STEVEN Whittaker is convinced his current exclusion from the Norwich City first team is unjust. He is about to discover if it has any adverse impact on the faith shown in him so far by Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.
One of ten English Premier League based players in the Scotland squad this week, Whittaker is not alone in being unable to command automatic first-pick status at his club.
Cardiff City goalkeeper David Marshall, Norwich midfielder Robert Snodgrass and Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher are the only three who can currently rely on being among the first names on their respective managers’ teamsheets every week.
Whittaker’s situation is at least not as extreme as that of Alan Hutton, who remains Strachan’s first choice right-back despite being completely ostracised by Aston Villa this season.
Having been similarly favoured for the left-back role during Strachan’s tenure, with five starts there in Scotland’s last six games, Whittaker is hopeful of retaining his place for Friday night’s match against the USA at Hampden and then against Norway in Molde next Tuesday.
“I am probably not the only player who is maybe not playing as much as they would want to at the minute,” said Whittaker. “There are a few players like that in the squad but they have been given the opportunity to play for Scotland. If you perform well in training, then there is a chance. Hopefully, I can impress in training and play a part in the games. I’m glad to be back up here and, hopefully, get some game time while I’m back with Scotland. I have not been playing with Norwich recently but I have been fit all season.”
After a bright start to the campaign with the Carrow Road club, Whittaker was dropped after a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on 14 September. He returned to the starting line-up for the League Cup tie at Manchester United at the end of October, which saw Norwich lose 4-0, then was substituted at half-time on 2 November as they were crushed 7-0 by Manchester City.
The 29-year-old former Hibs and Rangers player, poised to win his 22nd cap for Scotland on Friday, remains at odds with Norwich manager Chris Hughton’s decision.
“It is frustrating as I don’t feel I have done anything too wrong to not be playing,” said Whittaker. “Everyone knows when they have played poorly or done well. When you play poorly, there is always a chance you can get dropped but I thought I was doing okay and had scored a couple of goals.
“I felt I started the season quite well but I found myself out of the team after one poor result that we had at Spurs. Obviously, not playing week in and week out means you are struggling for match fitness. I just need to keep working hard as it is a long season and there are plenty of games to play, so I just need to wait for my chance. I have had conversations with Chris Hughton. He has explained his reasons. I just need to keep my head down and working hard.
“I got back into the team for the cup tie at Manchester United and then I played on the right of midfield against Manchester City. I was a bit annoyed when I was taken off at half-time. It was partly tactical. We couldn’t get out of our half and I think the manager just wanted to put on a couple of more attack-minded players.
“But I didn’t believe I should have been taken off. Gael Clichy was playing left-back for City and I was right midfield, although I was really playing as a right back. We couldn’t get out of our half.
“When I was on the ball, I felt I was doing alright but the manager decided to make the change and go a bit more attacking. He put a speedy winger on who could be an out-ball for us instead. It was more a tactical change than on performance but it was disappointing.”
Whittaker insists his confidence has not been shaken by losing his club place and he is ready to help Scotland build on a recent run of improved performances and results under Strachan. He added: “If you are maybe not playing well and get dropped, then you do feel down in the dumps and it can affect your confidence.
“But I feel I have played well enough to stay in the team. I am trying to keep that positive attitude and make sure I’m ready to grab the opportunity when it comes my way. I am still as determined on the training field. I’m not the type of player that needs a cuddle, I just get on with it. I will keep my head down and work hard.
“I missed Scotland’s last game against Croatia because of suspension. I thought the lads were brilliant again. It is a good group of boys here and they are all confident. We are looking forward to what we can achieve with Scotland.”