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Andrew Smith: No-fuss McArthur key for Strachan

Kevin McDonald in action for Scotland in 2009. Picture: SNS

Kevin McDonald in action for Scotland in 2009. Picture: SNS

  • by ANDREW SMITH
 

SCOTLAND rightfully will go into next Sunday’s Euro 2016 opener against Germany in Dortmund as massive underdogs.

And it could be one of their own under-the-radar players that national manager Gordon Strachan could turn to as he bids to cause an almighty upset against the recently-crowned world champions.

No-one would have expected midfielder James McArthur to be potentially a £7 million performer.

Yet, he would have had that bounty on his head were it not for the fact that on Friday Leicester City pulled out of a deal for the 26-year-old, having agreed that sale value with his club Wigan Athletic.

The injury absences of Scott Brown and Robert Snodgrass will force Strachan to rejig his midfield. As a result, the dogged, industrious McArthur and new squad member Kevin MacDonald will come into serious contention for slots in what is likely to be a middle five.

McArthur, the product of Hamilton Accies’ youth system, hasn’t always been appreciated in his own land, and Strachan accepts he has been “under-rated by everybody” for the straightforward manner in which he goes about his business on and off the field.

“He doesn’t make the headlines. He will speak in front of the press, very quietly but that is the way he is. If you look at the squad he is always there with us. I think we once looked at another player instead of him and there was no problem. There was no moaning. He came right back to us.

“He was the one who created the goal in Macedonia [in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory a year ago]. He is brave on the ball, he has an eye for goal. He can play anywhere in midfield and that is invaluable for us. You see it club level too – he is reliable and always does what he asked to do no matter what it is.

“He is like Gary Caldwell, he just gets on with it. He is the same off the field as he is on it. Does his job with minimal fuss and is a joy to work with.”

Scotland are on a six-game unbeaten streak going into an assignment that can be ranked as difficult as any the country could face.

Yet that doesn’t negate the remedial work carried out by Strachan in the past 16 months, which has brought victories home and away to Croatia, and an unbeaten away run in which successes in Poland and Norway have been achieved. He baulks at the suggestion next Sunday provides him with the first serious examination of his year-and-a-half tenure.

“As the manager of the national side I don’t think you’re wanting to lose 12 games on the trot, then say ‘OK, this is your first test, gentlemen…’,” he says. “When you’re an international player or manager, every game is a test. Every game is dissected like it’s a cup final.”

Scotland face a Germany fresh from a World Cup final triumph, but shorn of three players central to that first trophy success since Euro 96. Captain Philip Lahm and record goalscorer Miroslav Klose have retired, while new wearer of the armband, Bastian Schweinsteiger, is out injured. Strachan doesn’t go overboard on the potential benefits to his team of the reshaping the loss of these three players will force on German counterpart Joachim Löw.

“Not enough of them have retired as far as I am concerned. I think a lot of them have done enough in international football,” he jokes. “I don’t think I will be saying this guy can make a mistake or this guy can make a mistake. Sometimes we have team talks and say this centre-half can do this or he can slip or you need to work on him, but I think we have to do it all ourselves. If you want to determine your future, you have to do it yourself. We’ll be going on the theory that the Germans will be playing well.

“Schweinsteiger is a world-class player, though. When you watch them in the World Cup they got better and better when he came back to the fold. I think the players would have enjoyed playing against him, he’s another challenge.”

Yet there are surely more than enough of them for Scotland to face down already.

 

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