NO MATTER how eager he is to see Darren Fletcher back playing for Scotland, Gordon Strachan will remain patient.
The national manager revealed yesterday that he has always been confident that the Manchester United player would return to the game after a long absence because of a serious bowel condition, and perhaps because of that confidence, he felt no urge to call the 29-year-old back into the squad for next week’s match against the United States.
Fletcher, who has been out of action for nearly two years because of ulcerative colitis, turned out as an overage player for his club’s Under-21 side last week. It was a significant milestone on the player’s road to recovery, but Strachan believes it is best to wait until he is further down that road before naming him in the Scotland squad.
“I think we just leave him,” Strachan said yesterday. “The thing I’m looking for is his first game with the Man United first team, and that will signal to us that then we come on board now and start, you know, ‘Can he help us?’
“Which he can, obviously. But we leave him till then. We have nothing to do with it apart from me phoning up and seeing how he is: ‘Anything we can do for you?’ Go. And then when you’re ready, when you’ve played that first Man United game, I think we all should celebrate that. Then we take it from there.
“The standard at Manchester United – Darren has to get back to that first. Our central midfield players have done very well recently, but I’m sure they’ll all be delighted to have him back training with them and putting them under pressure.”
Norwich defender Russell Martin, who was named in the Scotland squad yesterday, had the same condition as Fletcher but made a full recovery. And Strachan added that another reason he has always been confident that the former captain would make a comeback was the fact that a friend of his also returned to full fitness after having the disease.
“I have a mate who had the very same thing, and he’s back playing tennis and all bits and bobs. He’s an older guy, but he had the very same thing.”
While the door is very much open for Fletcher to return once he is back playing at club level, Strachan added that he would never shut it for good on any other Scottish player. Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd, for example, has been in good form recently and was widely thought to have a chance of a recall.
“I’ll never knock anybody out, that’s for sure,” Strachan continued. “They want to play, which is great. He’ll never lose his goalscoring habit, so I’m delighted he’s back. We just keep monitoring his situation.” That is also the case with a player who has again been included by Strachan, Alan Hutton. The former Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur right-back is still out of favour at Aston Villa, but the national manager thinks that should not be a concern as long as Hutton maintains his high level of performance for Scotland.
“His last three or four performances for Scotland were as good as I have seen. I can’t understand – you’ll need to ask Alan this – why he’s not playing football somewhere else at a good club.
“I find it very strange. It is not as if he’s a problem kid or anything. He’s far from that. So it’s strange, and you need to give him credit for being able to turn up for us and play the way he has. I hope he can keep it going, because his partnership with [Crystal Palace and Scotland midfielder] Barry Bannan has been excellent and the pair work very well together.”
Having made 36 appearances for his country, Hutton is the most experienced member of the 25-man squad named yesterday. He went on loan to Mallorca last season, displaying a willingness to try out new experiences which Strachan hopes more of his compatriots will also show in the years to come. That readiness to play further afield is one of the things the manager admires about the current United States squad, who he expects to be awkward opponents.
“They’re 13th now [in the Fifa world rankings], and have been around the top ten for a long time now. They’ve got a good standard of players who are getting their education by playing in different leagues all around the world, which is good.
“It’s something I might like to see myself, some of our players getting out there and getting some more education.”