Football: Calderwood plans golden future

Veteran defender has new goals as club and country take advantage of his Indian summer. By Phil Shaw
Click to follow
The Independent Online
TALLINN, ONCE so dark and gloomy that two teams could not see their way clear to playing an international match, is basking in an Indian summer.

The same is true of Colin Calderwood, although the elder statesman of Scotland's squad for today's crucial encounter with Estonia is also planning for the autumn and winter of his life in football.

One of the few ambitions Calderwood has not fulfilled in a late-flowering career is to play for his home-town team, Stranraer. Otherwise the 34- year-old defender and occasional midfielder has achieved more than he dared to dream. Not only has he become an established Premiership performer, first for Tottenham and recently with Aston Villa, but he has also represented Scotland at the finals of both the World Cup and the European Championship.

Now, as the Scots stand on the brink of qualifying for a place in the play-offs for Euro 2000 and Villa lead the pursuit of Manchester United on the home front, Calderwood is again adjusting his goals. At some stage - "not too far down the line," as he puts it - he intends to put his wide-ranging experience to good use as a player-manager or coach.

To that end, he gained his English coach's badge as long ago as 1992 and the Scottish equivalent four years later. He had set aside time in June to attend the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall in order to upgrade his expertise to Uefa standards. Then came a recall to the Scotland ranks for the trips to the Faroe Islands and the Czech Republic, so his "50,000- mile service" was postponed until next summer.

By then, of course, Scotland may be gearing up for another European Championship finals. Calderwood accepts that his time as an international is running out, but one last fling in Belgium and the Netherlands could mean he has to reschedule the refresher course again.

"It's more theory than practice, things like fitness training, nutrition and diet, time-management, psychology and dealing with the media," he explained yesterday.

"My Villa contract is up at the end of this season. Ideally, I'd like another year, and within that time to do some coaching with young lads. I've already worked at schoolboy level with Spurs and enjoyed it, and Villa have allowed me to do the same."

If Calderwood sounds reluctant to relinquish his top-flight career, it is perhaps because he did not come by it easily. After starting in the Fourth Division with Mansfield (at the age of 17) and Swindon, it was nearly a decade before Ossie Ardiles took him to Spurs. Not until he had reached 29, by which time Gerry Francis had worked hard on his defensive game, did he win the first of his 35 caps.

It was quickly evident that night in Moscow that his mild manner and low profile belied a fierce competitiveness. He became an integral part of the three-man defence, alongside Colin Hendry and Tom Boyd, which was instrumental in Craig Brown leading Scotland to Euro 96 and France 98, where a broken hand against Norway in Bordeaux brought a painful end to his presence on the global stage.

Last season, after George Graham had left out Calderwood - widely regarded as better suited to a 3-5-2 formation than to the new Spurs manager's tried and trusted 4-4-2 - the knock-on effect was that Brown also felt disinclined to pick a player not seeing regular first-team action. "Because of that and my age, I wasn't surprised. Nor did I have any regrets, because I'd already achieved more than I ever imagined I would when I was starting out in Stranraer. I know it's going to end some time, and sooner rather than later. But you can't dwell on disappointment. You just have to enjoy the experience while it lasts."

A spring transfer to Villa, where Calderwood is keeping Gareth Barry out of a defence that also features Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, helped to revive his Scotland career. John Gregory's one-time title challengers were running on empty when he arrived but are already in second place, having kept a clean sheet in each of their four wins.

"It may seem unambitious to say we're not thinking of the championship," said Calderwood, "but it's so early in the season that I don't think it's a realistic aim. The only game we've lost was at Chelsea, and we've got Arsenal away this weekend. At some point we have to start winning those matches if we're going to be contenders."

Before the high-rise stands of Highbury, however, there is the pressing matter of Scotland's return to the municipal park with the grandiose title of the Kadriorg Stadium. Calderwood, who hopes to be in the starting line- up after being substituted when Brown was forced to switch to a back four in Bosnia last Saturday, has bitter-sweet memories of his last "match" there.

"It was bizarre," he recalled, "though not everyone found it amusing. John McGinlay was upset that he missed the birth of his child for a non- event and because he was due to play in the Scotland No 10 shirt, which was his ambition, after Gary McAllister got suspended. It was also Billy Dodds' debut and he thought he might never get the chance again. I remember the referee checking our studs and the linesman examining the goal-nets. Also our manager saying: `Be prepared, because the Estonians might turn up at any moment'. There was almost a dread that they would show because we weren't mentally prepared for it."

As part of his personal build-up, Calderwood has a habit of slapping himself in the face "to get the adrenaline going". Some could cheerfully clip their players around the ear after a match. Scotland will certainly be pinching themselves if they take nothing from the day.