SCOTLAND assistant manager Mark McGhee believes there is no need for Darren Fletcher to make an immediate return to his country’s starting line-up in tomorrow night’s challenge match against Poland in Warsaw.
The Manchester United midfielder is back in the Scotland squad for the first time since Gordon Strachan became manager more than a year ago, having completed his recovery from surgery on his ulcerative colitis bowel condition.
Fletcher has not played for Scotland since winning his 61st cap in a friendly against Luxembourg in November 2012. He is expected to reclaim the captaincy of the national team for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign later this year. But McGhee says no decision has been reached yet on who will lead the team out tomorrow night and hinted that Celtic captain Scott Brown could retain the armband on this occasion.
Fletcher has completed just three full 90 minutes for Manchester United since making his comeback in December and the 30-year-old’s level of match fitness will be taken into account by Strachan. “Personally, I don’t think at this stage we should be hanging all our hopes on Darren,” said McGhee. “He has got plenty of time. He has got another summer to come back again, another pre-season to get back to his absolute best.
“So it’s not now that we need him. We need him come September when the qualifiers start, that’s the important thing for us. Whatever happens on Wednesday night, it will be a decision made between Gordon and Darren.
“The captaincy is obviously one for Gordon to decide. We still have to pick the team. So, first and foremost, the two lads in line for the captaincy – Darren and Scott – would have to be in the team before a decision on it is made.
“There are a few things to be discussed before we know for certain. Gordon hasn’t said anything about it yet, other than it will need to be addressed.
Gordon will speak to Darren about it. He will take into account how much Darren has been playing for Manchester United in recent weeks. But it’s just brilliant to have Darren in the squad for the first time since Gordon took charge. We’ve heard so much about him as a person, a captain and a leader – on and off the pitch. For us it’s a thrill to have a Manchester United player in the squad and to be working with him.”
The other significant selection issue facing Strachan tomorrow night is his choice of goalkeeper. When the manager named his squad for the match, he admitted David Marshall’s exceptional form for Cardiff City this season has left him with a difficult decision to make. Allan McGregor has been Scotland’s established first choice ’keeper for the past three years but the Hull City player now has a strong rival for the role in
McGhee, whose own view is that McGregor has done nothing to merit losing his number one status, says Scotland can be grateful to have the services of two goalkeepers he believes compare more than favourably with Poland’s much-vaunted duo of Artur Boruc and Wojciech Szczesny.
“I wouldn’t swap either of our two goalkeepers for any of those two,” said McGhee. “Allan has been fantastic and when we first arrived in this job last year, the feeling was probably that David was here to support him. That has changed.
“David is now here to genuinely challenge Allan. He is a serious, serious contender. However, I don’t think Allan has done anything wrong. I’m talking here from my perspective – not what Gordon has reported to me. My personal opinion would be that something has to go wrong with Allan before he is displaced. Of course the manager has a decision to make. But I think Allan is making sure that he is maybe holding Marsh at bay a wee bit because of his own performances.”
Leigh Griffiths’ weekend call-up to the squad, following his hat-trick in Celtic’s 5-0 win over Inverness, has increased competition for the main striker’s role in Strachan’s line-up. “No-one will just come into the team because of a hat-trick for their club,” added McGhee. “The manager wants square pegs in square holes. He has to balance that.
“Leigh gives us another option up front. You always have to remember that there are certain types of players required to play in certain types of position. Leigh is a certain type of player. He’s not the same type as Steven Fletcher or Ross McCormack.
“What the manager has pretty much done so far is use people to their strengths. So regardless of getting a hat-trick for Celtic on Saturday, Leigh will need to fit in to what the manager requires in Poland.”
Fletcher was only fit enough to appear as a substitute in Sunderland’s League Cup final defeat by Manchester City on Sunday and snatched at a good chance to equalise for his team when they trailed 2-1 in the closing stages.
“As a striker, I’d imagine Steven will remember that miss at Wembley on Sunday for a long, long time,” said McGhee. “But part of being a professional is getting on with it. Sunderland have a huge challenge ahead of them for the rest of the season. Maybe coming with us and getting away from the club for a couple of days – and getting the mickey taken out of him by the rest of the lads for missing the chance – will help him get over it.”