Scotland manager Alex McLeish has urged his midfield players to “step into the breach” and fill the fresh void left in his selection options by James McArthur’s decision to retire from international football.
The 31-year-old Crystal Palace midfielder announced his decision yesterday as he opts to focus solely on his club career with the English Premier League side.
McArthur won the last of his 32 Scotland caps in the 2-2 draw away to Slovenia a year ago which officially ended the country’s hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup finals.
Despite playing regularly for Palace, for whom he signed a new three-year contract last month, the former Hamilton and Wigan player claims “physical issues” now prevent him from committing himself to Scotland any longer.
It’s another blow for McLeish in the midfield department after Celtic captain Scott Brown announced his international retirement earlier this year for similar reasons.
“The challenge is for our other midfielders to step into the breach and perform at the level at which James did for Scotland,” said McLeish who next month faces a crucial Nations League double header against Albania and Israel in what has been a difficult start to his second stint in charge of the national team.
Although McLeish never got the opportunity to work with McArthur, who has not been available for any of his recent squads, he paid a warm tribute to the player.
“James has been an integral member of the Scotland national team since his debut back in 2010,” added McLeish.
“We will miss James but we fully respect and understand his need to manage his body as he approaches the latter stages of his career.
“I know that James had his heart set on reaching the coveted 50-cap mark, so for him to retire from international football must have been an extremely difficult decision to make. We wish him all the best for the future – he has been not only a valued team mate but a consummate professional throughout his Scotland career.”
McArthur, who has been an ever present for Crystal Palace in the Premier League so far this season, insists he can only continue to operate in the top flight of English football by making himself unavailable to Scotland.
“It is with much regret that I feel the time has arrived for me to retire from international football,” he said.
“I have been part of the Scotland set up for the last ten years and I am extremely proud to have been selected to represent my country on 32 occasions.
“I have found it increasingly difficult over the last year to manage a number of physical issues. I have debated long and hard about this decision and I feel the only way for me to be able to maintain my fitness in order to continue to play at the top level is to retire from international football.
“I would like to thank all the coaches, staff and fellow players with whom I have shared my Scotland career. It has been an honour. I wish Alex McLeish and his team every success in the future.”