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‘I never retired!’: Charlie Mulgrew on his Scotland future and playing the ‘best football’ of his career

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CAST your mind back to an October evening in Moscow two years ago. It’s not quite the Red Army but at the Luzhniki Stadium Scotland’s defensive line is just about holding off advance after advance from the Russians when disaster strikes. 

Aleksandr Golovin’s corner comes in from the right and Artem Dzyuba brushes aside his marker and opens the scoring and the place erupts. As the camera pans away, it’s Charlie Mulgrew, in his 44th cap for his country, whose shoulders slump after being left powerless to stop the Zenit Saint Petersburg behemoth. 

Scotland lost 4-0 that night – one of the darkest of the Steve Clarke reign – and Mulgrew hasn’t been seen in his nation’s blue again. But that could soon be about to change. 

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A lot has happened in the last few years on and off the park but one of the most remarkable stories has been the revival of the veteran defender. So much so that his manager, Thomas Courts, declared Mulgrew was playing the best football of his career in the aftermath of Dundee United’s win against Motherwell on Saturday.

So, could a recall be in the offing? 

“I’ve never retired,” Mulgrew, 35, said. “Listen, Scotland has got some real quality players at the moment, but if they ever need me then I am available.”

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If he were to take his place in Clarke’s squad again for next year’s World Cup in Qatar, Mulgrew would be 36 by the time the tournament comes around. But given the resurgence of Craig Gordon – 38 and now the team’s undisputed number one – there’s no reason why his age should come into play and it helps that he agrees with his club manager’s statement. 

“Probably aye,” Mulgrew said when asked if he was playing the best football of his career.

“I am enjoying it here. I loved it in my first spell here too and I am loving playing for this club and I am giving it my all. I have a real desire to do well.

Charlie Mulgrew was the match winner for United on Saturday

“So the manager is probably right because I am probably in the best shape of my career even though I am 35. Long may it continue.

“I love being here. The first time I was here I was thankful for my opportunity to get my first game of football. The fans took to me then and they took to me again this time too.

“We are looking to put in performances and drive forward. I’m not just here at 35 to see my career out, I’m here to win games and do the best I can for this club.”

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Mulgrew wasn’t the only player on the pitch on Saturday who is doing his best to wrestle his way into Clarke’s thoughts ahead of next month’s crucial qualifier. Motherwell striker Tony Watt might have 43 less caps than the defender but seems to have hit a purple patch of form for the Steelmen. 

The 27-year-old scored his 6th goal of the season in the 2-1 defeat making it already one of the most prolific of his career. But more than his goals the combative forward led the line once again in fine fashion. Like Mulgrew, he seems to have found the right team for him.

“I love it here,” he said. “It’s probably one of the happiest places I have ever been. I’ve been places where I wasn’t happy and some where I was but this club is just different with the way they have taken to me.

“I am delighted and I want to be here. I am really happy and you see that in my performances.

“They look after me and they push me to be a better person and a better player. My morals and the club’s align. 

“It’s two years I’ve been here and that’s probably the longest I’ve ever been at a club. It’s a club close to my heart and I can’t thank them enough.”

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Watt’s club future is still up for debate, however, with his deal up at the end of the season and he said: “Now, at 27, with my contract up at the end of the season, I know it has to be right for me and my family.

HeraldScotland: Tony Watt, who scored on Saturday, has one cap for his country Tony Watt, who scored on Saturday, has one cap for his country

“Money is obviously part and parcel of football. I need to retire eventually and I’m not going to be in the best of jobs after unless it’s football. I’m not skilled enough to be a plumber or an electrician.

“My next deal needs to be where I am happy. That’s not me saying I am leaving but there’s a headstart there with how they have treated me.

“It’s opened my eyes to show you can be loved.”

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