Steve Clarke has subverted the old saying “don’t call us, we’ll call you” so that is applies to Steven Fletcher. In the Scotland manager’s version, it is a case of “do call us, because we won’t be calling you”.
Fletcher hasn’t scored in his last five games for Sheffield Wednesday but the striker was on a prodigious run earlier this season, which led to calls for his inclusion in the Scotland squad – and team.
He last played a year ago when Scotland secured top place in their Nations League group and a play-off place with wins over Albania and Israel.
While players such as, most recently, Robert Snodgrass have at least let Clarke know where they stand by announcing their retirement from international football, Fletcher’s intentions with regards to his Scotland career is still a matter of debate. Clarke is none the wiser at present.
“I just look at the boys I select, the ones that come,” he said, ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus in Strovolos on 16 November and Kazakhstan at Hampden three days later.
“The ones that won’t come I can’t do much about. I will work with the boys who turn up to the camp and try to find a way and a system they are all comfortable in.
“It was nice to get a good win [against San Marino] to finish the last double header and we will look to continue that in the two games coming up.”
On the subject of re-opening dialogue with Fletcher, Clarke was asked whether the striker, who has told the Scotland manager he is managing an injury and therefore currently unavailable for selection, would have to be the one to pick up the phone to him.
“Yes, I would think so,” Clarke replied.
Snodgrass: We’ve both moved on, says Clarke
Snodgrass’ decision to announce his retirement shortly after the last double header against Russia and San Marino did not come as a complete surprise to Clarke, despite the player’s marked enthusiasm when he rejoined the squad in September after a year out of the picture. Clarke played the West Ham United midfielder in the 4-0 defeat by Russia last month. He left the camp citing injury prior to the next match against San Marino.
“Obviously, I spoke to Robert last summer to see whether he would come back – and he did,” said Clarke. “But I knew his thoughts around the situation. Listen, he has retired. He phoned me the night before he put it out and I wished him all the best. He will move on and I will move on. And that’s just the way it is.
“I want 25, 26, 27 players who, even if I am leaving them out of the squad, they are saying ‘good luck gaffer, I hope you all do well’.
You want everyone on board. We are trying to build something here. And hopefully we do it quickly.
“He [Snodgrass] has obviously got to the stage of his career where he is thinking he wants to play more club football. I noticed he has played the last two games and scored two goals for West Ham.
“So he will be thinking he has made the right decision. As I said before, it’s gone and there is nothing I can do about it. He wished me well, I wished him well.”
Understandably, Clarke was more interested in talking about those he had called up and those prepared to answer the call.
There was no hesitation from Hearts striker Steven Naismith for example, despite recent injury woes. He was also delighted to welcome back centre halves Scott McKenna and Liam Cooper, particularly with the loss of Charlie Mulgrew and Stuart Findlay from this troublesome area of the park due to hamstring injuries.
“Two in, two out – my revolving centre backs,” he smiled. “I’ve got lots of centre backs if you look. Grant Hanley, John Souttar, David Bates, Craig Halkett – all out injured at the moment.
“Young Ryan Porteous is doing well at Hibs although his team are maybe struggling a little bit. There’s plenty of things can change over the next three or four months.”
As it stands, and with Clarke anticipating the return of the likes of Souttar and Hanley, the need to fast-track Steven Caulker’s change of nationality from England to Scotland, as mooted last month, is not as urgent as it once might have seemed.
Clarke’s evident cooling on the idea is also linked to the fact the former Dundee defender has lost his starting place at Alanyaspor, who currently lead the Super Lig standings in Turkey.
“He hasn’t been playing in Turkey,” said Clarke.
“He’s one we’re monitoring. I’ve rhymed off five Scottish centre backs plus the two boys who are in the squad so we’ve got enough centre backs that are Scottish and available right now.
“Steven is one we’re monitoring.”