A day arrived for Lewis Stevenson yesterday that he must surely have thought would not, could not, ever come. A first Scotland call-up at the age of 30 for the Hibernian left-back marked the biggest surprise of the squad named by Alex Mcleish yesterday for the end-of-season friendlies in Peru and Mexico.
In recent years, Stevenson’s potential for international recognition appeared to have become more remote than the Amazonian jungles that Scotland will fly over en route to Lima for their Peruvian friendly on 30 May.
Fellow left-backs Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson establishing themselves as the country’s foremost talents appeared to allow no way in for the redoubtable Stevenson. The dynamic duo have ensured that the highly-rated Barry Douglas – who will be playing in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers next season – has only won a solitary cap.
However Robertson’s Champions League final engagement with Liverpool in 11 days’ time and Tierney’s 59-game season with Celtic that have led to both players being excused from the squad for the Americas now provides the unlikeliest of openings to the Scotland senior side for Stevenson, whose season began with a testimonial following 12 years as a first-team regular at Easter Road. It is the player’s staying power in games, as well as in the game, that leaves McLeish in no doubt he has earned his break.
“In the games I have watched him, I have seen him in one-to-ones, I have seen him going forward,” said McLeish. “He is very enterprising going forward, putting these delicious balls across the face of the goal that we see Andy Robertson doing week in, week out, Tierney week in week out.
“Lewis has got a little bit more experience than the other boys but they are obviously playing at fantastic levels. Hibs have had a great season. They have played some great football and he has been one of the best players in their team. No doubt about it.
“I have had good reports about him. Stuart Kennedy is a very shrewd guy in terms of his opinion of footballers, and he flagged it up a few weeks ago. I said ‘Stuart, honestly, we’ve got him pencilled in because we have been impressed by him’. He has just taken his experience to a good level this season with Hibs. For a change, we were short of left-siders, would you believe. Andy is out, Tierney is out, [Callum] McGregor is out. I thought Lewis was an obvious candidate.”
Stevenson is well aware that the honour of being selected for his country could be construed as coming by default. It matters to him not a jot.
“I did always dream about playing for Scotland. Even though I know there are top-quality left-backs still available to play and be called up, I am just delighted to be involved,” said the Scotland under-21 international.
“There comes a point when it doesn’t even cross your mind about getting a Scotland call-up. I must have been doing something right this season to be involved and it is something I feel proud about. If I am called upon in the matches, I’ll try my best to help out the team.
“I am 30 years old now, so it has come as a surprise [even if] I was involved in Scotland set-ups at youth level when I was younger.
“The last time I was in an under-21 squad was about ten years ago. I’m sure it is still similar going for international duty where you have to live and breathe football.
“Playing all those years ago has probably given me the experience of what to expect and anything new I will look to adapt quickly. I’ll be eager to grasp the opportunity with both hands, but I’m under no illusions that there are top-quality left-backs throughout the country that couldn’t make this squad, I’ll be trying my best when I pull on the Scotland jersey.”
The Edinburgh-based contingent in a squad that again features his clubmates John McGinn and Dylan McGeough was further swelled by the call for Hearts’ John Souttar.
His first Scotland senior selection could have created the possibility of lining up alongside club’s defensive partner Christophe Berra but for the 33-year-old Hearts captain asking not to be included after feeling the effects of a first season back in Scottish football in nine years.
“Christophe was another one we made a concession for – we asked him to come but he’s struggling a wee bit,” he said. “He’s over 30 and sometimes you have these wee ailments that require the close season to get sorted.”
McLeish hopes his players will “embrace” the opportunity to play football in entirely different environments to their own. “Live the dream,” he said. “It’s incredible to see other cultures. As a footballer it’s fairytale stuff you dream about as a wee boy in primary school.”