Whittaker delighted at rebirth of his Scotland career

The birth of his second child, daughter Ebony-Rose, ensured Steven Whittaker didn't have too much time to mope about his absence from the Scotland squad.

Scotland's Steven Whittaker. Picture: SNS
Scotland's Steven Whittaker. Picture: SNS

Along with his infant son, Hayden, the new arrival meant he had plenty to occupy the extra hours on his hands during international breaks.

While that family time was precious for Whittaker, however, there is no disguising his delight this week at being back in the Scotland fold for the crucial World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Malta. The 33-year-old, pictured, never abandoned hope of adding to his 31 caps for his country but admits it wasn’t uppermost in his thoughts when he rejoined Hibernian this summer after five years in English football with Norwich City.

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“My last game was the friendly against Denmark [at Hampden in March 2016] which was just before the birth of my daughter,” said Whittaker.

“So I’ve been out of the squad for around 18 months, it’s been a while. I fell out of favour at Norwich City, I wasn’t playing a lot of games.

“Now I’ve moved back up the road and I’m enjoying playing every week for Hibs again. I’m delighted to get back in the Scotland squad.

“Having kids is amazing and it does give you a different outlook on life. Other things become more of a priority. But I love coming away with Scotland and we are here to give it our all and try and get the results that we need in the next two games.

“Scotland wasn’t in my thinking when I made the move to Hibs. Because I’d been out of the international picture for a year and a half, I just wanted to get back playing at club level.

“I’ve got a young family and I also wanted to get them settled. I got a three-year deal at Hibs and I just want to enjoy the last few years of my career.

“That was my main focus but if I was playing regularly again at club level, then Scotland was at the back of my mind. I look at Darren Fletcher or Gordon Greer, who have both been in Scotland squads to a good age.

“Of course it does cross your mind that you have maybe won the last of your caps. All I could do was get back up the road and get playing again. When these things come along, it’s great to be back at this level.”

Whittaker’s passion for Scotland has never waned and he was an enthralled armchair spectator in June when Leigh Griffiths’ free-kick double electrified the nation in the 2-2 draw with England at Hampden.

“I watched the England game as a fan,” he added. “Like the whole country, when Griff’s second goal went in, I was absolutely buzzing. I just watched it in the house with my son.

“At that stage, I wasn’t thinking that the next time Scotland played I might be involved. But I never gave up on the fact that it might happen.”

Whittaker’s next challenge will be to claim a place in Gordon Strachan’s starting line-up and he hopes to capitalise on the relative lack of resources the Scotland manager has in the right-back department.

“We have generally got great strength in depth in the squad,” he said. “I think I am viewed more as a right-back here, because we have two great left-backs as it is in Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney and they are fighting it out to play there.

“They are both doing fantastic and right-back is an area that we are not blessed with many numbers. I am just happy to be here and I will be delighted to play anywhere if selected.”

A return to Lithuania does not exactly prompt happy memories in Whittaker’s mind. He played for Rangers when they 
suffered a shock 2-1 Champions League exit in Kaunas in 2008 and was part of the Scotland side which struggled to a drab 0-0 draw there two years later in Craig Levein’s first competitive fixture as manager. “Lithuanian sides have caused problems for Scottish teams at both club and international level,” said Whittaker.

“In the opening game of this campaign we needed a late goal to equalise against them at Hampden.

“The game in Kaunas for Rangers is not a very good memory. We could not get going and it really was a struggle. It wasn’t to be and we did not perform anywhere near to the standard that we should have and that is how we were defeated.

“It was a massive disappointment at the time but you try and learn from it and hopefully I am in a better place now and I will try and not let it happen again.”