ANDREW Driver says he is "thrilled" that he has been cleared to play for Scotland after Fifa ratified an amendment to the eligibility ruling agreed between the four British associations.
• Despite playing for England's Under-21s, Andrew Driver is now an option for Scotland. Picture: Getty
The Hearts player has been a central figure in the SFA's drive to have the wording of the original regulation tweaked after it became clear that he failed to meet the required criteria.
The discovery caused major embarrassment for the governing body, who had fought to secure the former England under-21 player's allegiance but now Fifa have eased their blushes.
"I'm thrilled to finally get the all-clear," said Driver. "I was disappointed when it turned out I didn't qualify through the original criteria but I never gave up hope. Craig Levein kept in constant contact and I was encouraged when he told me I might yet play for Scotland. It has given me extra motivation to get back to my best form next season and it would be tremendous to be chosen to play a part in the qualifiers for Euro 2012."
The Executive Committee met in Johannesburg and delighted the Scotland manager by rubber stamping the changes in time for the qualifying group games, which get underway against Lithuania in September. "I am happy that we have managed to get the ruling reworded and Andy is now eligible to play for Scotland. He has had injury problems in the last season or so, so we need him to get over them as quickly as possible and then he has every chance of being involved in upcoming squads."
The national team manager said there was no guarantee that the winger, who has been linked with a host of clubs south of the border, as well as FC Twente in Holland, would be selected but he welcomed the fact that the option was now open to him.
"What this does is make the opportunity to play for Scotland accessible to him but we have spoken and he knows that, just like any other player, he will have to play well to stand a chance of being selected for Scotland. Last season was a very interrupted one for him because of the recurring knee problems so he needs to get this season off to a good start and if he can recapture the form of a season past when he showed what he is capable of, then he could be one of the players pushing to get into the squad during the qualifiers."
The news comes as a huge relief to the 22-year-old who was left in an awkward position after publicly turning his back on the country of his birth following the SFA's overtures. Born in Oldham, he moved to Scotland as a youngster and represented Scotland Schoolboys.
Having spent his secondary schooling at North Berwick High School he was led to believe that he qualified for full national honours courtesy of the ruling which stated that "the player has undertaken primary and/or secondary education for a minimum of five years in the territory of the relevant association".
However, it was discovered he had started first year two months into the school term and his hopes appeared to have been dashed before Levein pressed for an amendment which would take into consideration the Scottish Vocational Qualifications he studied for while at the Hearts academy. It was that reworded ruling which determines "the player has engaged in a minimum of five years education under the age of 18 within the territory of the relevant association" that has now been passed by Fifa.
"He can now concentrate on playing," said the pleased Hearts manager Jim Jefferies. "He has a feeling for Scotland. It has been difficult for him but this now gives him the chance to impress on the international stage. He can now concentrate on playing and it will be good for the boy, good for Scotland because he is talented, and, hopefully good for Hearts because he knows he won't be picked for Scotland if he is not delivering the performances at club level."
Refuting the accusation of some disgruntled fans that the link is too tenuous, Levein defended Driver's right to wear the dark blue. "I feel he is Scottish," he said. "He moved here when he was 11 years of age, and has spent more than half his life here. He has said he wants to play for Scotland and as well as his academic education which now meets the criteria, his football education has been in Scotland.
"He has come through the Hearts academy and I was the manager when John Murray signed him for Hearts so I have known him a long time and I know what he is capable of if he can get fully fit and back playing for his club. That is the most important thing, getting over this injury, and getting himself into a position where his performances at club level see him pushing for inclusion. In that respect he is no different from any other player who is eligible."
Driver has been linked with clubs such as Chelsea, Wigan and Burnley in recent weeks and although Jefferies is hopeful of retaining the player, he knows international caps would make that more difficult long-term. But Levein says the player's chances will not be determined by the league he is playing in next season.
"I don't know what the situation is and that is not my concern. That is up to Andy and Hearts. I don't have a say in where he plays. The only thing I can influence is whether he plays for Scotland and that won't come down to where he is playing, my only concern is if he is playing well for that club.
"Whether he goes elsewhere or stays at Hearts, hopefully it all gets sorted out quickly and he can concentrate on playing and getting his form back because if he recaptures the form we have seen in the past then he could be a good option for us."