Webster not fit for Levein’s purpose

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SCOTLAND manager Craig Levein today explained his decision to overlook the Hearts defender Andy Webster for the forthcoming friendly with Cyprus in Larnaca.

Levein said he is unconvinced over whether Webster can play two games in a matter of days, as would be required during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, and that he needs to maintain fitness before earning a recall to the national team.

Webster has played consistently for Hearts since recovering from a groin injury sustained on the opening day of the season against Rangers.

Levein hinted last week that his form could lead to him returning to the Scotland squad for the encounter in Cyprus on Friday week, but the player was omitted when the squad was announced yesterday.

Asked about the situation, Levein reiterated his admiration for Webster, a player he nurtured whilst manager of Hearts after luring him to Tynecastle from Arbroath in March 2001.

He is keen to welcome the 29-year-old back into the international fold, but stressed he must be convinced of his fitness and reliability first.

“I’m always looking at Andy Webster. He needs to play a run of games without injury,” said Levein. “A lot of the games in the qualification process for Brazil will involve double headers. At this minute in time, Andy struggles to play two games within three days. I need him playing every week and in a position where he can play two games and be reliable.

“Anybody can get injured, but if you’ve got a history of being injured whenever there’s two games within a short space of time then that’s a factor. I’m delighted to see him back. He’s still got a bit to go to be 100 per cent, but I’m a huge fan of Andy Webster. I just need him back playing. It’s just playing games, that’s all it is.”

Fitness permitting, Webster will come into contention for international friendlies next spring as Levein looks to assess all possible options with the World Cup qualifying campaign beginning next September.

The manager has chosen to utilise as many international dates as possible on the fixtures calendar next year and admitted this was an area where he had previously been found wanting. With hindsight, he conceded he should have taken every opportunity to gather his squad after being appointed by the SFA late in 2009.

“I didn’t realise how the lack of contact with the players detracts significantly from how easy it is to do the job, if that makes sense,” he continued.

“We played a game in March 2010 that was already arranged. I didn’t take a game in the summer before we played Sweden. So we had two games for me to get to know the players and to work out a way of playing. That was all we had before the qualifiers and it wasn’t enough.

“We’re going to have four games this time. I could probably fit another game in Austria, but the time on the training ground is important as well. It’s contact time.

“I can pinpoint certain situations that helped. The time together with the players at the Carling Nations Cup, the Brazil game was another and the double headers in the qualifiers. Those have been the biggest contributory factors to our improvement because we were able to spend time on the training ground.

“I’ve said before that I didn’t understand the job at the start and what was important. My first concern was not upsetting managers by taking their players. That was the wrong way to look at it. I probably did the job of national team manager a disservice by doing that, although it kept managers at the clubs happy.

“I’m trying my best to get the balance right – so that the players go back to their clubs in a good frame of mind – rather than not taking them. There are only certain dates when you are allowed to play games and I am taking them all.”