Peter Houston leaps to Levein’s defence over controversial call-up for Ian Black
IT WAS a job best left to an assistant although Craig Levein knows the subject will be broached again today, on the eve of tomorrow’s friendly clash with Australia.
Peter Houston yesterday defended Rangers midfielder Ian Black’s international call-up just days after Levein had admitted it would be “difficult” for any player to step up to international football from the Third Division. The assistant manager yesterday said that Levein’s words had been “misconstrued”. Speaking last Monday, the Scotland manager had included the caveat that the door remained open for both Black and also Ibrox team-mate Lee Wallace, who has been left out of the current squad for tomorrow night’s game at Easter Road. However, he also said he had “made a decision” and that while he understood the attraction of playing for Rangers, he “had to look at what is best for the international team”.
Levein admitted that by the time September, together with the start of Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign, came along he might have to cope with injuries and be forced to “bring these guys in”. The injury curse has struck even earlier than feared following the withdrawal of three players over the weekend due to injury. Jamie Mackie, James Forrest and Phil Bardsley all pulled out while Graham Dorrans won’t also be joining up with the squad in Edinburgh because his baby daughter is ill in hospital. The call has therefore gone out to Black, who, Houston revealed, was at the Scotland HQ within an hour of learning the news on Sunday evening that his international ambitions had been resuscitated. “It shows that playing in the Third Division does not necessarily mean you cannot play for your country,” Black, who has one B international cap, said last night. Blackburn Rovers striker David Goodwillie was also called up yesterday to bolster Levein’s attacking options.
If Black features tomorrow he will become the first player from outwith the top flight
in Scottish football to play for Scotland since Billy McKinlay did so while with Dundee United, then of the First Division, in 1995. No player has ever played for Scotland from the fourth tier of the game. Black made his Third Division debut with Rangers on Saturday afternoon in the 2-2 draw at Peterhead and found the going as tough as anyone in the visitors’ line-up.
Houston pointed out that Black had been “one of the best midfielders in Scotland last year” when with Hearts. Only once, however, was he called into a Scotland squad and he had to pull out prior to the game with the United States in May in order to undergo a hernia operation. He has since changed clubs and dropped four divisions.
Levein, he explained last week, is a firm believer in a performance system which pits “best v best”. He said that playing in the Third Division “is
almost the opposite of that”. However, the manager clearly feels a friendly match provides the opportunity to take a risk with someone who it must be remembered was the outstanding performer in the Scottish Cup final just three months ago.
“Ian Black is a talented player,” Houston stressed yesterday. “The reason he is here is that we are looking for someone who can sit and play passes, more of a defensive type. We are quite short of that because of the call-offs. It was quite an easy decision. Ian Black’s name was foremost in
our thoughts and certainly the backroom staff’s thoughts and the manager’s. He is delighted to be here, and I think he is here on merit. The manager did say that Lee Wallace would still be in his plans so I don’t see why Ian Black wouldn’t be,” Houston added.
“Ian has played SPL football for a number of years now and every single year we talk about him being one of the best players. I have always thought that Ian Black, even last year, was unlucky not to break into the squad. When we had everybody fit, that’d maybe be why he wasn’t in it last year. Craig’s rated him as a player. The boy is delighted to be here. He was here last night, within an hour of being called-up. Good luck to him if he gets the opportunity.” Ross McCormack, the Leeds United striker, is another beneficiary of Scotland’s latest spate of injury and illness blows. Again it seemed a significant and possibly awkward call-up in light of comments made by McCormack in February after he was left out of another Scotland squad while in a rich vein of scoring form with his club.
He claimed that calls to national team scout Mick Oliver were ignored as he sought to discover if there was a reason for successive snubs. McCormack has not played for Scotland since the Carling Nations Cup tournament in Dublin last
summer, and has not featured in a competitive match since starting in the 4-0 defeat in Norway in 2009, during George Burley’s reign as manager. “It just shows you the manager is not holding grudges with regards to anyone who has a wee go,” said Houston. “He is here on merit.”
Darren Fletcher, meanwhile, has joined up with the squad, as expected. The Scotland skipper has been asked to participate in training sessions by Levein as he continues to battle a chronic bowel complaint. “I just hope he can get back playing,” said Houston. “The main reason he is here is as a player, and hopefully that happens.”
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