Monday, February 22, 2010

Levein Czechs in

What does a first squad tell us about the cut of a new national manager's jib?

In the case of Craig Levein we have probably been given a few pointers as to the main themes of his reign.

First the notable absences. No Barry Ferguson who we must assume has ruled himself out. For now. No David Weir either, Levein obviously deciding that a man entering his fifth decade is not a long term solution to any lingering defensive woes.

And, of course, no Allan McGregor, unavailable after the latest of his travails. Innocent victim of unprovoked violence or not, McGregor seems to find himself in unsavoury situations with more regularity than most. He needs to find a way of changing before "outside a Glasgow nightclub" become the epitaph of his career. Getting out of Glasgow this summer might be the best place to start.

In today's papers McGregor's father pleads with Walter Smith to ban the player from going out on the grounds that "he doesn't have the common sense to stop going himself." Obviously this raises the intriguing prospect of father and son playing out their relationship in the tabloids a la Mitch and Amy Winehouse. It also tells us everything we need to know about the issues McGregor needs to address.

There is room in the squad for Ibrox duo Kris Boyd and Lee McCulloch. Each of us with an interest in the national team will have our own thoughts on their inclusion but Craig Levein is nothing if not sure of his own mind. It's now up to the players to repay his faith.

Rangers actually provide six of the squad (not including the on loan Andy Webster), a nod to both their domestic dominance and the nucleus of Scottish players that their austerity has forced on them.

Perhaps the biggest clue to Levein's approach is the inclusion of Gary Kenneth, Webster and Paul Dixon, three defenders from his Dundee United squad. Eyebrows have been raised at this but Levein's Scotland was always likely to be built from the back. The easiest and quickest way to affect those changes is to bring in people who know what is expected from them in training and on the pitch.

We must also acknowledge that Levein has less experience of this level than some of the players he now needs to manage. Again this will be made much easier by having players around the place who he knows will respond to him. The recalled Paul Hartley also falls into this category, an old head and experienced Levein leiutenant in the squad.

Celtic's Scott Brown and Hearts' Lee Wallace are the only other two SPL based players to make the squad. There was hope in some quarters that Levein would give opportunites to Scottish based players throughout the top flight. Clearly, at this stage, he is keener to proceed softly, softly on the road to revolution.

Christophe Berra, Craig Gordon, Darran Fletcher, Jamie McFadden, Gary Caldwell and Alan Hutton make up the contingent from the English Premier League with the remainder of the squad drawn from outside England's top flight.

It's a formula that's been tried and tested. Does that matter? Part of the attraction of Levein was the feeling that given the same group of players as George Burley he would have got better performances. For the main part his first squad is going to put that theory to the test.

Goalkeepers
Neil Alexander (Rangers)
Craig Gordon (Sunderland)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)

Defenders
Alan Hutton (Sunderland - loan)
Christophe Berra (Wolverhampton W.)
Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
Paul Dixon (Dundee United)
Garry Kenneth (Dundee United)
Lee Wallace (Heart of Midlothian)
Andy Webster (Dundee United - loan)
Steven Whittaker (Rangers)

Midfield
Charlie Adam (Blackpool)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Graham Dorrans (West Bromwich Albion)
Darren Fletcher (Manchester United)
Paul Hartley (Bristol City)
Lee McCulloch (Rangers)
James McFadden (Birmingham City)
Barry Robson (Middlesbrough)
Kevin Thomson (Rangers)

Forwards
Kris Boyd (Rangers)
Steven Fletcher (Burnley)
Chris Iwelumo (Bristol City - loan)
Kenny Miller (Rangers)

(To play Czech Republic on 3rd March)