HE HASN’T kicked a ball for Scotland since coming on as a substitute for Ross McCormack in the last 14 minutes of the 1-0 win over Poland in March 2014.
But is the stage now set for Charlie Adam to return to the international fold this week and next, against Qatar and Republic of Ireland, a development which is as much a tribute to the midfielder’s character as anything else?
It’s a redemption song as sweetly potent as that left foot of his. Like Matt Le Tissier with England, Adam has learned that talent is not everything. Le Tissier, the gifted former Southampton player, earned only eight caps despite being routinely hailed as among the most talented of those who lit up the English Premiership in its early days.
Adam, too, has been badly served by the impression that he cannot always be trusted to turn it on when let loose at international level, where fear of losing is often at its most extreme.
Perhaps Adam suffered for being so closely associated with the Craig Levein regime – although he only played in six of the manager’s 12 competitive matches, chiefly because of injury.
He certainly suffered for a lapse against Wales on a dark night in October 2012. His failure to track back meant play opened up for probably one of the last men you would want to see play open up for – Gareth Bale. He then inflicted the maximum pain by scoring Wales’ last minute winner. Adam endured considerable flak for this; in the stands that night as well as in the days afterwards on Twitter and in newspapers. He didn’t accept it all gracefully, but then some if it was not offered gracefully.
While the mistake was poor, it was hardly the crime of the century – and yet, because of it, he was branded lazy, ill-equipped for international standard football and, perhaps worst of all, undeserving of wearing the national shirt. Unbelievably, weeks later, his 50-year-old father and greatest influence on his career, died in particularly distressing circumstances. It must have felt as though his world had caved in. Just to cap it all, one of his mentors in Levein then lost his job as Scotland manager. Who wouldn’t have felt on the ropes by that point?
At club level, he was being used sparingly – to use a euphemism – by then manager Tony Pulis. Adam denied this was a sensitive way of recognising what he had gone through – it was simply because either the manager didn’t fancy him or he wasn’t playing well enough. Either way, he buckled down, fighting his way back into the team when Mark Hughes, Pulis’s successor, reduced him to a bit-part player earlier this season.
Gordon Strachan, Levein’s replacement, named Adam among the substitutes in his first competitive game in charge against Wales, sending him on in the second half for Graham Dorrans. It didn’t help that Scotland’s 1-0 lead was turned into a 2-1 deficit. Another second-half appearance followed in the next game, a 2-0 loss to Serbia, and that has been it in terms of competitive action for Adam, this great conundrum of the Scottish game.
Blessed with such abundant talent, and in a time when caps tend to he handed out like confetti, he knows he probably should have more than 25 caps. He has spent the last year in the international wilderness for a start. This now looks set to end, although even as recently as last weekend, Strachan seemed to again highlight the problem with players such as Adam. They are viewed as luxury items and as such tend to be sidelined when the main business of the day is to secure victory.
Strachan did not sound entirely convinced he could find a space for Adam. Among the reasons given for his inclusion was the fact “he couldn’t be ignored”.
Indeed, how could Strachan have not chosen a player who had scored five goals in his last eight appearances at the top level in England without inviting some comment? That is more than Steven Fletcher has struck in an entire domestic season and yet he remains Scotland’s principal hope for goals.
Strachan would have been ridiculed had he continued to exclude a player whose late-season splurge included a 66-yard effort against a goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, who is reckoned to be among the best in the world. But Adam is more than a one-trick pony.
It might be that Scotland are so well furnished for midfielders that he will remain on the outside looking in, although at least he will be among the substitutes on the bench, rather than excluded entirely.
What is most pleasing is that a talent in danger of being lost to the national side has been restored, for the time being at least.
Surely the Scotland squad is better for having one of the most talented Scottish footballers of his generation included within its number.