Scotland v Australia: Craig Levein vents his frustration as Ian Black selection dominates Scots agenda
CRAIG Levein’s attempt to build momentum before the start of next month’s World Cup qualifiers has become mired in a row about a player who it seems certain won’t be involved in the games against Serbia and Macedonia next month.
The Scotland manager’s decision to call-up Ian Black to the squad for tonight’s friendly with Australia at Easter Road has overshadowed what he feels are more relevant issues, such as Jordan Rhodes’ inclusion in the starting XI.
The Huddersfield Town striker will lead the line from the start for the first time tonight. However, it is the presence on the substitutes’ bench of a Rangers player who is between Third Division appointments with Peterhead and East Stirlingshire that has exercised minds, particularly since it is only last week when Levein explained the reasons why it would be “difficult” to select either Black or Lee Wallace from the Ibrox side. Both, he said, would find it hard to step up from Third Division football to international level.
Knowing how injuries have a habit of disrupting his plans, Levein did add that the door was not closed on either player. Few expected Black’s international ambitions to be resuscitated quite as quickly as was the case, following the usual raft of withdrawals. Within an hour of receiving the call on Sunday night, he had arrived at the Scotland HQ on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Black has been the story ever since, much to Levein’s chagrin.
Peter Houston, Levein’s assistant manager, attempted to play down talk of there having been an about-turn by saying on Monday that the manager’s words last week had been “misconstrued”.
A few hours after he awoke to find that previews of this evening’s match at Easter Road were dominated by the manager’s apparent volte face, an exasperated Levein yesterday wondered what the big deal was.
He had, he said, explained in adequate detail last week about his preference for players who were playing at the top level, and, by that, he meant the Premier League in England. “It’s difficult to go from Third Division football and step up to international football, so I explained that,” he said.
“He [Black] is next on the list for that position,” he added. “So I brought him into the squad. I don’t understand why people are even concentrating on it. He’s not first choice. He’s a back-up for people who have gone out of the squad. The statement was made that the door’s not closed on anybody. Then I find that this is something that we’re concentrating on.
“And we’ve got Jordan Rhodes playing and Danny Fox playing, what I consider to be quite upbeat and important stories. Sometimes I get baffled by the choice of the important story.”
The bafflement turned into anger yesterday. Two reporters were excluded from the briefing due to the manager’s dismay at the way the story had been treated on their particular newspaper’s back page.
Levein said he was simply remaining faithful to the selection procedure that he has employed from the start. Asked what would happen if he needed a deputy left-back for a vital qualifier, he said: “I’ll do exactly the same as I always do, I’ll look at who is my second choice. And if we get loads of injuries and we get down to Lee Wallace, then I’ll pick him.
“Playing in the Premiership is akin to playing international football so it’s an easy transfer from one to the other,” he added. “It’s logic. So that’s where I want all the players playing, at the highest level possible. That’s a constant. The point I was trying to make is that going down to the Third Division lowers the chances of these players getting selected. But it doesn’t stop them from being selected.”
Levein sounded comfortable with his choice to include Black, describing him as still an “SPL player”. Asked whether it is certain he will be given game-time tonight, he said: “Blackie is not one that I’ve said I’m definitely going to play, but he could do.” He added that he couldn’t be sure about the rate of “drop-off” in the player’s performance levels after several weeks of Third Division football.
However, it seems certain that even someone as firm in his mind as Levein will seek to avoid further controversy next month. He will surely opt to leave Black to continue his basement league adventures while unencumbered by the additional challenge of competitive international football.
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