GORDON Strachan has dismissed doubts over Scott Brown’s international future and insists the Celtic captain will continue to lead Scotland into their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Brown will be 31 when Strachan’s squad begin their quest to reach the finals in Russia with their opening Group F fixture in Malta next September.
The combative midfielder, whose unforgiving style of play has seen him sustain a number of injuries in recent years, had raised some concerns over whether he would retire from international football in the aftermath of Scotland’s failure to make it to next summer’s Euro 2016 finals in France.
“It’s hard on everyone’s body,” said Brown after the 2-2 draw against Poland at Hampden last month which confirmed Scotland’s elimination and left him a visibly distraught figure at full-time.
“There’s a lot of games [with Scotland] and not a lot of holidays for us. We’ll see where that goes when it comes around.”
But Strachan revealed he has been assured that Brown, who is just one cap short of 50 appearances and a place on the SFA’s roll of honour, will commit himself to another campaign.
“No, he’s not weighing it up,” said Strachan. “You’ll have to ask him, but I know he’s not weighing it up. I don’t think you need to ask.”
Strachan has pointed to the continuing commitment of his players as one of the prime factors in his own decision to sign a new contract as Scotland boss.
“The feedback I have got from everybody, then it’s easy for me to continue my job,” he added. “Nobody has spoken to me about retiring from international football. I can understand when you get to a certain age, you think ‘I’ve given it my best shot’.
“I worked it out that in the last campaign it was 66 days they were away from home without pay. I defy anybody to say ‘I am away for 66 days, I am not getting paid by the way, all the best dear, you look after the three kids.’ I can understand that.
“So the reason you take the job is because from their enthusiasm, you think ‘yeah, I can do this again with these guys’. If I thought there’s an indifference to that or maybe they are all getting too old, then I probably would have felt it’s not for me.
“Maybe that would have been unfair on the next manager coming in but I could only have gone on if I saw that enthusiasm from the players.
“I know that the players fully believe, because we have players turning up now with injuries, knowing they are not going to be fit, just to be part of it. I think that’s great.”
Strachan certainly appeared re-energised for the task in hand as he spoke this week during his spell working with the Scotland Under-21 squad.
He was dismissive of suggestions he and his players had been guilty of celebrating failure last month when they posed for photographs and took the acclaim of the Tartan Army following the dead rubber Euro 2016 6-0 win over Gibraltar in Faro.
“We weren’t celebrating anything,” he insisted. “It was just a thank you for helping us out in a dark moment for us, because the two days previous to that game was a dark moment. It was basically a thank you to all these people who turned up because the weather wasn’t nice.
“That was never planned, it was just spur of the moment. Thinking, ‘Jesus, I would like to get my picture taken with this lot’. That’s all it was. No matter who you are, it’s also good to say thank you to somebody who has tried to help you. It wasn’t just for the ones that went to Gibraltar, it was the ones who went to Germany, Georgia, Poland. Everybody you meet from the Tartan Army tells you they have enjoyed going to the games. That was great for me and over the last month I’ve met more and more of these people. I’ve been on winning and losing sides, but I still appreciate the help I get from anybody.
“We’ve also had times where we’ve not qualified and not played well and the fans have not been as gracious, that’s for sure. I’ve been on the receiving end of it as manager when I first took over, and as a player.
“But you’ve got to remember that they say more than anybody at that point. It’s different if you’re at a club side where they have to show a loyal support. With Scotland, it’s their choice. It’s up to the Scotland fans whether or not they say ‘yeah, we’re happy with what you’re doing lads’, or ‘no we’re not’.
“And what we got was a big yes. We were all hugely disappointed, of course we were, but we all understand as well that we were in a hard group. Poland didn’t beat us, the Republic didn’t beat us, and we gave Germany two great games. It was basically the Georgia one that did it for us.”
Strachan also expressed his optimism that Scotland can progress from a World Cup qualifying group which pits them against England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.
But he accepts finishing runners-up in their group and claiming a place in the play-offs is their most realistic route to the finals as he regards England as hot favourites to top the section and qualify automatically.
“It will be really hard for us to win the group,” he said. “If you look at England now, winning ten games on the trot in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, that’s a hard thing to do.
“They have a huge array of players to pick from. The rest of us have certain players we might struggle without. We’d maybe have to change our system if a couple don’t play.
“England could play the same system with whichever players they’ve got. Do I see them as potential winners of the Euros next summer? I hope not! But they have top, top players. They have players with pace who can do something a bit different. So they are the threat.
“But I think we can qualify, yeah, I do. I honestly do. I don’t know if it’s a harder or easier group than we had for the Euros, because you don’t know yet how the other teams have improved. But if we can keep our group of players together like a club side, then we will get better.”