Craig Levein insists stance on Fletcher rift is for the sake of the team
CRAIG LEVEIN has explained that he has maintained his stance on Steven Fletcher for the benefit of those players who have continued to show commitment to Scotland.
The Scotland manager was speaking just days after the country’s most expensive ever player began life as a £12 million striker with Sunderland by scoring two goals on his league debut against Swansea. Levein and Fletcher have not spoken since the striker sent a text message to a member of the manager’s backroom staff to say he was not available for selection ahead of a Carling Cup game against Northern Ireland last year.
Levein interpreted this as meaning Fletcher was not interested in playing international football and has resisted including him in squads ever since, closing the door completely on the striker earlier this summer.
The issue has reared its head again after Fletcher’s big-money move from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Sunderland and with Scotland due to begin their latest qualifying campaign on Saturday, against Serbia.
Invited to preview the game yesterday on the TalkSPORT radio station, Levein defended his position on Fletcher, whose exclusion has even been questioned by Sir Alex Ferguson in the match programme produced by the Scottish Football Association for the recent friendly against Australia. Levein pointed out that he was “very comfortable” with the quality of player that he currently has at his disposal.
“He indicated to me that he didn’t want to play international football, and he has done nothing to say otherwise since,” said Levein, with reference to Fletcher. “I’ve left the door open for a year – he made no attempt to get back into the squad. So I thought, for the sake of the players, that there was no point in me, every time we have a press conference, going over and over the same thing.”
Levein added that he was “disappointed because he is a good player”, but explained that “what’s important to me is I pick lads who want to play”.
The Scotland manager has remained true to this way of thinking and has talked many times about creating a “club-style atmosphere” within the Scotland camp. Earlier this week, Peter Houston contended that, even without Fletcher, Scotland are well-served in the striker department. Levein yesterday backed his assistant’s assertion, describing Scotland as “quite lucky” to have the options they do in attack.
“For a while it looked as if we were going to struggle in the forward areas,” he said. “Kenny Miller has always been excellent for Scotland and he’s got experience, international experience. It’s good to have him on board.”
One dilemma faced by Levein as he continues preparations for Saturday’s Group A clash is whether to start with Miller, who has recently moved to Vancouver Whitecaps, or Jordan Rhodes, in attack. Like Fletcher, the latter’s profile has recently been raised by a multi-million-pound move. The 22-year-old was transferred between Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers for £8m last week, just a fortnight after scoring on his full Scotland debut in the 3-1 victory over Australia.
“Jordan has appeared on the scene and he gets a big move to Blackburn,” said Levein. “We’ve got Ross McCormack banging in goals. Jamie Mackie is another one playing regularly in the Premiership. So we are starting to look a bit better in that area.
“Jordan scored on his debut, his starting debut, which is a dream for anyone,” he continued. “Of course, Steven Naismith can play through the middle, too. We’re very, very lucky in those attacking areas. Robert Snodgrass is playing at the top of his game, young James Forrest at Celtic. Shaun Maloney, James Morrison, Matt Phillips – we are really strong in the attacking midfield area, wide and up top.”
Levein, who will speak to other broadcast and written press reporters for the first time this week tomorrow, knows that Scotland will need such strength in depth if they are to post the win most believe is required as they kick-off another World Cup qualifying campaign against Serbia on Saturday.
However, he admitted that Scotland have “run into a little bit of a problem” in defence after losing full-backs Danny Fox and Russell Martin through injury. Left back Paul Dixon, who played under Levein when the pair were at Dundee United, has been called in from Huddersfield Town, and could make his debut on Saturday against a side Levein knows will pose a threat.
“Serbia are a good team,” he said. “They came out of Pot 2 at the draw, above Belgium, so that tells you they are a decent side. They’re going through a bit of a transitional phase just now, bringing in quite a few younger players, but that part of the world always produces top-quality players.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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