The first and possibly last full Scotland squad to be named by Billy Stark included few surprises yesterday. However, the interim manager did suggest that he might shake things up a bit on the pitch in Luxembourg next week, when Scotland fulfil a friendly obligation that has now taken on the aspect of a chore.
Stark responded with characteristic caution when asked to
outline his thoughts on whether he would like to succeed Craig Levein on a full-time basis.
It is likely he will prove more adventurous when it comes to plotting a formation to use against a side ranked 191 in the world. For this reason alone, his temporary promotion from the under-21s will be welcomed by the Tartan Army, who had grown tired of Levein’s tried and tested formula of playing just one striker up front, even against lesser nations.
Stark did acknowledge the difference in perception when it comes to tactics. Levein’s
favoured 4-5-1 formation could be viewed to have been 4-3-3 on occasion, given that the wide players in the bank of five tended to be forwards playing on the flank. But Stark stressed that he is all about goals and making chances and said he “wouldn’t rule out” playing Jordan Rhodes and Steven Fletcher from the start next week.
“The first thing I do as a manager when I put a team on the park is think about how I’m going to win the game,” said Stark yesterday. “So who is going to score me a goal? That’s the first thing you look at. So you can talk about 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1 but, if you want to go that way, for me it would be 4-3-3. I would argue that it’s three front players, although the personnel will determine that.”
Leigh Griffiths, the in-form Hibernian striker who has scored 11 goals in 11 appearances for his club this season, hasn’t been included among the striker options, despite there being a growing expectation that he might be included. Stark felt he had enough firepower in Rhodes, Steven Fletcher, Jamie Mackie, Matt Phillips and the returning Steven Naismith to preclude the need to call up the likes of Griffiths to a squad that looks far from experimental.
With his season with Vancouver Whitecaps having now ended, the 62-times capped Kenny Miller has also been included. Skipper Darren Fletcher will continue his comeback after nearly a year out with illness.
Although he is now in the first few days of being a salaried former Scotland manager, Levein has had some input in the squad selection. Stark phoned him on Monday evening, shortly after the news emerged that
Levein’s had been “relieved” of his duties by the SFA board.
“I spoke to Craig only to clear up the situation with the likes of Gary Caldwell,” said Stark, whose main omissions were both the Wigan Athletic defender and also goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who is now with Turkish club Besiktas. Levein had been planning to exclude the players on account of the amount of football they have played recently, and also due to niggling injuries. Scott Brown has also been left out, despite the Celtic midfielder stating his desire to be included on Tuesday.
According to Stark, rather than request to be allowed to miss this game, they were all
excluded for their own long-term benefit, and with an appreciation for their recent efforts.
McGregor rushed back from a groin injury to play in the first two World Cup qualifiers in September and is generally felt to have been Scotland’s one outstanding contributor in what has been a desperately disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign to date.
“If either myself or Craig had asked them to come they would have done so,” said Stark. “But we have to be sensible. Allan McGregor played with an injury and then rushed to get back and play superbly for Scotland.
“It’s a November friendly [and I am aware] there have been
debates about this one and August coming so soon at the start of the season. Players have played a lot of football by this time – Scott Brown is one who comes into that category – and there has to be common sense.”
Others have proved keen to answer the call despite the downbeat circumstances. “James Morrison missed a West Brom game because of a training ground injury, but he was desperate to come,” said Stark, who doesn’t believe that any player will arrive at Mar Hall, the squad’s HQ, next week bearing a grudge, after criticism of the Press’s role in Levein’s sacking. “They know that they have a bit to prove and they need to start winning games,” he said.
Squad for the match against Luxembourg, Wednesday, 14th November 2012, kick-off 8.15pm (local time)
Cameron Bell (Kilmarnock)
Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Phil Bardsley (Sunderland)
Christophe Berra (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers)
Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian)
Steven Whittaker (Norwich City)
Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Barry Bannan (Aston Villa)
Kris Commons (Celtic)
Darren Fletcher (Manchester United)
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Matt Phillips (Blackpool)
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers)
Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers)