Alex McLeish has admitted Scotland are vulnerable to any bid by England to steal midfielder Tom Cairney after the manager was again forced to omit the Fulham midfielder from his latest squad.
McLeish revealed he had been asked not to pick Cairney, pictured, for the forthcoming coming clashes with Israel and Portugal by his club, where he is still returning from injury.
The 27-year-old, who is valued at over £20million by Fulham, played the last 26 minutes of the 3-0 defeat to Everton on Saturday in what was his first appearance since injuring his ankle against Burnley at the end of August.
Since then a story has emerged south of the Border that Cairney is a target for England manager Gareth Southgate, who is in need of a creative outlet in midfield. Cairney, who’s father is Scottish, was born and brought up in Nottingham. He has played twice for Scotland to date but both of these games were friendlies and he remains eligible for England.
Asked whether he feared England had already made moves to tempt the Fulham skipper to switch allegiance, McLeish said: “I don’t know, he has been injured for a considerable period – five weeks or so. We did know that he was a bit rusty, not having played that amount of time.
“The England thing? I guess we are vulnerable in that situation but I didn’t see any indication Tom had a hankering to play for England. He seemed happy with the group any time he came away with Scotland.”
McLeish is prepared to wait until after the forthcoming double header against Israel and Portugal to hear Cairney’s intentions, not having contacted the player since the reports he is interesting England.
The manager would have preferred to play him in the Nations League qualifier against Israel next week in order to tie him down but now wishes to focus on the matters in hand, with Portugal also to be faced in a friendly, before dealing with the situation – if indeed there is a situation.
“At the moment I am more focused on the guys in the squad,” said McLeish. “That moment with Tom can come when we get the double header over. Tom Cairney is not there because we had dialogue with Fulham at the beginning of the week and we were told he was not able to make it.
He played 20 minutes at the weekend and obviously there is the story regarding England, but we would expect him to be available for the next international. I have not spoken to him as yet. I did liaise with our performance analyst Graeme Jones. Jonesy said Tom was not going to be available.”
Cairney was involved at both Under-19 and Under-21 level with Scotland and McLeish is happy to wait to see him face-to-face in order to gauge his commitment to the cause. It’s what he did when Manchester United’s Scott McTominay confirmed his desire to play for Scotland rather than England in what was an early triumph for McLeish after returning to the role of international manager.
“I looked Scott McTominay in the eye and asked if he was committed to us,” he said. “I would do the same with Tom if it came to it.
“He’s a good player,” he added. “‘He has only had a couple of caps but I watched Fulham over the last couple of years and Tom and Kevin McDonald have played to a really good level within the team. In a certain system they have played to their strengths.
‘They caught my eye, both of them, before I was in the national team job - so they were (always) in my mind.”