SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan will not give consideration to anything beyond tonight’s friendly encounter when he picks his team and sends them out to face Poland at Warsaw’s national stadium.
The fixture has been cast in a different light since the nations were drawn in the same group for the Euro 2016 qualifiers. The third game in Group D, on 14 October, will bring the teams together again in the same arena but, for Strachan, this evening’s meeting will have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of that confrontation.
“The qualifiers are a long time away, so a lot can happen between now and then,” the Scotland manager said. “Players could develop, new faces could get into their side or into our side. So we’ll just play this game as it is with the players who are here. I’ll pick the boys who are looking the best in training and I’ll play them. It’s simple. I can’t see either of us coming away with anything cosmic between now and the time we have to play them again. It would be the same if you were playing against a club side in a league. You play them twice a season and then you play them again the next season. Hopefully it all comes down to having good players who can win you the game. I looked at the [League] Cup final at Wembley the other day there. What won that game [for Manchester City]? Was it the tactics? No, it was brilliant players scoring two brilliant goals. The tactics of Sunderland were good. But they were beaten by brilliant players doing something on the day. Yes, tactics help you to make sure you don’t lose the game but hopefully individuals win you the game.
“At Scotland, it’s more of a team thing right now. I hope we develop individuals over the next year that can go and win games on their own.”
Strachan was reticent to reveal the names of individuals he will entrust with the task of sustaining the momentum built with two wins and a draw in their past three games. His guarded approach even extended to a refusal to identify the player he will make captain this evening. It is an issue he sought to strip of all weight. This may be entirely connected to the fact that, having played only 64 minutes of competitive football for Manchester United in the past six weeks, acknowledged squad leader Darren Fletcher, in his first Scotland involvement since October 2012, is unlikely to start and so dislodge Scott Brown from the skipper role.
“Who the captain is going to be for this game isn’t so important. Not one little bit,” Strachan said.
“I’ve got choices to make, sure, but I don’t think it’s a huge thing at this stage going to Poland. We’ll tell the players before the game. We’ve got some good choices, there’s a lot of things to be picked out from the squad in general. I could play this team or that team. Around 20 of the 24 have good reason to think they should be in the team, whether their form with us here has been good or their form with their club has been good. But I need to pick a team that suits us as a group.”
Strachan said among the many things on his mind are whether the group dynamics will be served by handing a first cap as a starter to Dundee United full-back Andrew Robertson , considering the claims of Leigh Griffiths following the Celtic striker’s later call-up, and giving a half each to in-form English Premier League keepers Allan McGregor and David Marshall.
“You’re asking me if he [Robertson] is going to start but for this one I don’t think it makes any difference whether players start or go on,” the Scotland manager said.
“It’s an international game and I’ll be changing things at half-time. We’ve all started international games thinking ‘brilliant, this is great,’ then suddenly you find you’re playing rotten and you’re off at half-time. Then somebody comes on and does well.”
Griffiths’ coming on board was not a result of Strachan being at Celtic Park to watch the player net a hat-trick against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday, meanwhile, with the impending withdrawal of Robert Snodgrass leading to an unusual timing for that to be communicated to the Celtic striker. “I thought I was going to let him bed in at Celtic before picking him. But I knew on Friday Snoddy was going to drop out – we found out he wasn’t great – and had Leigh ear-marked then. I just didn’t want to tell him before his game against Inverness. I was staying in the same hotel as the Celtic team but didn’t want to upset their preparation. I told people at half-time that he was in the squad and said: ‘Please tell him because there’s no way I’ll be able to get to him by phone’. Even the CIA couldn’t pick him up. I had to ask people to tell him direct to his face.”
In other news, Strachan declared himself in the dark about the suggestion, dampened by the SFA, that Scotland players could enjoy bumper bonus payments if they qualify for Euro 2016. It has long been the practice that players forego appearance money to turn out for their country in lieu of sharing in any windfall earned through appearing in finals, which has proved beyond the national team for 16 years and counting.
“I didn’t even know there was a bonus for the players. And you know what, I don’t think a new bonus would make any difference to the players in terms of their actual lifestyles,” Strachan said. “They want to qualify because it would add to their sense of wellbeing. They are not here for the money, that’s for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of these players even speaking about it.”