Jordan Rhodes leading the way out of Scots’ malaise

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THERE may have been slim pickings, but Jordan Rhodes has deservedly set himself apart from the general malaise afflicting the country’s national set-up in being awarded the Scotland international of the year by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association.

The 23-year-old Blackburn Rovers striker will collect the honour at tonight’s SFWA’s annual dinner in Glasgow after establishing himself in the senior set-up and the hearts of the Tartan Army over the past 12 months. He netted three times for the nation he represents as a result of the five-year schooling rule and came mighty close to being the first player in more than 40 years to score a hat-trick for Scotland when he claimed a double in the November friendly win over Luxembourg. The bustling forward previously opened his scoring account for Scotland in a friendly win over Australia last August and bagged 28 goals in his first full season at Ewood Park following an £8 million move from Huddersfield.

“This is a massive surprise,” he said of his award. “I’m shocked, to be honest, but very grateful and very proud. I thank those who voted for me. People might say this kind of thing helps to vindicate my decision to play for Scotland, but that was never in doubt. There was a never a question in my mind that my loyalties were anywhere else.

“I got into the senior squad under Craig Levein and was extremely grateful. I scored goals in recent friendly games and now I have to try and make sure I stay in Gordon Strachan’s plans.

“The next couple of years are going to be important and I want to be part of it. We can do well under Gordon. We have to believe we can qualify for the 2016 European Championship in France. Being part of the international set-up gives me immense pride. I want to make a contribution, no matter how small, in helping Scotland qualify for tournaments. Every player feels the same.”

Rhodes, pictured, was given his first competitive start under Strachan in the 2-0 defeat to Serbia in March and, with the Championship season over, is maintaining his fitness with a thirst for many sports in the hope of making a more notable impression on Scotland’s return to the Balkans for a World Cup qualifier against Croatia on 7 June. “I’m an active person and I’m not one for lounging around, sitting doing nothing. That’s just not in my nature,” said the eight-times capped internationalist.

“I miss not going in to training every day and I’m the type of person that would rather have a short holiday. So, to have a game for Scotland early next month is brilliant. Hopefully, I’ll be selected for the squad. I really want to be involved.

“I’ve been going out for runs and riding my bike to keep myself ticking over. I’ve also been playing golf and tennis. My handicap is 16 at the moment and I hope to get that down to 12 or 13.

“My tennis isn’t particularly good but I enjoy playing it. Andy Murray is an inspiration, isn’t he? I enjoy watching him and hope he can go on and win Wimbledon. He is a dedicated sportsman and a credit to our country.” As is Rhodes, whose Scottish upbringing has overwhelmed his English roots.