Alex McLeish hints at Scotland recalls for Steven Fletcher and James McArthur

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At least Alex McLeish can now relish a few weeks’ respite before he must face the cameras again. While he may be out of the public eye, the under pressure Scotland manager will be no less purposely engaged with the task in hand.

He will really earn his corn as he travels from game to game assessing candidates before assembling a group of names for the upcoming Nations League fixtures against Albania and Israel.

Alex McLeish, centre, has hinted at recalls for James McArthur (left) and Steven Fletcher. Pictures: SNS Group

Alex McLeish, centre, has hinted at recalls for James McArthur (left) and Steven Fletcher. Pictures: SNS Group

McLeish knows this squad will be picked over like rarely before. He also knows there’s a chance it could be the last Scotland squad he announces.

His reign will not necessarily stand or fall on the result of the first game in Shkoder.

Contrary to the feeling before Israel’s win over Albania on Sunday night, everything will not rest on the opening assignment of Scotland’s next double-header.

Scotland can lose narrowly in Albania and still qualify providing they beat Israel by two or more goals – or without conceding – at Hampden on 20 November.

What’s certain is they need to beat Israel in order to top Group C1 which means it’s imperative McLeish finds the right blend in his next squad. It’s enough to keep one up at night.

“You feel as if the world is caving in on you and then you get that thing the next day when you wake up after a half-decent sleep – thanks to a sleeping pill – and you go again,” McLeish said yesterday when asked about the emotional toll following defeats by Israel and then Portugal.

“You pick yourself up,” he added. “I’ve not walked in your shoes – you guys have pressure and I’ve grown to understand that over the years and we’re the same. 
“As Fergie once said, ‘football, bloody hell’.”

“Have I felt it? I don’t read it but you educate me on some vitriolic things that have been said. Listen, if you look at the social media since time began it’s a place for that. It’s a window for that sort of stuff.”

It’s not as if McLeish hasn’t known pressure before. He’s coped with it in various places and in various stages of his career. But he might not have tasted quite so much vitriol.

There’s a mix of reasons for this, including his Rangers association and support for the Better Together campaign before the 2014 independence referendum.

But principally, it’s because his record now stands at six defeats in eight outings. No one, certainly no Scotland manager, could expect a period of grace to extend this far.

McLeish knows he needs to rectify matters – and fast. There are bridges to mend, old associations to revive.

He mentioned Steven Fletcher, who last played for Scotland a year ago against Slovenia, as a potential contender to return to the international scene now he is playing again for Sheffield Wednesday.

This might depend on whether Leigh Griffiths answers the phone the next time McLeish calls to assess his commitment to the cause.

The Celtic striker can also enlighten McLeish about whether he’s found the fitness he claimed eluded him when he withdrew last time out.

“The Griffiths one is remarkable how it gets blown up,” McLeish said yesterday. “I spoke to Leigh and we had what I felt was an amicable conversation.”

The continued struggles at this level of Swansea City’s Oli McBurnie, who McLeish describes as a “work in progress”, increases the need for alternative options up front.

The manager might also go cap in hand to James McArthur, the Crystal Palace midfielder who indicated to McLeish he was unavailable for selection while managing a back injury that has not prevented him playing for his club.

The manager knows it’s not gone unnoticed that since he succeeded Strachan, Scotland’s results have fallen off a cliff.

Some are wondering why he does not go back to mainstays of Strachan’s time in charge – tried and tested Scotland players, such as Darren Fletcher, James McArthur and James Morrison.

This sense of McLeish being haunted by ghosts of a recent past can’t be helped by knowing Strachan and Darren Fletcher are in the Sky Sports television studio at Hampden analysing each home game.

So critical is next month’s pair of concluding qualifiers, McLeish will consider a return to some of the old guard to help Scotland get over the line.

As well as McLeish’s desire to freshen things up, there are other factors explaining why some of these players have not been involved as much under him to date.

“Most of the guys Gordon had have not been playing in the last six months,” reasoned McLeish. “Steven Fletcher is back on the scene at Sheffield Wednesday and we’ll look at that with interest.

“Don’t get me wrong I love the guys with nous and a little bit of experience. I know what a difference it makes in terms of players with experience – such as Darren [Fletcher].”

He plans to make moves to include McArthur. “Listen you can definitely try,” he said. “I’d have liked James to have been with us from the beginning of the campaign.

“Guys like him and Darren know the position and where to go and the young guys who have played in recent months are having to learn fast. 
“But we have players who are getting better and better with the experiences they are getting.”