LEWIS Macleod has played against England before and if he was to be gifted even a few minutes against them in the upcoming challenge match, he says he would look forward to renewing his rivalry with Raheem Sterling.
The last meeting took place in the 2009 Victory Shield match at Tynecastle and it was a contest England won 2-1, leaving the Liverpool star with the fonder memories. But the Rangers midfielder, called up to the full Scotland squad for the first time having worked his way through the international ranks, is hoping he will get the chance to redress matters at Celtic Park on 18 November.
“I remember we lost because of a dodgy decision by the ref,” Macleod recalls. “It was 2-1 but we scored first and played well. I was taken off after about 60 minutes. Hopefully things go better in the next couple of weeks.”
There were a few recognisable names in both squads that night, but Sterling and now Macleod have advanced more quickly than most. Macleod, who has been named SPFL Young Player of the Month, never dreamed his chance would come this early, but he did always expect Sterling to make the breakthrough at the top level of the game.
“I can’t see too many from that England team who have come through,” said the 20-year-old. “There is a guy at Reading called Daniel Redmond who didn’t even start that night as he came on as a sub. Then there is Nick Powell who is at Manchester United and a good player. Back then all of their team were sought after players but so much changes and it takes an awful lot to reach the full England squad, so all credit to Raheem Sterling as he’s been brilliant.
“As a footballer Raheem is different class. There will be a few teams looking at him come the summer or even this January. He’s the type of footballer you want to play against. Even back then when he was at Queens Park Rangers you could tell he was going to be brilliant. His career has really blossomed and he’s now one of the most influential players at Liverpool. I would be delighted to get any sort of game time when I go away with Scotland but I know it’s not going to be a quiet game against England. But it would be a great experience.”
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Of the Scotland side that day, Macleod was not the one grabbing the headlines. They had been commandeered by the likes of Islam Feruz, the then Celtic teenager who has since joined Chelsea. But steady progress and a grounded attitude have seen Macleod attract the attention of national coach Gordon Strachan at a time when he is still eligible for the under-21s.
“There were a lot of good players when we played in the Victory Shield. Islam Feruz played up front for us that day and big Jack Grimmer was the captain. There were a lot of players you expected to go on and do good things. There is no reason why they still can’t. It just shows you how far I have come that I have been called up.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the Scotland manager has apparently ear-marked certain youngsters he sees as long term international players and wants to phase their introduction to the full national set up. Ryan Gauld was included last time around, this time it is Macleod.
“Wee Gauldy wasn’t in the same team as me as he was a year younger than me. But it is good to see the likes of Andy Robertson get in the side and Stevie May and myself getting called in. It just shows you he is not scared to call up the young players.
“I would say it is the best week of my career. Just to be there and experience it for myself will be a great occasion. I haven’t spoken to Gordon but it’s my first time with the squad so I can’t expect to get a lot of game time but hopefully the experience can be beneficial for years to come. I will try my hardest so hopefully I can impress him so that I can quite possibly be involved in future squads.”
It’s something he could only have dreamed of earlier this year, when a nasty viral infection left him fatigued and, despite all his promise and ability, doctors warned that his career could be jeopardised. Back in 2009, while it was a target, it seemed even less tangible.
“You always have aspirations to do better. You don’t really think about that at the time as it looks such a long way away. Back then I was only about 14 or 15 years old, but it’s good that I’ve come through the ranks for both club and country, that’s been great for me. It just makes you grateful for everything you’ve got because sometimes you can take things for granted.”
Talent has undoubtedly been given a lift by circumstance, though, something he acknowledges when considering the number of first team games he has been able to play due to Rangers’ financial woes. A high-calibre player, many believe that, like his boyhood hero Barry Ferguson, he is one who would have pushed his way into the side eventually, but cut-backs have seen that elevation accelerated and he has grasped his chance.
“Without a doubt it has helped me. There is no way I would have played as much if Rangers hadn’t gone into administration. That has obviously helped me in the long run as I have played about 70 or 80 games for Rangers.
“I wouldn’t have done that had they remained in the SPL. It has been great for my career as it has been for the likes of Fraser [Aird] as well.”
The man who has benefitted from having that option available to him, Rangers manager Ally McCoist, has long waxed lyrical about Macleod’s potential. But he is wary of allowing things to enter the territory of hyperbole. He refuses to compare him to past greats – “He is very much his own wee man and he is doing terrifically well” – but now under an even brighter spotlight, he believes the player will bask in it, rather than find himself dazzled.
“It’s Gordon’s decision, [whether to play him] but Lewis would handle anything because he is very level-headed and he is not fazed by anything at all. He is on the crest of a wave at the moment. He’s enjoying his football, he’s really excited and life’s good. He has had an extra strut since he was called up. You could just tell and it was really refreshing. It was great.”
If Macleod is merely to be an observer as the Scots tackle the business of Euro qualification against the Republic of Ireland on Friday, McCoist says he would consider asking permission to have him back briefly for the Alloa game on Saturday. “I wouldn’t rule that out. From our point of view it would make sense but I do appreciate that he is Gordon’s player for these five or six days. But that’s something we would possibly have a look at. Hearts are trying to do it with two of their under-21 players so I will certainly have a chat with Gordon.”
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