The Scotland manager named a 23-man squad yesterday for the forthcoming matches against Belgium and Albania at Hampden Park.
The latter Nations League qualifier is McLeish’s first competitive fixture in charge since returning to the role of international manager in February. McLeish acknowledged the serious action starts now and he wanted to have all his options available to him.
But some well-established names, including Robert Snodgrass and James McArthur, were conspicuous by their absence from the latest squad.
McLeish confirmed they had asked to be excused from these games. Both played for their clubs in the English Premier League at the weekend – Snodgrass for 75 minutes for West Ham United against Arsenal and McArthur the full 90 minutes for Crystal Palace against Watford.
But 32-times capped McArthur is managing a back injury and Snodgrass, who has played 25 times for Scotland, wishes to concentrate on re-establishing himself in the West Ham side. McLeish, who confided there were other factors involved, including personal issues, is sympathetic.
But he stressed he had to be ruthless and those named yesterday, including Hearts centre -half John Souttar, will now have the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place.
He has warned McArthur and Snodgrass they might not find a way back in. “He [McArthur] actually said that he wanted to leave the door open and I thought ‘well, if we’re doing well you might not get back in the team’,” said McLeish. “I guess he has got to take that chance as well. But it was a good conversation. It was very mature. I am disappointed not to have him, but he feels that mentally it is the right decision for him.”
Snodgrass has also been in discussions with McLeish. “I think you understand when there are personal reasons as well,” said the manager. “I need everybody who is going to be involved in these games to have the right mentality. They have to be absolutely 100 per cent wanting to play and ready to play for Scotland. We need that. But Snoddy isn’t far away. I said I would look at them in the next month. He has left the door open as well.”
McLeish admitted it was a blow and put it partly down to modern football, where club football is king. “It is a different mentality nowadays,” he said. “It is a different era to the one I played in. So that is the way football has evolved.”
The manager is looking to the future now. Sporting Kansas City striker Johnny Russell and the Kilmarnock right back Stephen O’Donnell have retained their places after being called up for the summer tour to Peru and Mexico.
The squad represents a step away from some high profile names who have been integral to the Scotland set-up, going back several managers in some instances. Darren Fletcher, who made his debut 15 years ago, has been omitted. McLeish confirmed this was his call and not the player’s.
“He started with Stoke in the last couple of weeks, but at the moment I am happy with the guys I am going in with,” said the manager.
“I have been in dialogue with the guys,” he added. “I haven’t closed the doors on anybody.
“I had a good conversation with James McArthur and he is opting out for the moment because he has had issues with his body. He is at a certain stage of his career where players tend to know what they need much more. That was a bit of a blow because James has been in good form over the last couple of years. He has been very steady. He makes it looks effortless at times. So that is a pity. Snoddy as well.
“I had a chat with Snoddy and he was another one who wanted to wait and see before he really committed himself to come back in.
“I would certainly say that the gauntlet has (now) been thrown down to a lot of the players to really make a name for themselves in international football,” he added. “If they are doing it then they will be the first names picked.”