IT WOULD be easy to assume that Jordan Rhodes’ return to the Scotland squad for the first time in 16 months has been prompted purely by the prospect of a high-scoring victory against the minnows of Gibraltar at Hampden on Sunday.
Such a conclusion is so readily reached, in fact, that Scotland manager Gordon Strachan felt obliged to personally stress to Rhodes that he is not simply regarded as suitable for shooting down the Group D whipping boys.
“The first thing Gordon and I said to Jordan when he arrived was that we were adamant that, if we were playing Germany or Poland this week, he would still have been in the squad,” insisted Strachan’s assistant Mark McGhee as Scotland began their preparations at their Renfrewshire base yesterday.
“We made sure we reassured him that he’s not here because we are playing Gibraltar or a team that’s perceived to be lesser opposition. He’s here on merit and we’ve picked the squad with regard to the best we had available to us now, regardless of the opposition.”
There is no doubt, however, that Rhodes is a player who still has some work to do to convince Strachan of his worth at international level.
The 25-year-old Blackburn Rovers striker remains prolific for his club, scoring 16 times so far this season, but has had to be patient for another opportunity to impress the Scotland boss who previously stated the player did not readily fit the national team’s style of play which incorporates a lone frontman.
“Jordan is a goalscorer and has the potential to be that player for us”Mark McGhee
But, on McGhee’s recommendation, Rhodes is back in the fold this week for Wednesday’s friendly against Northern Ireland and then the Euro 2016 qualifier against a Gibraltar outfit who have conceded 21 goals in their four matches in the group so far.
“I watched Jordan a few weeks ago at Watford and I said to Gordon afterwards that it was the most assured I’d seen him in terms of his hold-up play and his lay-offs,” said McGhee.
“I thought he’d really improved in that department. I then watched him at Charlton and he scored a couple of goals. He got down the side of the centre half at one of the goals, he outmuscled him and produced a terrific finish which went in off the post.
“He looked so clinical and clean with his finishing in that game and I felt it would be just too difficult to ignore him this time around. If you look back at the season, then Jordan hasn’t always played in the Blackburn team.
“There were occasions when you look at that and say then we are probably right with what we are seeing.
“But, at the moment, he’s firing on all cylinders. The flaws are slowly but surely being ironed out and he’s improved. We will see this week when he trains and we will see how he works.
“Our way of playing hasn’t changed, we are still playing the same way and we’re not about to play in a way which would only accommodate Jordan Rhodes. We now feel he looks much more able to play the way we play than he did previously.
“There’s a lot right about Jordan that we can’t ignore and that’s why we keep going back to watch him. He has to perform in the way that our system and way of playing requires. He has to do what we need him to do.
“If he does that, we cannot look past him. Someone asked me about having a player that would be the main goalscorer. There is no doubt that Jordan is a goalscorer and has the potential to be that player for us.
“I think it is very important that we get goals from everywhere in the team, but I think there comes a day, whether it is against Germany or Poland or the Republic of Ireland, when you might expect there is only going to be one goal.
“You are going to have to win the game 1-0, maybe. You are not going to get lots and lots of chances. Someone like Jordan Rhodes can be that player as can Steven Fletcher. For those big, big games, Jordan is potentially one of those guys who can get you a goal when there are not many chances going.
“I think we have every right as coaching staff to challenge players. I don’t think there has to be any secrecy. There has to be transparency.
“We play in a certain way and we require certain strengths from players in certain positions. Unless they can deliver that, they cannot be in the team.
“There can be no ambiguity. Jordan’s mission this week and in coming weeks when Gordon and I see him playing for his team is to prove to us that he can do the things that we require.”
Strachan’s original 26-man squad was reduced by one with the withdrawal of Fulham striker Ross McCormack on Sunday with a knee injury. No replacement has been called up, although the situation will be re-assessed after the Northern Ireland friendly.
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