CRIAG LEVEIN claims Charlie Mulgrew is the latest in a list of late developers to play their way into the Scotland team.
The Celtic defender featured 11 times for Scotland under-21s but makes his first appearance for the senior team tonight in the friendly against Slovenia in Koper aged 25, as Levein continues preparations for the World Cup qualifiers which begin in September.
The Scotland boss believes Mulgrew, who will play at left-back, is just like several players in the past who have emerged onto the international scene after the “penny has dropped”.
Levein said: “I have had Paul Hartley and Barry Robson, to name two, who have taken their time but the penny has dropped and they have kicked on and the best part of their careers have been the latter part. I really take to them because they are trying to make up for lost time and Charlie is another one. The penny has dropped in his mid-20s and he has improved enormously. So I am delighted for Charlie, it is a great honour for him. Everybody can improve at any age. It is a mental thing, a career thing, it is a decision that players make to knuckle down, work hard, and do their best every single week.
“It is hard to say what happens exactly but I have seen it happen on a regular basis. He would have been in my squad for the last game against Cyprus in November but he had an injury. I spoke to him and he was gutted. If you had said to me two years ago that Charlie Mulgrew would be a starter at international level I would have said no, because in my mind, at that time, he wasn’t. But he’s just playing out of his skin. So credit to Neil Lennon and Celtic for the faith in him and for the faith Charlie has in himself.”
With Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher absent through illness, and Cardiff striker Kenny Miller starting on the bench, Wigan defender Gary Caldwell will be captain, a fitting tribute to one of the great Scottish patriots, according to Levein. “He is captain material through his whole body,” the manager said. “He is a proud, proud Scotsman. Every time he pulls on a Scottish jersey he is delighted. So it was important for me to recognise that.”
As he prepares for his 47th appearance in dark blue, few have been more passionate about playing for their country than the 29-year-old Wigan skipper and he admits he is counting down the games until the magic half-century. “50 caps would mean a lot,” said Caldwell. “As a young boy you get your first cap and it is a huge honour and a big achievement, but you never dream of getting 50.
“The closer you get to it obviously it is closer to your mind that you really want to achieve it and put yourself among the great players of Scottish football.
“It is something I would be really proud of and hopefully I can get there soon. Every time I see my name in the squad I am proud of that and I look forward to playing for my country. As long as I am being picked then I want to come way and be successful with Scotland.”
Caldwell admits his passion for Scotland has not always been shared by team-mates in the past. Asked if he had been in squads where he believed players could take or leave international caps, he said: “I have, yes. You always see that and I think that it happens at every country.
“But when we have the manager we have now (Craig Levein) who is passionate about it, and who has the spirit together, I think everyone who is part of it now is 100 per cent committed to Scotland.”