Scotland’s travails in recent years have been no-one’s idea of a delight, but it is a different story for Matt Ritchie. The Bournemouth midfielder, named today as the Scottish football writers’ international player of the year, is in no doubt what it has meant to him to become a fixture for the country of his father’s birth.
“It’s been one of the highlights of my life,” said the 26-year-old of playing for Scotland as he reflected on an accolade he rated “brilliant; a great honour and a lovely surprise”. He went on: “The players have all made me feel really welcome. That’s been a massive plus point. It’s helped me settle. Gordon Strachan and his staff are also first class. I will always owe the manager for selecting me for his international squad. It came from nowhere.”
Ritchie has enjoyed a terrific season as his club retained the Barclays Premier League place they won last year. Across that period he has also made his time in dark blue count. Since being called up last March and making his debut in a friendly defeat of Northern Ireland, he has three goals in his eight appearances, including a blistering strike in the Euro 2016 qualification-crushing 2-2 draw against Poland that was deemed the goal of the year in an SFA poll.
“To score against Poland at Hampden was really special. I loved that goal but it was just a pity we didn’t win,” Ritchie said. “Not qualifying was a massive disappointment. We were so close at one point and then it never happened. We need to learn from it, remember the plus points and make sure we don’t repeat the negatives. The World Cup qualifiers start in September and we are in a tough group. England are the top seeds but we can compete with them, for sure.
“What we need to do is make sure we all pull in the same direction, stay focused and believe. Yes, they have some outstanding footballers but we also have a lot to offer.”