Former Hibs kid Jamie McCluskey believes his best mate Steven Fletcher can help fire Scotland to World Cup glory in Wales tonight.
And he claimed if the Sunderland striker and Scotland boss Craig Levein had patched up their differences earlier the team could have been much closer to Rio for the first finals on South American soil in 36 years.
After two home draws against Serbia, and then Macedonia, Levein bit the bullet and made the call which led to Fletcher ending his international exile of 20 months, caused after he sent a text message to an SFA official stating he didn’t want to be picked for a friendly against Northern Ireland.
Now McCluskey, a lifelong friend of the £14 million striker who has scored five goals for the Black Cats this season and was named as the English Premier League’s player of the month for September, reckons it’s a move that will pay dividends for Scotland’s hopes of qualification.
Backing his pal to come back with a bang, starting at the Cardiff City Stadium tonight, McCluskey, now with Dundee, said: “I know he can’t wait to pull on a Scotland jersey again. Steven just wants to put everything behind him and help Scotland get back on track in their qualifying campaign. Steven has everything, he is brilliant in the air and cool in front of goal. That is something Scotland need if they are to qualify, which is going to be an uphill task from here.
“He is scoring goals in the Premier League for fun, so there are some international defenders who need to beware. The day before the squad was announced he sent me a text saying that Craig had phoned him and he had agreed to go back – I am buzzing for him.”
Although their careers have gone different ways since they were kids at Easter Road together – McCluskey leaving for spells with St Johnstone, Wrexham and St Mirren before arriving at Dens Park, while Fletcher has been involved in transfer deals totalling around £24m as he moved to Burnley, Wolves and now the Black Cats – the pair have remained firm friends.
So close are they that they spent part of the summer on holiday together in Los Angeles with their girlfriends while barely a week goes by without them meeting up in Edinburgh for a meal or exchanging tweets on the social network site Twitter.
McCluskey, who at the time became the SPL’s youngest ever player, aged just 16 years and 79 days, when he made his Hibs debut against Kilmarnock at the beginning of 2004, added: “We are very, very close. We loved our time at Hibs; he has gone on to England and now he is absolutely flying.
“Going to Sunderland was a great move for him – he loves it down there especially with his mum and her new husband staying in Durham. He is buzzing his family can come and watch him.
“He seems a very happy man which can only bode well for him coming back on Scotland duty. I knew as soon as he moved to Sunderland he would score goals.
“He is with better players now, so he has come on as a player himself.
“At Burnley and Wolves he was maybe only getting a chance a game, now he is getting two or three chances to score and knowing Steven, he is a great finisher.
“It is going to be tough for Scotland to come back because of the teams around them but he has the ability to score goals. Hopefully they can get a good result against Wales and kick on against Belgium.”