GORDON Strachan yesterday admitted he needed to be sure he got the right vibes from new international call-up Matt Ritchie before naming the Bournemouth winger in the Scotland squad for the first time.
The 25-year-old was born in Gosport on the south coast of England but qualifies because of his Scottish father, Alex, whose own parents are from Edinburgh. Ritchie now joins the sizeable group of English-raised players to have been picked for Scotland after Strachan named a 26-man squad for the forthcoming matches with Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
Conscious of the need for goals, especially in the Euro 2016 qualifier with Gibraltar, Strachan has turned to Ritchie, who has made his name as both a provider and scorer of goals at Bournemouth.
There are 11 changes from the last squad for the games with Republic of Ireland and England. While Ritchie is the only completely new face, Blackburn Rovers striker Jordan Rhodes has returned to the squad for the first time since November 2013 after scoring six goals in his last seven games for his club. Celtic winger James Forrest also features after his return to fitness.
But it is Ritchie whose name caught the eye yesterday. The player has impressed for Bournemouth, the current English Championship leaders, this season, scoring 11 times. In an interview yesterday, the player expressed his delight. “I’m half-Scottish, my dad is Scottish and I’m really looking forward to it,” he told the BBC.
While Strachan was unwilling to reveal how the player’s eligibility had come to light, he happily confirmed the player’s willingness to play for
“His dad is Scottish,” said Strachan. “He went down to the Portsmouth area, I think to join the Navy. We’ve known about him for five or six months. How did he come to my attention? I’ll keep that to myself. Mark [McGhee] and the other scouts have seen him as well. The lad was very excited and very happy indeed.”
On the subject of how Scottish the player feels, Strachan emphasised that Ritchie was delighted by the initial interest when contacted several weeks ago. The manager admitted that he looks for signs of disinterest when he approaches a player whose links to Scotland might not be obvious. Others failed the test. Not Ritchie, however.
“The first thing you ask is: Are you Scottish?” he said. “It’s that simple. Some people might have Scottish fathers but think of themselves as English. He [Ritchie] feels Scottish, that’s what he wants to be and he was so excited when he got the call. He was away to speak to his dad straight away.
“You ask if people want to be Scottish,” he added. ‘There have been a couple who hummed and hawed and so, no. You have to have that feeling, as much as the paperwork. You have to have that feeling that you want to be Scottish. Simple as that.”
Ritchie started his career at Portsmouth and had loan spells at Dagenham & Redbridge, Notts County and Swindon Town, before signing for the last named club in 2011. He then signed for Bournemouth in 2013 for £500,000, with then Robins manager Paulo Di Canio complaining the player had been sold behind his back.
“I’ve watched him for three or four months,” explained Strachan. “First of all, Bournemouth are an excellent side, well coached, well drilled, fit. They are a good passing team. They are progressive and all their passes are tidy. Matt is a big part of that.
“He’s left-footed so he comes in off the line and plays. So he is a threat. He beats people by playing the ball and moving. Plus he has a good delivery.
“I think he has something like 12 or 13 goals this season so that is good going for someone out wide.”
Another change that stands out is Strachan’s decision to recall Rhodes, who has been in international exile for nearly 18 months. The manager once questioned whether the player could fit in with the system he prefers to employ but, after Rhodes’ recent good run of scoring form, Strachan admitted the player was hard to ignore.
“It’s not just that Jordan has been brought in on his own,” he noted. “Ross McCormack is back in as well. That’s because we have been watching things over the last months and weeks.
“There are a lot of attacking players in the squad and people we think can score goals.” added Strachan.
“Is it right to say I have reservations about Rhodes? No, not at all. It’s just so happened that the players we have picked to play in the system we use have done very well.”
Craig Gordon (Celtic)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Allan McGregor (Hull City)
Christophe Berra (Ipswich)
Craig Forsyth (Derby),
Gordon Greer (Brighton),
Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)
Russell Martin (Norwich),
Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen)
Andrew Robertson (Hull)
Steven Whittaker (Norwich)
Ikechi Anya (Watford)
Barry Bannan (Bolton)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Darren Fletcher (WBA)
James Forrest (Celtic)
Shaun Maloney (Chicago Fire)
James McArthur (C Palace)
James Morrison (WBA)
Matt Ritchie (Bournemouth),
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
Steven May (Sheffield Wed)
Ross McCormack (Fulham)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn)
Johnny Russell (Derby)
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