CRAIG Levein revealed that he regrets his failure to resolve his dispute with Steven Fletcher sooner and believes mutual stubborness was behind the striker’s two-year exile from the Scotland squad.
• Steven Fletcher indicated his desperation to come back and play, and had spoken with Craig Levein • Fletcher hasn’t played for Scotland since late 2010
• Darren Fletcher also earns a recall to international side
Fletcher was dramatically and unexpectedly recalled to the international fold by Levein when the Scotland manager named a 25-man party for the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifying matches away to Wales and Belgium on 12 and 16 October.
The 25-year-old’s irresistible scoring form for Sunderland in the English Premier League this season, following his £12 million transfer to the Wearside club from Wolves, had ramped up the pressure on Levein to soften his stance in the fall-out which developed in the wake of Fletcher not even being named among the substitutes for the infamous 1-0 Euro 2012 qualifying defeat by Czech Republic in Prague two years ago.
Fletcher subsequently informed the SFA by text message that he did not wish to be considered for the Carling Nations Cup tie against Northern Ireland in February 2011, prompting Levein’s decision to exclude the player until he received a direct indication of a change of heart.
In May this year, Levein announced that Fletcher’s omission was permanent as far as he was concerned. Despite a recent suggestion by Fletcher on Twitter that he would welcome a recall, there was no prior indication of the U-turn performed by Levein.
The manager, under increasing scrutiny after Scotland’s stuttering start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, with two home draws against Serbia and Macedonia last month, made the decision to call Fletcher on Monday night after being informed by an unnamed third party that the former Hibs and Wolves striker wished to return.
Levein, who will hold a face-to-face meeting with Fletcher later this week, conceded that he should not have allowed the impasse to drag on as long as it did.
“It goes back to the original situation,” reflected Levein.
“I look back on it and I regret that, at that minute in time, I didn’t do something about it. That was the time to tackle it.
“The boy is probably just as stubborn as me but there is no point in going over old ground now. We had a decent conversation on the phone.
“In my time as manager, I’ve had lots of confrontations with players over the years. But none of them has ever lasted this long.
“The important thing now is that we move on and we both have the opportunity to do as well as we can for Scotland in these games. I felt it was the right thing to do. Once I got an indication Steven was ready to have a chat and wanted to play, I felt I had to call him. If I didn’t, we would be back in the same old position. I decided to take the bull by the horns and get it done.
“Steven couldn’t have been more receptive, he was great.
“In all honesty, I think he was sick of the whole thing as well. It is good to get him back on board. It was becoming a sideshow and it was difficult to
ignore, so I am really pleased to get him back.”
While the return of Steven Fletcher inevitably dominated Levein’s squad announcement at Hampden, the manager was equally enthused by the return of the striker’s namesake Darren. The Manchester United midfielder’s progress in battling a career-threatening bowel condition means he is in line to
reclaim the captain’s armband for the fixtures in Cardiff and Brussels. “Darren is a remarkable boy,” said Levein. “With what he has been through and is still dealing with, he is managing to keep completely focused on playing again for arguably the biggest club in the world. I went to watch him play for United against Newcastle last week and he was excellent.
“I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson about it and he was fully supportive of the decision to bring him back into the Scotland squad.”
Celtic captain Scott Brown also returns to reinforce Levein’s midfield options, having missed the Serbia and Macedonia games through injury, but there is again no place for his in-form Parkhead team-mate Kris
“People look at it and say Kris should be in the squad,” said Levein. “But I’ve got to look at it and say who am I going to leave out? I don’t feel any of the
midfield players of a similar type to Kris deserves to be left out. Kris is doing well just now, but sometimes it just comes down to loyalty.”
West Bromwich Albion wide man Graham Dorrans and Cardiff City midfielder Don Cowie also miss out, as does Huddersfield Town left-back Paul Dixon, despite his stand-out displays after being called up as a late
replacement last month.
“He must be the most aggrieved man of all,” said Levein. “He came in and did a brilliant job for us in the last two games. But I’ve got Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Fox available again and I have to make these decisions.”
Everton forward Steven Naismith was named in the squad but Levein is fearful the player will be ruled out of both matches by Fifa whose disciplinary committee will meet on Friday to adjudicate on the 26-year-old’s off the ball clash with
Serbian player Srdan Mijailovic last month.
“I’ve got 25 players in the squad when normally I carry 24, so I’ve covered for it if Steven is suspended,” added Levein. “I’m not hugely hopeful about Steven’s situation. We didn’t get anywhere with our request to Fifa for clarification on how he came to be reported. The hearing is on Friday, so we will find out then.”
Scotland squad in full:
Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Christophe Berra (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
Darren Fletcher (Manchester United)
Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)
James Forrest (Celtic)
Daniel Fox (Southampton)
Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers)
Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)
James McArthur (Wigan Athletic)
Allan McGregor (Besiktas)
Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers)
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Russell Martin (Norwich City)
Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Matt Phillips (Blackpool)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers)
Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City)
Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian)