It was not supposed to be this way. When Scotland qualified for Euro 2020, Kieran Tierney was earmarked as one of the stars of the team. The nation’s return to a major tournament was viewed as Tierney’s latest chance to display his talents on a grand stage.
Instead, when Scotland took on the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on Monday, Tierney was confined to a hotel room near Darlington. A calf problem, which may also keep the defender out of Friday’s meeting with England, meant Tierney could not even travel to support his teammates as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat. He does nothing to mask his disappointment.
“I was gutted,” Tierney says. “I was so down. I stayed back and did rehab work. I was just so flat that day. I stayed back here trying to get fit for Friday and it was the longest day. It was a horrible day. Watching the anthem was amazing but what I was feeling inside was terrible. I wanted to be there so much. I wanted to help the boys out, wanted them to do so well and not being able to help was hard to take. I was just in my room. I had to do rehab all day and took an hour or two off just to watch the game.
“The pain itself probably wouldn’t stop you playing. It’s if you played on it, it could get a lot, lot worse and you could get out for a lengthy time. You can’t risk it, not with calves.”
Confirmation of Tierney’s injury, which had been kept quiet until the teams were announced, punctured the mood around Hampden. “I probably felt 10 times worse than everyone, honestly,” the former Celtic player says. “That’s what you need to deal with in football. You get ups and downs. This was a down. I need to count myself lucky: there is a lot worse things going on and a lot worse things that can happen. I’m just doing my best to be fit for Friday night.”
Tierney rates at roughly 50-50 his chances of being able to face “world-class” Harry Kane and co. His appearance to do media work while wearing compression tights emphasised that everything possible is being done to accelerate his recuperation. “When am I ever wearing tights?” Tierney asks with a laugh.
“It’s just so unlucky because I worked so hard to get back from my knee injury. I came back quickly for that, played a few games. I don’t know if those few games caught up with me and I just got a wee niggle. That’s all it is, just a niggle. It’s touch and go.”
Tierney’s teammates hope he takes the field against England. “Kieran is one of the best full-backs or left centre-backs in the world at the moment for me,” says John McGinn. “Arsenal’s best player by a mile this season. So on Monday he was a miss. Any nation would miss Kieran Tierney.”
Tierney insists Scotland should retain belief that they can emerge from Group D. Yet it is perfectly clear their hopes of taking anything from a rare competitive visit to Wembley are linked in part to Tierney’s availability. He has been superb on the left side of a back three in recent international outings.
“Everyone in that changing room has had a bad result before,” says Tierney. “You can’t get too down. We had chances on Monday as well. It’s just tournament football. We never got the result but we have two games left and you never know what can happen.
“We’re going to go down there and fight for everything. It’s a derby. It’s a big rivalry in football. There is no doubt about it, we’re really looking forward to this game.
“I’ve played at Wembley a couple of times; fortunately for Arsenal there have been some good results there. If I can keep that going I’ll be delighted. All the families will be looking forward to it, it’s a massive occasion for every player to be hopefully in the squad for a Euros game but also because I missed out on the first one. My family were just as gutted as me. Hopefully it will be a good weekend for us.”