Stuart Bathgate: Levein entitled to stand firm but Fletcher looks self-indulgent
STEVEN Fletcher has made a fresh and highly encouraging start to his club career with Sunderland, but it remains extremely unlikely that he will do the same at international level.
In the week when Scotland begin their World Cup qualifying campaign, that continues to be not only regrettable, but also, as far as most of us are concerned, baffling.
The footballing case for Fletcher’s inclusion is conclusive. He scored twice on his league debut for Sunderland at the weekend in their draw with Swansea, so is obviously fit and in form.
And yet, because of a long-running spat with national manager Craig Levein, he will play no part against Serbia on Saturday, Macedonia the following midweek, or, apparently, in any of the other ties which will determine whether Scotland reach their first major finals in 16 years. Instead, Levein, persisting with his preference for a single striker, is faced with a choice of Kenny Miller or Jordan Rhodes, and seems set to favour the former. It is no insult either to the Vancouver Whitecaps veteran or to Blackburn new boy Rhodes to suggest that, all else being equal, Fletcher would have walked into the team ahead of them.
It would be redundant to review every episode in the row between player and manager, and wrong to regard it as a simple black-and-white affair in which one man is definitely wrong and the other completely correct. But basically, last year Fletcher told the manager by text message that he did not want to be selected for a match, and since then Levein has insisted he would not pick him again until convinced of his complete commitment to the cause.
Levein is entitled – perhaps even obliged – to take that stance, while Fletcher is equally entitled to decline to play for Scotland. But that does not mean the dispute is one between equals. The hierarchy is simple. One man is in charge of the team, and calls the shots.
In every walk of life there are people who disagree with their boss’s behaviour or views, yet carry on doing their job to the best of their ability. And in some professions, football among them, those people can do so in the knowledge that their present boss is unlikely to be in charge for all that long. In a year or two someone else will come along, so it is worth hanging on for the time being.
Fletcher’s inability to do the same appears self-indulgent and also, in terms of his career as a whole, self-defeating.
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