Gordon Strachan has warned Jordan Rhodes that he will need to keep learning if he wants to become a regular starter for Scotland, who are not yet good enough to accommodate a player who thrives on crosses from wide areas.
Although Rhodes was again included in the Scotland squad for next week’s World Cup qualifier against Croatia, Strachan has not had any significant change of heart when contemplating the striker’s contribution to the current Scotland team. Following last month’s 2-0 defeat by Belgium, the manager stressed that Rhodes would have to be patient for the chance to establish himself, given the international team’s current limitations.
Rhodes’ admirable response has been another hot goalscoring streak, hitting five goals in six matches for Blackburn Rovers, who are lying eighth in the Championship. However, Strachan insists that Rhodes is still developing and that strikers tend to improve with age.
Surprisingly choosing to evoke the name of Billy Pirie, with whom he played at Dundee, Strachan pointed out that having a goalscoring front man does not always guarantee a team’s success. Pirie established himself as a goal machine for Dundee and scored 44 goals for the Dens Park side in the 1976-77 season. However, Dundee only finished in third place in the First Division.
“I played with Billy Pirie at Dundee and he scored 40 goals a season but he didn’t get us promoted,” recalled Strachan. “It’s all about the team.
“He does not have to do anything more than he is doing,” continued Strachan, with reference to Rhodes and the player’s willingness to take on board the advice of others. “He has got to learn how to be a better player. I think you ask any striker at 23, is that you at your best? No. Ask Mark McGhee, when were you at your best? About 30. And that can come. What I said at the time is that, if you can get 30 crosses into the box, then he will score, but we are not a team who can get 30 crosses in.”
“What will happen from now, and indeed it is already happening, is that he will learn to get better as an all-round player.”
Strachan was developing the theme he had explored last month with regards to the striker. What some felt was a harsh assessment of Rhodes fuelled fears that the player might be less willing to concentrate on his international career. Rhodes’ sudden withdrawal from the squad ahead of the game against Macedonia due to a hand injury did little to erase such anxiety. However, the striker has again been included among the five strikers listed by Strachan yesterday.
Further scrutiny has been placed on the manager’s choices in the absence of dislocated shoulder casualty Steven Fletcher, whom many expect to return as No 1 striker choice when he recovers from his latest injury.
Strachan employed Steven Naismith in the lone striker role against Macedonia and Scotland reaped the benefit of his hold-up play.
“You would not say Naisy is an out-and-out striker, but what he did is help other players get opportunities to score v Macedonia,” noted Strachan.
“Jordan will bring that to his game, he will get better. He has a talent for scoring goals but his goals have been in a lower division at this moment. We will look forward to his development.”
Perhaps the least surprising news from yesterday’s squad announcement is that Strachan has again included Ikechi Anya. The Watford player thrilled Scotland fans with his goal and performance against Macedonia on his full debut and it was with him in mind that Strachan urged other players to grab their chance.
He added that no team-bonding exercise had such a profound effect on spirit as simply winning matches – as Scotland did against Macedonia in their last outing.
“I don’t want people standing in the background thinking ‘I don’t want to be a star’,” said Strachan. “Go on, do things on the pitch, run the game, make people around you play well.
“People ask about team spirit and some people think ‘let’s have a golf day’, ‘we should go go-karting’ or ‘have a drink and a night out’. All they do then is talk about each other behind their backs when they are drunk.
“The best way of getting team spirit is winning games and playing well. Being in the dressing room after the game when everyone has enjoyed it and feeling like they’ve helped in some way to win a game of football. It’s not me, it’s just winning,” he added.
Strachan revealed he had spoken to sidelined Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher within the last fortnight, and has reassured fans that he will return.
The midfielder has recently stepped up his training regime at Manchester United as he continues his comeback from a chronic bowel condition. He has been named in David Moyes’ 25-man squad for the Premier League and the 29-year-old is now training on his own at Carrington, having exiled himself from the club’s training ground in recent months.
“I spoke to Darren a couple of weeks ago and he’s feeling good about himself,” said Strachan. “You’d have to leave the medical side of things to Manchester United but he’ll be back, there is no doubt about.”
Midfielder Craig Bryson, who scored in Derby County’s thrilling 4-4 draw with Ipswich Town on Tuesday night, Rangers left-back Lee Wallace and Birmingham winger Chris Burke retain their places after their late call-ups last month.
In full: Scotland squad to face Croatia on October 15
Gilks (Blackpool), Marshall (Cardiff), McGregor (Hull); Greer (Brighton), Hanley (Blackburn) Hutton (Aston Villa), Martin (Norwich), Mulgrew (Celtic), Wallace (Rangers); Adam (Stoke), Anya (Watford), Bannan (Crystal Palace), Brown (Celtic), Bryson (Derby) Burke (Birmingham), Dorrans, Morrison (both West Brom), McArthur (Wigan), Snodgrass (Norwich); Boyd (Hull), Griffiths (Wolves), McCormack (Leeds), Naismith (Everton), Rhodes (Blackburn).