GORDON Strachan shook his head. “Perplexing,” he called it. The Scotland manager was not fathoming how to cope with the embarrassment of riches Belgium come armed with tonight at Hampden Park. Rather, he was reacting to being asked about Alan Hutton’s status as an Aston Villa outcast.
The right-back is equally bemused. He claims not to have fallen out with Paul Lambert, his club manager. Whatever the problem, there is no question he has been bombed out at Villa to the extent that he doesn’t know – and doesn’t care – whether he has been given a squad number for this season or not (he hasn’t, it turns out).
“It is very frustrating,” Hutton said yesterday. “If you could picture me, I was bouncing off the walls,” he added, as he recalled his emotions earlier this week as transfer deadline day came and then went again.
Hutton’s heart must have leapt each time he saw Jim White’s hand stretch up to his ear as the Sky presenter was being alerted to another breaking deal. On each occasion there was no good news, not for the player at least. Others were coming and going but not Hutton, despite the efforts of three Spanish clubs to tie up a deal to bring the defender back to the country where he spent the last months of last season fighting a losing battle against relegation at Real Mallorca.
The Mallorcans wanted him again, as did two other sides, both of whom are still in La Liga. But Villa were not proving easy to deal with. “It was a nightmare day,” he said. “I was desperate to leave and nothing comes of it and you are on a bit of a downer. But not just that, I am going back even before pre-season started. I had options to leave and they still couldn’t agree terms then. Then a month down the line they still can’t do it. It wasn’t for a want of trying. I was ready to go. I had everything packed up ready to go in the house. Then they can’t arrange. There is nothing physically more I could have done.”
The decline in Hutton’s fortunes can be directly traced to Lambert’s arrival as manager. He was appointed in the summer of 2012 and Hutton, who played regularly when Alex McLeish was manager, has not started a game for Villa since. However, Hutton insists that relations are still cordial with Lambert.
“I have never fallen out with him,” he said. “It is not due to a falling out thing or anything. I respect him and all the rest of it. But, in football terms, it is done so it is time to move on.”
As far as Hutton is concerned, Villa are being obstructive. However, it is likely that his wages – believed to be £40,000 a week, with two years remaining of his current deal – are also presenting a problem for would-be suitors. He and his agent, Robert Segal, have tried and failed to extract some answers from the club. “They seem to have had their mind set on a certain deal and it wasn’t what the other clubs wanted and they eventually just moved on,” said Hutton.
“I have had no explanation,” he added. “Your thoughts are as good as mine. If you don’t want somebody then you let them go. You do everything you can to help the player I would have thought. It has just not come off for whatever reason.”
Hutton hasn’t been the only one humming the opening bars to the Engelbert Humperdinck song “Please Release Me [Let me Go]” at Villa in recent times.
“There were lots of us,” he said. “Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia – I am talking international players who have just been put to the side. For me, it is not what should be done. We are not kids, we are not young boys. We have played international games. To just put us to the side like that is not great.”
It isn’t an ideal situation – not for Hutton, nor for Strachan. “If you look at his performances against Croatia and England, you think, that’s top teams in the world, and he’s one of the best players on the pitch,” said the manager yesterday. “It’s perplexing rather than worrying for me.”
Although transfer deadline day has now passed, Hutton is still able to go out on loan to a club in the English Championship, providing the deal is tied up by next week. This looks the likeliest option now. And then he hopes that the interest from Spain is sustained until January, when the window opens again.
In the meantime, there is Belgium – and his opposite man, possibly the injury doubt Eden Hazard, to focus on tonight. Hutton is grateful to Strachan for retaining faith in him when it could be easy for the manager to replace the right-back with someone playing regular football, something that is normally a pre-condition of international football.
“I want to prove [myself] to him and everyone else, not just here and Scotland, but also the manager at Villa and these kind of guys,” said Hutton, who was sitting in at the pre-match press conference in place of team captain Scott Brown, who was attending a funeral yesterday. “I want to say: you might not want me but this is what I can do and what I am good at. It is a real motivation for me to show a lot of people.”
Excelling against Belgium – having done so in recent games against Croatia and England – would help convince those watching that he is worth a move, while also further baffling people such as Strachan, who wonder why he remains in limbo. It is not as if he has only recently been impressing for Scotland. He was a stand-out as long ago as 2007, when he gave a man-of-the-match performance in a European Championship qualifier against Italy.
He played as though his life was at stake on that occasion. Tonight he aims to play as if his career depends on it – and it just might.