GORDON Strachan was granted free rein by Neil Lennon to select any Celtic players he wanted to include in his first Scotland squad, which the new international manager named yesterday in Aberdeen.
However, Strachan yesterday stressed that he is sensitive to the timing of next week’s friendly against Estonia, which is scheduled just six days before the first leg of the Parkhead club’s Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus.
Prior to Lennon, Strachan was the last man to lead Celtic into the knockout stage of the competition. He knows the demands of such a tie as well as anyone and is also aware of the boost a Celtic victory could give Scottish football’s flagging fortunes.
The 28-strong squad includes four Celtic players, one of whom, James Forrest, has not appeared for his club since Boxing Day due to a hamstring injury.
Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons and Scott Brown, whose long-running hip complaint needs to be carefully managed, make up the complement from Parkhead. The large squad provides plenty of scope for cover if, as expected, there are call-offs after this weekend’s matches, and allows Strachan to make numerous changes during the game after an agreement about the number of substitutes permitted has been reached with the Estonians.
“Celtic doing well in Europe can help everybody in Scottish football,” said Strachan. “I have spoken to Lenny about that. He said to pick the guys I want. He trusts me to look after them to do the right thing for Scotland and Celtic. I have free rein to do whatever I think is right, knowing fine well that I will look after the playersand make sure they are all right for that game [v Juventus].”
Strachan added that he always sought to ensure that players played for their country when he was a club manager. The
50-times capped midfielder appreciates how much it means to players and he would never stand in their way. Now he is grateful for club managers who adopt the same trusting stance.
“I never interfered with international managers when I was a club manager because I know the players want to go,” he said.
Strachan has ended Chris Burke’s lengthy period of international exile. The former Rangers midfielder last played for Scotland six-and-a-half years ago against Japan, having won his first cap a few days
earlier against Bulgaria in the same Kirin Cup competition.
“I live in the Midlands and I go to Birmingham games,” said Strachan. “Last year with ITV we covered a lot of Europa League games in which he was involved. He was excellent and has kept that going. He has something we need at this level – the ability to eliminate people.”
Otherwise, Strachan has not veered far from those players favoured by predecessor, Craig Levein. He has, though, turned to Rangers for left-back Lee Wallace, who has played Third Division football all season. Levein voiced concerns about dipping into the lowest tier of Scottish football at the start of this season. However, he invited criticism when he then called up Ian Black for the friendly against Australia in August.
In attack, Kenny Miller has kept his place and is set to work under his seventh Scotland manager. Ross McCormack is also included after a spell of good form for Leeds United, while Jordan Rhodes, the Blackburn Rovers striker, will have an opportunity to improve on his impressive return of three goals from five Scotland appearances so far.
With Darren Fletcher excluded due to long-term illness,
Strachan has yet to name his captain, although Gary Caldwell, who was his skipper at Celtic, seems an obvious candidate.
Scotland squad in full
Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Allan McGregor (Besiktas)
Phil Bardsley (Sunderland)
Christophe Berra (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers)
Alan Hutton (Real Mallorca)
Russell Martin (Norwich City)
Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
Lee Wallace (Rangers)
Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian)
Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Chris Burke (Birmingham City)
Kris Commons (Celtic)
James Forrest (Celtic)
James McArthur (Wigan Athletic)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Matt Phillips (Blackpool)
Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City)
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
Ross McCormack (Leeds United)
Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers)
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic)
Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers)