Scotland may have lost a captain with Scott Brown’s decision to step away from international football, but they have not lost the captain.
With the role now set to revert to Brown’s predecessor, Darren Fletcher, the country’s national team will be led into their World Cup campaign by not only their most experienced and most decorated player, but – as an ever-present for mid-table English Premiership side West Bromich Albion last season – their most high-level performer.
Fletcher is an articulate and conscientious 32-year-old who, it would be difficult to dispute, is the most courageous and strong-willed character in Scottish football for the manner in which he remade his career following an inflammatory bowel condition that seemed certain to destroy it.
The fact Fletcher possessed the will and determination to find a way back for country, as well as club, is testament to the 73-times capped midfielder’s patriotism, as much as his perseverance.
He admitted recently that he spent the best part of 18 months playing “from memory” following an operation that allowed him to manage his condition successfully from late 2013.
In turn, this allowed him to find a new lease of life with a move to the Hawthorns from Manchester United in February last year.
As Fletcher worked his way back, national manager Strachan, who will hand him the armband when the latest qualification tilt begins in Malta next Sunday, could not offer him much competitive football. The Scotland manager required to speak of his re-establishment in cautious, careful tones. No longer, with Strachan confirming he is happy to make the country’s fifth most-capped performer a mainstay in the quest to end a 20-year exile from major finals.
“He gets a game every week at West Brom and if Tony Pulis is picking him every week in the Premier League and trusting him, I’m happy to follow his guide,” said Strachan.
“When he first came back he broke himself in gently but he’s off the leash now, more comfortable about everything he’s doing and he knows fine well everything is behind him.
“When he first came back he must have been wondering ‘how am I going to feel? Am I going to be the same Darren Fletcher?’ Now he knows he is and he’s getting on with it. We all look up to him – not just the players but the coaching staff as well.
“Not many of us – if any – have done what he’s done. He’s a man who makes very few headlines and doesn’t need them; doesn’t need to be a celebrity off the pitch.
“He only wants to be a good player on it. He only wants to be a good team-mate and help people round about him. For me, that’s a fantastic footballer and a fantastic man.”
Admiration for Fletcher was universal in his refusal to mump, moan or make himself unavailable as he consistently turned up for international squads only to prove essentially a behind-the-scenes supporter of those being picked ahead of him.
“He was a still a leader – but there are a couple like that,” said Strachan. “Russell Martin, Gordon Greer, they’re more vocal and outgoing, so we weren’t lacking in that quality.”
There is another who can be placed in that bracket, who can be considered a potentially pivotal player of the rebooted variety. Robert Snodgrass was an integral player as Scotland began the last Euro campaign looking like a would-be qualifier.
His loss as a consequence of a serious knee injury that cost him the 2014-15 season, robbed the national side of an attacking impetus. As an integral part of Hull City’s surprise start to the English Premier League following promotion this past month, the 28-year-old attacker has shown just how influential a creative force he can be at the highest level, although there were concerns over his fitness last night when he was taken off during the second half of the defeat by Manchester United.
“He is a top player,” said Strachan. “He is loving his game at the moment and that is great when you have people like that coming along. That is a plus and bonus for him right away when I come to pick the team. He is also a radiator.
“When he walks into a room he radiates. These are the type of people you need when you are picking a squad.
“Not everyone can be like that. He has a bit of life about him and people like that.
“He has come back feeling good about himself and if you add the five new players we have picked over the last few friendlies, plus [James] Forrest plus Snodgrass, then you are looking at a revitalised squad.”