Clarke can still recall how a 1-0 win over Croatia in a meaningless Brazil 2014 qualifier in Zagreb in 2013 kickstarted a Scotland revival under his predecessor Gordon Strachan. He believes that an improved perform-ance and a positive result against Russia this evening can spark a

“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” he said. “That’s what you hope for. I’m not in Russia thinking ‘we’ll get this game out of the way and then attack the last three games and see if we can get the points there’. We have to think ‘come on, let’s turn over Russia’. We have to think we can get three points here and if not then at least take a point. It’s going to be a tough game, but I saw enough in the first game at Hampden to let me know that we have a chance to win the game.

“The only way to change the mood is to be positive and to win matches. If we can do that then hopefully everyone is looking at March and thinking ‘bring it on, I can’t wait for March’.

“Let’s get the campaign out of the way and get to March and see if we can qualify for Euro 2020. That’s what we have to do.”