Cometh the hour, cometh the man for Scotland?
08/10/2012 § Leave a comment
Stuttering would be the best word to describe Craig Levein’s reign as Scotland manager so far. The Kingdom of Fife native walked through the doors of Hampden and took over as national team manager back in 2009 and filled the nation with fresh hope, and a real sense of optimism and belief, following so many let downs from the previous regime under out of sync George Burley. An open goal miss by Chris Iwelumo springs to mind. A memory no doubt members of the Tartan Army will never forget for all the wrong reasons.
Since Levein became Scotland manager, the ex Dundee United boss’s claim to fame includes a narrow win against the minnows of Lithuania, and then victories against Liechtenstein twice (home and away), as well as a spirited 3-2 defeat against World and European Champions Spain on home soil. Apart from that, results have been average at best. Scotland failed to qualify for Euro 2012 under Levein, even though a controversial penalty was given against them in the penultimate game against the Czech Republic at Hampden. That spot kick cost the Scots a win and instead gave them a 2-2 draw.
So now all eyes and focus has turned to Rio, Brazil 2014 and the World Cup Qualifiers. Scotland have begun their campaign with uninspiring home draws against Serbia and Macedonia, who it certainly can’t be said are clear giants of world football. Now the Tartan Army face an away double header and trips to home nations rival Wales and the much improved Belgium. The Scots so far sit in 4th place in their group, already two points behind Serbia, Croatia and Belgium respectfully.
Victory in Wales is a must to provide any chance of qualification it would seem. That thought arguably has lead to one last kick at the can for Levein, and in naming his squad, one particular player has been brought back from the international wilderness. That man is Steven Fletcher.
The striker recently completed a £14 million move from Wolves to Sunderland and has already scored five goals in five games for the Premier League side including a notable full debut brace in a draw away to Swansea City. Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill recently said that it would be good to see his main man back in the Scotland fold- well O’Neill now has his wish.
However, it was back in February 2011 that Fletcher’s feud with Levein began. Having dropped him for a friendly against the Faroe Islands the previous November, Levein then recalled Fletcher that February for a game against Northern Ireland in the Carling Nations Cup. Fletcher informed the SFA via text that he no longer wanted to be declared available for selection under Levein. Ever since, Fletcher has been left out in the cold and has been nowhere near a dark blue jersey, despite scintillating form domestically.
But now, after a case of needs must, the two have effectively made up somehow and Levein has included the striker in his squad for the next two games, with goals and results a must. The manager, on his decision to recall Fletcher, said at a recent press conference the decision was a “no brainer” and that “he should have ended the feud ages ago.”
Fletcher’s international form so far has been somewhat stuttering itself. Eight appearances and only one goal, a headed winner in a 2-1 Hampden victory against Iceland way back in April 2009.
Now Levein has turned to the English-born frontman to deliver glory to his country and possibly save the gaffer from the axe.
Also included in the squad for the games against Wales and Belgium is Manchester United ace and Fletcher’s namesake Darren alongside Celtic captain Scott Brown, both on return from injury. Like Fletcher, both are destined to start in Cardiff, a move that should also see Gary Caldwell move back to his more natural centre back position after being deployed in a holding midfield role against Macedonia and the Serbs.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Levein though. The former Hearts favourite has introduced new exciting young talent to the national team in the shape of Craig Mackail-Smith, Paul Dixon, Barry Bannan, Robert Snodgrass, Jordan Rhodes and Jamie Mackie just to name a few. However, like every manager in football, it’s a results driven business.
If Levein can’t come up with a win in Wales, no doubt his Scotland flame will be burning out and he will forever be remembered as the man who once played with no striker in the Czech Republic and relied on a desperate 97th minute Steven McManus header to defeat unheard of Liechtenstein.
Can Steven Fletcher resurrect both Levein’s tenure as Scotland manager and his country’s World Cup hopes? Well, we’re gonna find out!