DARREN Fletcher has expressed his own personal sadness at the departure of Craig Levein, who was sacked as Scotland manager last Monday.
The international skipper will continue his rehabilitation after a long period out with serious illness against Luxembourg tonight. However, although absorbed by his own fight for fitness, Fletcher could not hide his disappointment that Levein had paid the price for a run of poor results.
It was a decision he did not agree with. Making it more regrettable as far as Fletcher was concerned is the level of support Levein provided as he struggled with colitis, the debilitating bowel disease. Fletcher was the conduit through which Levein passed on his farewell message to the players.
“I spoke to him briefly just after his departure,” he revealed. “He rang me wanting me to thank all the boys for their time, support and effort they’d put in on international duty. He didn’t think he was going to have enough time to speak to all the lads, although in due course he maybe will. He asked me to relay that message from him, that he appreciated all the hard work and effort we’d put in.
“Personally I’d have liked to see the manager staying on,” he added. “The good work he was doing wasn’t coming to fruition on the park, we weren’t quite getting the results and ultimately football’s based on results. But I was sorry to see him go because I’d a lot of respect for him, both personally and professionally.” Levein was one of Fletcher’s confidants during a long spell out of the Manchester United first-team, something initially attributed to a “mystery virus”. The then Scotland manager gently deflected enquiries about his condition during press conferences and offered encouragement from afar.
“He was unbelievable,” said Fletcher. “He was in constant contact and that’s something I’ll always remember. Outside of wanting me to play for Scotland there were times when he would say: ‘I’m just phoning you as a human, as a person and it’s nothing to do with whether you’re available for Scotland’. That was touching. He was always in contact.
“He’d been through a lot of injuries in his career and, although illness is slightly different, he’d been at low points in his career as well. He passed on good advice about how to deal with it and stay strong. He was very helpful and it’s something that I will always remember.”
As captain, the onus is on Fletcher to embrace the future. However, he does not believe it should be part of his remit to have input in the choice of Levein’s successor. “As players we can concentrate on doing things on the pitch,” he said. “If I was asked I would obviously give an opinion but I don’t think it’s important. Looking at the candidates who seem to be in line for it, the SFA will have a tough choice because all of them are viable candidates.”
Given that he is so used to hearing a Scottish voice on the training pitches at Manchester United, it is no surprise that Fletcher, who was handed his first cap by Berti Vogts, believes the next appointment should be a native of Scotland.
“We have some good Scottish coaches available,” he said. “With no disrespect to Berti, I think sometimes things got lost in translation. Scottish players respond well to a Scottish manager and I’d like to see that happen. But it’s not me that makes that decision.”
Meanwhile, Scotland defender Christophe Berra has targeted a victory over Luxembourg tonight as the best way to get any bad feeling over Levein’s sacking out of their system.
“We know it’s football and it’s a harsh world,” the Wolves player said. “It’s just something we have to take on the chin. As players we go to Luxembourg and will be looking forward to the game, getting a good performance and a win.
“We have all had experience of this beforehand at club level and international level.
“As soon as we get out on the pitch we’ll just be looking to get a good performance, get a good win and score a few goals.
“We have had a couple of training sessions that were really good, nice and sharp and short. It’s been a good tempo and all the players that have come in have done really well.
“Against Luxembourg we are expected to win but it’s a difficult game.”