CHRIS Burke was as close as Gordon Strachan came to including a new name in his first Scotland squad.
The Birmingham City winger’s call-up, almost seven years after his only previous involvement, was as much of a surprise to the player himself as it was to anyone else.
Burke will celebrate his 30th birthday next week, having carved out a solid career for himself in England’s Championship largely out of the spotlight which surrounded him as a highly touted young player at Rangers.
He now finds himself firmly back on the radar in his homeland, courtesy of Strachan identifying him as the kind of player who can make a positive difference for Scotland in the months ahead.
It gives Burke a belated chance to build on an international career which began in dramatic fashion when he scored two goals as a substitute in Scotland’s 5-1 Kirin Cup win over Bulgaria in Japan back in May 2006.
“I was delighted and a bit surprised when I got the email and text to say I was being considered,” said Burke.
“My debut was a long, long time ago. But it was an excellent feeling to be part of it then and it’s excellent to be back.
“Going to Japan with Scotland back then, when I was just 22, was a great experience and it was great to get the two caps I did then.
“But if I’m honest, my Rangers form didn’t go the way I wanted it to after that. There were a lot of good players with Scotland and I wasn’t playing regularly. The manager picks players who are playing well and I wasn’t. That’s probably the reason why I didn’t build on it.
“Your club is the main priority and anything that happens with the national team is a bonus. It didn’t happen for me and that’s just the way it goes, even though I was playing well for my club at times. This season has been a bit up and down for me and the whole Birmingham team, so I was surprised and delighted to get the call.
“Am I a better player now than when I made my debut? I hope so. I was just a young boy back then. I was fresh and still learning the game. I’m now 29. I’m more mature. When you come through at Celtic or Rangers, you are in a goldfish bowl. Everybody puts a little bit of pressure on you and thinks you will be the next big thing.
“Sometimes it doesn’t happen for you. Sometimes you need to go somewhere else for your career to blossom. When I was at Rangers it wasn’t happening for me, for whatever reason.
“I had to pursue my career in another direction and that was in the Championship. There isn’t the same pressure and spotlight in England. You don’t do as much media. It’s not the same kind of goldfish bowl and that can take the pressure off you.
“It has taken a long time for me to get back into the Scotland squad but hopefully I can show I have something to offer.”