Saturday, February 06, 2010

Back in blue

If The West Wing is to believed - and the few strands of sanity I cling to would fall from my grasp if it is not - then Friday is "take out the trash day." The day when you bury any controversial stories in a blizzard of releases on the premise that nobody bothers with the news on a Saturday.

I'm sure that it was only coincidence then that Craig Levein chose yesterday to confirm the return of at least three prodigals to the international fold. Not that yesterday would have been an ill timed day to bury bad news what with MP's facing prosecution, England's Brave John Terry getting a curt arrivederci and rugby vying for a spot on the back pages.

Levein, a man of steely eyed focus, has always made it clear that he feels a responsibility to have all his best players at his disposal. Finally sealing the deal with that serial international tease Andrew Driver is proof of that determination.

But it is the potential return of Kris Boyd, Allan McGregor and Barry Ferguson that will raise eyebrows.

There will be those that feel that Boyd shouldn't be given the indulgence of picking the international managers he wants to play for. And will another walkout prove to be as undermining to the Burley regime as it was to George Burley's? If, as Levein has hinted, Lee McCulloch is preparing to make himself available the same questions will be asked.

McGregor is likely to return only as a squad member and even his reprieve might not be enough to ignite an international career that has never really got going in light of Craig Gordon's consistency in Scotland colours.

The return of Captain Barry is the most intriguing prospect. In a week when disgraced international captains have been big news it is interesting to note that player power in football has now evolved to such a stage that simply shafting your manager and a nation's fans is but a blip on the path to forgiveness.

Except that, for all Levein's wooing, Barry is not set for an immediate return. He's got commitment to his clubs you see, so he can't make himself readily available. I think that sound you hear is an olive branch being snapped by an ungrateful wretch.

If he was serious about redemption - although you must question if he accepts any fault - then Ferguson should have said that he's available immediately. If he wants to concentrate on his club career then he should have politely declined the invite from Levein and announced his international retirement.

To stall suggests that Ferguson has lost none of the arrogance that surrounded him and his Ibrox cabal. It was that arrogance that led to his international hiatus in the first place. In that light the reintroduction of his mates Boyd, McGreggor and McCulloch must also be seen as a high risk strategy for a novice international manager.

Craig Levein, as Alan Patullo's excellent Scotsman article showed yesterday, knows his own mind. He has a fixed vision of how he will run Scotland and he won't waver from it. At the moment ensuring the availability of everybody in what is a small talent pool is his paramount concern. Once they're available he doesn't need to name them in the squad or hand them starting places. It might be that only when he discovers how they react to a rebuttal like that will he feel that he can gauge the true measure of them.

In the meantime the slightest potential of a recall will anger entire regiments of the Tartan Army.

My own view is not quite black and white. All the players concerned have shown a disregard for the team and that shouldn't be taken lightly. On the other hand I see no reason to dump a whole heap of criticism on a manager who is fighting only a phoney war until September. Time will tell if these are players he grows to rely on or even pick. If he does find himself relying on them it will be down to their success on the pitch and, I guess, that would bring its own redemption for them.

Yet it still niggles that the country has needed these players before and they failed us. For now we have to put faith in the manager. I only hope he's getting it right.

Andrew Driver


What emotive words of allegiance will Andrew Driver have on the eve of his international debut? Time will tell but can we find some clues in the following?
I have been the only English player in the Scottish league who this story applies to so all the attention has been on me but, at the end of the day, I am English, with no Scottish blood in me. I'm delighted to be here, representing England. The aim was always for me to be here. (June 2009)
Or how about?
No, my mind is made up, I want to play for Scotland (February 2010)
The confusion of youth?