Strachan’s backing has given Barry Bannan ‘boost’

BARRY Bannan has expressed gratitude to Scotland manager Gordon Strachan for providing him with a consistent source of encouragement during an often dispiriting spell of his career.
Barry Bannan at an announcement of new sponsor Little Big Shot Energy drink. Picture: PABarry Bannan at an announcement of new sponsor Little Big Shot Energy drink. Picture: PA
Barry Bannan at an announcement of new sponsor Little Big Shot Energy drink. Picture: PA

The diminutive Crystal Palace midfielder has spent much of the past couple of years battling to prove himself worthy of ­regular first-team football in the English Premier League, first of all at Aston Villa and then with the Selhurst Park club following his £1.75 million transfer 12 months ago.

It has so far proved an elusive status for Bannan, who has cut a frustrated figure under a ­series of managers at both clubs. Throughout it all, however, the 24-year-old has retained the favour of Strachan during his attempts to re-energise the ­national team.

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Bannan has been a regular in Strachan’s squad, appearing in six of Scotland’s last nine games and featuring in the starting line-up on five of those ­occasions.

“It’s been brilliant for me to come away and join up with Scotland every time,” said ­Bannan as he prepares for what he hopes will be the occasion of his 18th cap in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany in Dortmund on Sunday.

“Whenever the squads are getting announced, you are ­always a wee bit worried you are not going to be involved because that is normal when you are not playing regularly for your club.

“But the manager [Strachan] has shown great faith in me and every time I come away I love it.

“It’s a great atmosphere and the training is brilliant. When a manager keeps bringing you into the squad, you enjoy it even more. Hopefully, if called upon on Sunday, I can do a job for him.

“If you are not playing at club level, it starts to creep into your mind that you are not doing so well.

“But then you get a call-up for your country and it gives a boost again. It’s brilliant and I have to thank him a lot.

“I’ve not thought about what it would be like if I didn’t get called up because it hasn’t happened yet, but I’d imagine I would be down a lot if I wasn’t getting called up.”

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Bannan has experienced an especially tumultuous start to this season at Palace where Tony Pulis dramatically resigned on the eve of the campaign, leaving Keith Millen in charge as the caretaker until Neil Warnock returned to the club for a second spell last week.

Although he was an unused substitute for Warnock’s first game at Newcastle United last Saturday, Bannan was encouraged that the new boss refused to sanction a loan move for him on transfer deadline day.

“I spoke to him last Friday about not playing and he said he wanted to try something ­different for the game at the weekend, but that clubs had come in for me and he knocked them back,” said Bannan.

“He was good with me when we spoke and one of my mates told me that he [Warnock] has a holiday place near Dunoon, so maybe the Scottish thing might help me.

“But the boys got a draw at Newcastle, so it might be a case of waiting until the boys have a bad result and I might get back into the team.

“It’s about getting a run of games and staying in the team for me. I’ve always had runs of four of five games in and then four or five games out.

“It’s about finding a manager who believes in me and plays me week-in, week-out. Hopefully, I’ll flourish under the new manager.

“It was strange what happened at the start of the season with Tony Pulis. We had a big pre-season with him, probably the toughest I’ve ever known.

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“This is certainly the fittest I’ve ever been coming into a Scotland squad.

“He was there at training on the Thursday morning, then by the time we got home we heard he’d gone. He did such a good job last season, we all thought he’d be at the club for years to come.

“I don’t know what went on, but he did well for the club and it was a big blow just before the first game of the season.

“It took the boys a bit of time to get over it, but we’ve got the new manager in now and he’s already put his ideas and views across.”

As he turns his attention to Sunday’s daunting assignment at the Westfalenstadion, Bannan was asked if he tuned in to ­Germany’s 4-2 defeat by Argentina on Wednesday night.

“Naw, I was watching the England game and fell asleep,” was his response, although he did not specify whether his slumber was caused by the soporific nature of the action at Wembley or the intense training Scotland have undertaken this week.

Bannan is relishing the prospect of facing the world champions and insists their performances in Brazil during the summer, most notably their 7-1 semi-final demolition of the host nation, should not unduly concern the Scots.

“The Brazil game was a freak result,” said Bannan. I watched all of the Germany games and I saw one before the finals where they looked a bit shaky.

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“It’s easy to look at the Brazil game and think Germany were brilliant, but I also think Brazil were bad that night.

“They are the strongest and best team in the world at the moment, but we are on a high as well. We’ve faced really good teams such as Spain a couple of years ago and taken them all the way. We don’t fear them, we are just looking forward to going out there and seeing how good they really are.

“There were teams in the World Cup who were relying on one player to score goals for them, whereas Germany had goals from everywhere. They strolled through the tournament and were strong in all positions and that is what we are trying to build to ourselves.

“There are no unbelievable players here, we are all steady and work hard for each other. Hopefully, we can do that on Sunday and put up a good ­performance.”

• Barry Bannan yesterday helped announce energy drink Little Big Shot as the title ­sponsor of the Scottish FA’s seven Regional Performance Schools and the Youth Cup.