Scotland boss Alex McLeish challenges new faces to prove themselves

Scotland manager Alex McLeish with his backroom staff: James McFadden, left, Peter Grant and Stevie Woods, right, after his squad announcement at Hampden.Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Scotland manager Alex McLeish with his backroom staff: James McFadden, left, Peter Grant and Stevie Woods, right, after his squad announcement at Hampden.Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Alex McLeish has challenged his new-look Scotland squad to prove they are the future.

Nine uncapped players were included as the manger named his first squad since returning to the post last month.

Included in the 27-strong group for friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary are Hibs midfielder Dylan McGeouch and Oli McBurnie, the centre-forward currently on loan at Barnsley from Swansea.

They are among six completely new call-ups, as is Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, Wolves left-back Barry Douglas and Aberdeen centre-half Scott McKenna. McLeish said it was now a case of them proving they can make the step up in what he described as a “fresh start” for Scotland.

While there were reasons for the absence of senior players such as James Morrison and Barry Bannan, who are injured, McLeish claimed that had the Costa Rica and Hungary games been competitive fixtures he would have left the squad largely as it is.

The comments suggest the international careers of mainstays such as Darren Fletcher are drawing to a conclusion if they haven’t ended already.

Robert Snodgrass, the 30-year-old midfielder on loan at Aston Villa from West Ham, is another notable omission.

Apart from Scott Brown, who retired for the second time last month, McLeish revealed no player has intimated to him they no longer wished to be included.

Steven Naismith, Ikechi Anya, Chris Martin and James McArthur, regulars under Gordon Strachan, were also left out. McLeish phoned them all in advance to explain.

“I paid respect to the older fellows,” he said. “They’re not old guys – they’re experienced players and we’re going to need experience. I spoke to all the fellows who have been involved recently and said, ‘I know what you can do. You’re very much in my thoughts but I’m going to look at some other players at this particular international period’.

“Nobody else has retired,” he said. “Nobody has said, ‘Forget about it – that’s me finished now.’ That’s great. I’ve not closed the door on anybody.”

But he admitted he was actively trying to deliver the message change is underway.

“I worked with Genk in Belgium a couple of years ago and we introduced a lot of young players, because of the situation the club was in with financial reconstruction,” he said. “So, coming back and picking a lot of the younger players feels like second nature. Now they have to prove that they can play for Scotland.”

McLeish admitted he felt “panic” a week ago as the deadline approached for naming his squad. But after postponing decision day to yesterday from last Thursday, he felt “more comfortable” with his choices.

Part of the reason for the re-scheduling was to give him the chance to watch two more games – the Edinburgh derby on Friday and Sunday’s Old Firm fixture.

McLeish revealed McGeouch played himself into the squad with his display in Hibs’ 2-0 victory over Hearts.

McLeish said that he had “definitive plans” about how he hoped Scotland might play. He has to find a way to accommodate three left backs – Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson and Douglas, who has made such a strong start to his career at high-flying Championship side Wolves. Tierney could be deployed at left centre-back, as against the Netherlands in November under Malky Mackay, rather than right-back, as happened under Strachan.

“Unless it was an emergency, it is not in my plans to go forward with Tierney as the right back for Scotland,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about systems, but you can see the way Tierney and Robertson fitted in at Pittodrie (v the Netherlands).

“That is a good option for us. You want to get your best players in the team and those are two of the best players that the country has produced.”

McLeish appeared to place Christophe Berra’s international future in some doubt after 41 caps. Although currently struggling with an ankle injury, the 33 year-old Hearts defender, who is in the running to be named Scotland’s player of the year, had already been informed he was not being considered this time.

“Christophe knew where I was coming from and was fine,” said McLeish.

“There are no doors being shut on anybody,” said McLeish “I know what he’s done for the country, and we appreciate it.”