Scotland are tantalisingly close to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but the likelihood of Ryan Fraser being involved appears slim.
After leading the national team to the promised land of a first major tournament since 1998 by qualifying for this year’s European Championships, Steve Clarke is now eager to back up that success by reaching the World Cup.
Clarke and the team were dealt a favourable draw for the play-offs in March with a home semi-final against Ukraine followed by a trip to either Austria or Wales.
The Scots have already won in Austria this year while Ukraine and Wales are challenging but certainly not insurmountable obstacles.
But former Aberdeen winger Fraser’s decision to withdraw from the squad for November’s qualifiers against Moldova and Denmark clearly irked Clarke.
The 27-year-old cited a calf problem but was pictured training with his club Newcastle United that week.
When Clarke was asked about Fraser’s withdrawal his response was blunt.
“I don’t think we missed him” was the assessment of the national team boss.
During his time at Bournemouth, Fraser withdrew from several Scotland squads due to injury, leading some to question his appetite for playing for the national team.
The winger has shown during his 22 caps that his speed and trickery is a real asset to the national team.
Fraser has struggled to make a major impression at Newcastle since moving to St James Park on a free transfer in September 2020.
Since signing a five-year deal with the Magpies, Fraser has scored one goal in 36 appearances and started only 14 of those games.
But the arrival of Eddie Howe at Newcastle may spark an upturn of fortunes for Fraser at the club.
The winger flourished at Bournemouth during Howe’s highly successful period in charge of the Cherries.
The relationship ended on a sour note when Fraser opted not to sign a short-term extension despite pleas from Howe when the 2020-21 English Premier League season restarted following a three-month hiatus.
Bournemouth suffered relegation and Fraser departed to join Newcastle as a free agent, having been linked with the likes of Spurs and Everton.
Fraser admitted a fear of being injured was his reason for not signing the short-term deal with the Cherries, knowing that the next contract he signed was going to be the most important of his career.
Howe has been quick to play down the events as being “in the past” and stressed that he has a very strong relationship with Fraser.
He spoke about how hard Fraser worked after arriving at Bournemouth from Aberdeen in 2013 when his swashbuckling displays for the Dons instantly caught the eye to transform himself into an English Premier League player worth millions of pounds.
Newcastle, now awash with finances following a takeover deal backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, are expected to invest heavily in the playing squad when the transfer window opens next month.
It will be intriguing to see if Howe sees Fraser as a player who can help get Newcastle away from the relegation zone or if the winger will fall down the pecking order as new recruits join the squad.
But it is unclear if Clarke will be willing to give Fraser another chance with the national team – even if he returns to top form at Newcastle.
Representing your country at a World Cup final would be the dream of most aspiring footballers as they progress through the ranks.
Hopefully in the years ahead when Fraser retires from football, he doesn’t look back with regret on failing to make the most of his opportunities at international level.
He is a highly talented player and the Scotland squads in March and beyond would be stronger with his inclusion.