Darren Fletcher is looking to Davie Weir for inspiration as he contemplates a Scotland re-birth at the age of 32.
Fletcher, who is set to earn his 71st cap for Scotland against Czech Republic tonight, endured a frustrating Euro 2016 qualifying campaign after losing both his place and skipper’s armband to Scott Brown.
Fletcher was continuing his comeback after being forced to take an extended break from the game due to continuing health problems caused by the bowel condition ulcerative colitis.
His lack of playing time at Manchester United under Louis van Gaal impacted on his efforts to return to the Scotland midfield. However, Fletcher has been reinvigorated by last year’s move to West Bromwich Albion, for whom he has not missed a game since.
Some, including club manager Tony Pulis, contend he is now playing some of the best football of his career. The modest Fletcher considers this claim to be “far-fetched” but he is certain he can keep going for a few years yet.
He now believes the break from playing in his late 20s and early 30s will allow him to carry on longer. Fletcher doesn’t believe that the forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign need be the final one in his long Scotland career, which began under Berti Vogts in 2003.
“I look at Davie Weir, how old was he?” he said, when it was put to him that this could be his final campaign. “But why look too far ahead?” Weir returned to the Scotland team aged 35 after a disagreement with Vogts saw him spend three years in international exile. He won his last cap at the age of 40.
Fletcher is some way off this age but he sees no reason why he cannot reclaim his central midfield berth in the side ahead of another qualifying campaign. With Brown not selected in the squad for tonight’s friendly fixture, Fletcher has been handed the opportunity to stake his claim.
The prospect of leading Scotland to a major finals offers Fletcher plenty of motivation to keep going for another campaign at least. But after starting only two out of ten Euro 2016 qualifiers under Gordon Strachan, he knows his first aim is to convince the manager he is worth a starting place in the side.
“I don’t set any time limits like ‘this is my last one or the next one will be my last one’,” he said. “It’s not like that for me. I’m 32 but I don’t feel 32, I feel younger.
“As a player, I am 32 but I don’t think I’ve the legs of a 32-year-old.
“I missed a couple of years in my career, I’d like to add a few to my career,” he continued. “While I’m wanted and selected I’ll be here, trying to represent my country. At the same time I’ve got a challenge to get into the team. I only started two games in the last campaign, I was largely on the outside and that was very difficult.
“There’s a lot of competition in the midfield area,” he added. “But it’s something I’m looking to change for myself, to get back into the team.”
Fletcher admitted it was tough to go from Scotland skipper to bench warmer. “It was the first time I hadn’t been a starter,” he said. “I knew coming back from what I had been through I was going to face challenges. That was part and parcel and it was the first time I had been in that position.
“But it doesn’t change my mind-set, how I am around the squad. It doesn’t change the way I am in the dressing room. But it does give me – as it does for everyone on the bench on the outside looking in and not starting – a determination to want to be in the team.
“You should go out and train and when you get your chance you should be determined to impress and get in the team. You shouldn’t be happy with being on the bench.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Fletcher did concede that if he found himself in the same position during this next campaign, he might have to review his position.
“Maybe,” he said. “I think that is realistic and fair. There are younger players coming through and I think you make a decision based on your family and your club career.
“There will be a time where a decision has to be made. But I feel I am not at that decision stage quite yet. I am always thinking positively that I am going to play a big part in this qualifying campaign and help Scotland qualify for the next World Cup.”