Gordon Strachan has rejected any suggestions that Lee Wallace’s Scotland career is over as a result of the full-back playing in the lower divisions with Rangers these past four years.
In an interview this week, Wallace said that if remaining at Ibrox following the club’s liquidation in 2012 had cost him his international ambitions, that was “a fair sacrifice”. Yet as he prepared his squad for the country’s Denmark friendly at Hampden on Tuesday evening, the Scotland manager presented Wallace as a go-to player in the mould of Fulham striker Ross McCormack – who was handed a starting place in Thursday’s 1-0 win away to the Czech Republic despite not being named in the original squad.
“Far from that,” Strachan said when asked if Wallace, whose last cap came in November 2013, had sacrificed playing for Scotland by continuing to be a Rangers player.
“If Kieran [Tierney] didn’t make it then we would have no problem in knocking on his door and he would go right in there. Absolutely. I am not saying he is a world-class player but we know what he can do.
“It is like Ross McCormack. There are a group of lads who come into that category who it would be unfair to bring along if they were not getting a game.
“We knew Ross, for example, if Steven [Naismith] got injured, could come in and play and he did that,” he added. “There is a group of lads out there we know are willing and able that you can go back and can trust them and Lee is one of them. It would be remiss of me though not to have a look at a young talent, someone ten years younger, and not have a look at him. To not see him and bring him in – everybody understands that.”
Strachan’s apparent reserve in relation to throwing young players into the set-up might be better understood this week on the back of both the Scotland Under-21s and Under-19s having their hopes of making major finals ended. There is a reason why Scotland had the oldest average age of any team in the top 50 ranked nations across 2015.
“It’s up to the players if they’re good enough,” he said. “We’ve got [Nottingham Forest] winger Oli Burke who’s 18 and I’ve seen him six or seven times. He’s coming and he’s not out of place here. But he needs to learn a bit so we’re saying ‘on you go’. John McGinn isn’t 17 or 18 but I knew for a fact he would be in this squad. So there are opportunities there.
“People say, ‘can you find the players?’ Well, you find them as well. The first real reports come from the media. They tell us who is playing well as we can’t have scouts at every game. And then we take that on board.
If players are coming through the system [Scotland Under-21 coach] Ricky Sbragia will say to me, ‘that’s one to watch’, but at the moment we are waiting for more.
“I’ve not got a problem with age. I came up against that Milan team with Celtic [in 2007] and they had the oldest average age that I’ve ever come up against. But they were a top team. Shaun Maloney has turned up this week at 33 and there’s not a 19-year-old who can get close to him as a football player right now. So should I keep everybody happy and just play youngsters? It doesn’t work that way.”
The hosting of the Danes will bring up a landmark for one of Strachan’s most experienced performers, with captain Scott Brown set to win his 50th cap. The Celtic skipper was signed by Strachan for the Parkhead club from Hibernian for a Scottish record £4.4 million fee in 2007. He has justified that outlay by remaining an integral figure for club and country almost a decade on.
“There was potential there,” Strachan said of his club recruitment of the dervish of a performer. “When it came to his character, he grew up with Gary Caldwell [who moved to Celtic] so I asked him about Scott and he told me about his character. I am delighted for him. He is one of these guys who you think ‘if it goes haywire someone will look after me’. He is one of those who will look after you.”
Maloney, who has recovered from an ankle problem to take his place in the squad for Tuesday’s encounter, praised the application of a man he has seen often at close quarters over the years.
“Every game I’ve played with Scott for club and country he doesn’t leave anything behind,” the Hull City attacker said. “I’m sure it will be a really proud moment for him because he is patriotic and it’s well deserved. He’s been a really good servant for his country and it’s been really good to play with him. He’s one that you’re glad is on your team.”