Craig Levein eager to ease latest call-ups into national mix
Scotland manager talks up benefits of Cyprus training camp
SCOTLAND manager Craig Levein has cited the circumstances in which Barry Bannan marked his arrival on the senior international scene 12 months ago as reason to believe Friday’s friendly encounter against Cyprus has not been diminished by the need to turn to untried performers following a spate of injury withdrawals.
Levein travelled to southern Europe with new faces Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson, MK Dons defender Gary MacKenzie and St Mirren goalkeeper Craig Samson among the replacements for the six players lost over the weekend, with previously selected Huddersfield striker Jordan Rhodes another possible new cap.
“We have a few injuries, which is unfortunate, but we’ve been here before. These are [still] important times,” he said. “This time last year we got Barry Bannan out of a friendly, when he played up at Aberdeen against the Faroes. These friendly games are the opportunity to have a look at people and there are other situations we’ve discovered players who’ve been involved in the group.
“It makes a big difference to see these guys in training and lets me see the mentality and how they cope playing with international players in training. Some of them get a little overawed by it; others take to it immediately. That’s an exciting part of it for me, to see how they go, not just in the match but the whole week.
“It’s important to see what they’re like around the group. It gives me an opportunity to meet them, get to know them. There’s a bit more time than just a couple of days and playing a game on a Wednesday – for me that’s really difficult.”
Levein is hoping that Rhodes, Stevenson and MacKenzie can “step up to the plate” and for the 27-year-old Hearts man that will in the centre of the pitch, even though the Scotland manager recognises he has been deployed as an “auxiliary striker more than anything else” by the Tynecastle club.
“I think he deserves his opportunity,” Levein said. “He’s certainly matured as a player and I’m keen to see how he does. I like his type. He’s one of those players who have gone through the mill to get where they are. I nearly signed him for Dundee United when he was at Ayr United. In the last 18 months he’s taken the opportunity that has arisen for him at Hearts.
“You can go through the squad and the likes of Jamie Mackie, Craig Mackail-Smith, Barry Robson have all been late bloomers and grasped the opportunities that have come their way. By the time they get a chance like this all the nonsense is out of their head and they understand what it is all about. This is an opportunity for Ryan. We’re always looking to add quality and I don’t think anyone could dispute that he has talent.”
MacKenzie is another whom Levein has always rated but only now, at the age of 26, is he able to consider the English League One player for the international arena, where Scotland are desperately short on central defensive cover.
“He’s one of these guys who seems to have taken forever to get into a club, play every week and do what most kids do at 18, 19, 20 years of age. Everything has conspired against him,” Levein said of the former Dundee captain and Rangers youth product. “It’s only now that he’s really playing regular football and he’s attracted a lot of interest from bigger clubs in England. I believe that he’s destined to play at a higher level.
“We were made aware of him this time last year. We’ve had him watched and I feel that, with having a few problems defensively, it’s a great time for him to join the group. Whether he plays or not has to be decided but it gives us an opportunity to have a look at him in training and see how he fits in.”
The trip to Cyprus will be all work and no play for the new-look squad Levein has assembled with two training stints arranged for today and single sessions in the two days leading up to the Larnaca friendly.
“I don’t get enough time with them,” Levein said. “The only time we let them ‘play’ a little bit is if we’re somewhere like La Manga, as we were back in March, where the had come off a weekend game and we let them have a game of golf. But this week is all about the training then the game.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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