Wales v Scotland: Joe Jordan plays the diplomat card over striking roles
WITH 52 caps for his country and a wealth of experience at home and abroad as both a player and a coach, Joe Jordan is better placed than most to comment on the seemingly endless soap opera centred on Craig Levein’s striking options.
Looking back into the annals of Scottish football’s hall of fame, Jordan’s style of play as a combative striker was seen by many to be overly robust. But this overhyped assertion was grossly mistaken for staunch commitment and a fearlessness which has gradually dissipated from football’s top flight.
These days Jordan speaks with the calming authority of a man who’s seen a spate of dramas in his long career in the game, and when pressed into naming the players he’d pick in attack against Wales, his response is admirably diplomatic.
“It’s easy for the fans and journalists to demand that Steven Fletcher is picked from the start. But Craig Levein has been watching the players – all the players – in training this week. He’ll have an idea of what he wants his team to do on the night and you have to have trust in him that he’ll pick the best players to allow Scotland to get the win.”
“Things can change quickly with international squads. Last month everyone was shouting for Jordan Rhodes to play. Now he’s been ruled out of these games through injury. That just shows you how tough a job it is for Craig, with players coming in and out of the squad at the last minute.” Jordan, with an almost Roy of the Rovers-like CV, scored goals at Manchester United, Leeds United and AC Milan, meaning he’s well placed to pass judgement on football’s most valuable currency.
“It’s a great boost for the squad to have Steven involved again. He gives you another dimension, a different option, and above all else, he’s shown that he can score goals.”
The resentment amongst supporters towards Levein’s commitment to playing one striker has been bubbling under the surface for some time, but after the disappointing draws against Serbia and Macedonia last month there now seems to be a vitriolic clamour for Scotland to field two forwards against the Welsh.
Jordan’s most recent coaching experience saw him assist Harry Redknapp at Tottenham, as they pitted their wits in the glamorous surrounds of the Champions League. He feels Levein’s methods make a lot of sense.
“People say we shouldn’t be playing one man up front and that it’s a negative tactic but I don’t agree. When I was playing abroad there were lots of teams packing the midfield because they saw the merit in keeping the ball. In international football it’s crucial that you keep the ball for long periods. We’ve got midfield players who can do that. It’s been demonstrated in the recent past that Scotland can be dangerous on the counter-attack.”
A World Cup qualifier against Wales is a fixture in which Jordan has taken centre stage in one memorable previous campaign. He was roundly criticised for his part in a goal that led to a Scotland penalty and a 2-0 victory in 1977, sending Ally McLeod’s team to Argentina a year later.
Jordan’s rarely spoken about the grievances felt by many of the Welsh players for his alleged handball in that match, and his admiration for the Wales side of today shows no bitterness at the anger felt towards him 35 years ago.
“There’s no doubt that this is a must-win match for Scotland. But it’s also a must-win match for Wales. They’ll be very dangerous opponents, that can’t be doubted. It will be a very, very tough game.
“If we get the three points then the group is wide open again. Belgium – who most people think are the favourites to win the group – could drop points (against Serbia). There’s every reason we could go there on Tuesday and get something. If you don’t believe we’re capable of that then there’s no point in us even turning up.” “I believe the results will come. Almost all the squad now play in England, at a high level. That means that Scottish players are being noticed. If the opportunity comes up for them to move to bigger clubs down south, they’re always going to go. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative.”
But ultimately Jordan acknowledges that hope, promise and positivity will count for nothing should Levein not take Scotland to a major finals, something the country so badly craves.
“I can’t tell you where we’re at in terms of development and progress until after the campaign. Everything is judged on results. Craig knows that, and so does everyone else.”
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