GORDON Strachan has given a ringing endorsement to 19-goal Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, who has been recalled to the Scotland squad at the expense of Jordan Rhodes, among others.
The Scotland manager yesterday named his squad for the forthcoming double-header against Qatar and Republic of Ireland, on 5 and 13 June respectively. The first clash will take place at Easter Road, which is why Strachan was present at Hibernian’s ground to confirm the 26 names he is relying on to secure three points in a pivotal Euro 2016 qualifying clash with Ireland eight days after Qatar form the opposition in a controversial friendly.
Among those he is pinning his hopes on is Griffiths, who won the last of his four caps in September 2013 against Belgium. The striker has not featured in any Scotland squad since the friendly clash with Nigeria last May and his international prospects suffered because of his infrequent appearances for Celtic earlier this season.
However, 15 goals in 21 games for the champions since the turn of the year mean his inclusion was hard to resist for Strachan, who admitted Rhodes, who scored four goals in Blackburn Rovers’ last five games of the season, would be right to feel hard done by.
On the subject of Griffiths, Strachan stressed he had no qualms about bringing back the sometimes controversial striker.
“I just see the same player we had in the squad a year ago, but obviously a year more experienced,” he said. “He is the same guy. He never causes us any problems whatsoever in training. He comes along and makes people laugh, scores goals and tries hard. You can’t ask for any more. You are always on your toes for a headline somewhere down the line, which Darryl [Broadfoot, the Scottish Football Association director of communications] can handle! But apart from that he is great fun.
“I just see the same player we had in the squad a year ago, but more experienced ”Gordon Strachan
“Griffiths has caught my eye with what he has been doing at Celtic,” he added. “He has never been away from the plans, really. He has always been on the edge of things for us and sometimes you pick one over the other.
“Jordan will probably feel a wee bit let down, well maybe not let down but a wee bit disappointed,” Strachan added, when asked about Rhodes’ exclusion.
Although a regular scorer at the Championship level in England, the 25 year-old Rhodes has never been able to secure a regular place in the Scotland squad, particularly under Strachan.
The Scotland manager once explained that he didn’t fit his preferred system and, despite being brought back in for the recent Euro 2016 clash with Gibraltar, when he appeared as a 67th minute substitute, Rhodes has now been left out again.
“That can happen,” said Strachan. “It is not easy when you are left out. I haven’t spoken to any of the players about being left out this time.”
Joining Griffiths on the recalled list is Charlie Adam, who has not featured for the international side since a friendly against Poland in March last year. The 29-year-old Stoke City player is added to the midfield options along with Charlie Mulgrew, who has been included after a lengthy lay-off with Celtic due to a knee injury. Strachan also once suggested Adam did not fit the system he favoured.
“Charlie and myself had a conversation about this a long time ago,” Strachan said yesterday. “So Charlie knows exactly how I think. The conversation will be kept private but he knows exactly my thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard for players because they are playing well in a team but it’s a completely different system from what we’re trying to do.
“That can be a problem for some players. It’s very hard being left out because people will say he can’t do this and he can’t do that. It’s just that this team play in a certain style. It might be different from your own club where you might be successful.”
Adam’s call-up could impact on his scheduled appearance for Dundee, the team he supported as a boy, in Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni’s testimonial next Tuesday night. The midfielder had asked to make a second-half appearance for the visitors but this will now hinge on talks with Strachan. It seems likely the player will not want to put his return to the Scotland fold at risk.
Also likely to sit out at Selhurst Park is Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain, another surprise inclusion in yesterday’s squad. It was expected Scotland’s reliable triumvirate of David Marshall, Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor would remain unchanged, but a long-running injury problem and the fact he has lost his place with Hull City has led to McGregor dropping out.
“Allan has been carrying an injury for about a year,” said Strachan. “He has never really been right for a while. He has had to miss little bits out in training. The rest will be beneficial for him, especially, and for us and Hull as well.”
On Bain’s promotion, he added: “I have seen him a couple of times but [goalkeeper coach] Jim Stewart has a bigger say in that than me. He is good enough for now but also has great potential for the future.”
Bain, too, is carrying a knock and has missed Dundee’s last two games. However, Strachan has been assured that the knee problem will not stop the former Alloa keeper joining the squad on 2 June.
“When [Dundee manager] Paul Hartley told Scott he was delighted and jumping around,” said Strachan. “I did ask Paul about Scott’s injury and I was told he is fine. It is an injury that, when it comes to the push, he could play but because of Dundee’s position they can afford to make sure he doesn’t aggravate anything and he is okay for next year.”
Scott Bain (Dundee)
Craig Gordon (Celtic)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town)
Craig Forsyth (Derby County)
Gordon Greer (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)
Russell Martin (Norwich City)
Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen)
Andrew Robertson (Hull City)
Steven Whittaker (Norwich City)
Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Ikechi Anya (Watford)
Barry Bannan (Crystal Palace)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion)
James Forrest (Celtic)
Shaun Maloney (Chicago Fire)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
James McArthur (Crystal Palace)
Matt Ritchie (Bournemouth)
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
Leigh Griffiths (Celtic)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Johnny Russell (Derby County)