Gordon Strachan has turned to the well-travelled son of a Nigerian father and a Romanian mother as he seeks to ensure another new era is given a winning start against Belgium and Macedonia next month.
The Scotland manager has included Glasgow-born Watford wing-back Ikechi Anya in the 27-man squad named yesterday for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. Just as the freshly retired Kenny Miller’s name was conspicuous by its absence from the list of players, Anya’s was one that caught the eye.
The first seven years of the Watford player’s life were spent in Castlemilk, where he attended Spittal Primary School. His father, a research scientist, moved to Scotland with his wife in order to study and work at the University of Strathclyde. After Scotland, he spent most of his childhood in Kidlington, just outside Oxford, where his father – Dr Chinasa Anya – taught in the department of materials at the university. “He is a late developer but a good prospect for Scotland,” said Strachan.
The Scotland manager was dealt a blow on Thursday night when Miller phoned him to confirm that he had played his last match of international football. After 69 appearances and 18 goals, it is a significant loss for Strachan.
However, the manager has provoked interest by calling up Anya. He has been on the Scotland radar since Under-21 manager Billy Stark sent him an email enquiring about his progress when he joined the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain, after being released from Northampton Town. This followed spells with English non-league clubs.
Anya got his career back on track in Spain and signed a three-year deal with Granada before loan stints at Cadiz and then Watford. He signed a permanent deal with Gianfranco Zola’s side during the summer.
“He has pace,” said Strachan. “At the moment his perfect position is wing-back, he can play left or right wing-back. He’s tidy with the ball, he does the simple things well and he can go by people. Hopefully he can add to the squad. I spoke to him last night and he’s excited, he’s delighted to be coming along.”
“He’s taken a wee while to come through,” admitted Strachan. “But he’s not played many games in his career. It has been hard, hard work for him to get where he is. He’s one of these guys who might have thought ‘am I gonna do this?’ But he kept plugging through so that shows that he has a bit of determination about him.
“He’s a wing-back, he’s not a defender as such or a winger,” he added. “He’s a football player who can play in different positions. At the moment they are using him as a left wing-back.”
Strachan has received regular updates on the player’s progress since last year. He had originally wanted to call him up for the game against England last week before deciding that he should reward those who had made the journey to Zagreb in June for the 1-0 win over Croatia.
“We’ve kept an eye on him,” Strachan said. “He maybe should have been in the England squad but we wanted to keep faith with the guys who were in Croatia. I explained that to him and he was fine.”