Steven Fletcher must feel like his career trajectory has changed definitively in recent weeks. He has endured relegation from the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers and this weekend Craig Levein, the Scotland manager, has finally ended a simmering dispute by stating that Fletcher will not be considered for selection for Scotland so long as he is manager.
Levein was quoted in the Sunday Herald as saying: ‘That’s it finished now. I can’t afford to go into this campaign with the same distractions I had in the last one.’ He continued: ‘I’ve looked at a lot of things that we’ve learned from the last qualifiers and what’s really important to me is that we have a group of players who value playing for Scotland.’
It is not unreasonable to question Fletcher’s commitment to playing international football given his apparent unwillingness to be proactive in repairing his damaged relationship with Levein. Despite claiming that the issue was not personal, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this must have been a contributing factor in straining the relationship.
Fletcher had made only one appearance for Scotland under Levein, a 3-0 friendly defeat to Sweden in August 2010. In total he has 8 Scotland caps and a solitary goal which in a 2-1 victory against Iceland. The dispute stems from Fletcher’s refusal to be considered for selection for a Carling Nations Cup match against Northern Ireland having been unused in three previous internationals. He made his feelings known by texting Frank Reilly, a Scottish Football Association official, to get him to tell Levein that he didn’t want to play. Since then, there has been little indication that reconciliation was imminent. Neither individual has taken the initiative to repair the relationship, which has been characterised by a mutual coolness rather than outright antagonism.
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Levein has consistently tried to portray himself as open to some sort of resolution without actually taking definitive action. His public professions left him room to manoeuvre should Fletcher have contacted him in an attempt to facilitate his re-integration. It also diluted some of the criticism from the Tartan Army. It would be fair to say that a section of the Scotland support has been disappointed that Levein has not done more to encourage Fletcher to return to the fold. Fletcher’s goal scoring record with a poor Wolves side has meant that the issue has simmered gently for 15 months rather than receding from view in the way Levein may have hoped. The relative paucity of Scotland’s striking options has also meant that Fletcher’s exploits have seemed all the more impressive by comparison.
Levein continues to favour Kenny Miller but the international career of the Cardiff City striker must be drawing to an imminent close. His work rate and effort have always been impressive, the regularity of his goals less so. Levein has introduced the likes of Queen’s Park Rangers’ Jamie Mackie and Craig Mackail-Smith, the Brighton and Hove Albion striker but Fletcher would be a more substantial addition to his striking options.
Levein can be confident of staying in position for the duration of the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil-barring disaster. This could mean at least another 18 months of international exile for Fletcher and the possibility to missing out on a major international tournament-although this cannot be anticipated with any confidence. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a future scenario that sees him being approached by a different manager. A significant period of self-imposed exile has not been a barrier a successful return to the national team- David Weir has achieved this feat in the recent past.
If Fletcher participated in the Great Britain squad for this summer’s Olympics then that may complicate matters. In addition to his international troubles, his club career could be classified as uncertain. He has 2 years remaining on his contract at Molineux but it would be surprising if he wasn’t amenable to a transfer should another team bid for his services. He has now suffered relegation from the English top flight on two occasions with two different teams, having previously been relegated with Burnley.
With no international career for the foreseeable future, his priorities may have shifted, with the onus now on his club career to deliver a sense of achievement and status. It remains to be seen whether any Premier League clubs exploit the changed dynamics and make a move for a player who has proven he can score goals for poor teams at the highest level.
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