The return of Steven Fletcher (picture left) to the Scotland setup for next months crucial World Cup Qualifiers against Wales and Belgium ends his self-imposed exile that has lasted for the past 18 months. His recall comes as a surprise to many as it is seen as a back down by Scotland manager Craig Levein, in what has slowly become a battle of egos. The trouble began in February 2011, when Fletcher frustrated with the lack of play time under Levein, texted a SFA official to declare that he did not want to be considered for selection to the Scotland team under Levein. The dispute rumbled on for the remainder of the year with neither side willing to back down and Levein publicly stating that if Fletcher wanted to return, he would have to call him personally and state so. During this time, Scotland failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2012 with the Scotland boss coming under attack from the fans for negative and strange tactics, notably his unusual approach in the Czech Republic which saw Scotland take the field with no recognised striker in a 4-6-0 formation and ultimately lose the match 1-0.
Meanwhile Steven Fletcher continued to score regularly in the English Premiership, first with Burnley then with Wolves. Following Wolves relegation last season, Sunderland swooped in and paid £12 million to bring the prolific striker to the Stadium of Light. Former Celtic and Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill, now Sunderland boss, was delighted with the signing:
‘I think Steven will be terrific for us. He’s underrated, but not by me. I think he’s capable of scoring goals and linking play which is very important to us and I think now at 25 years of age he’s got room to improve and really get better”.
Levein however did not see it this way and continued to select other players whilst ignoring Fletcher’s talents. The emergence of the talented striker Jordan Rhodes (picture below) looked to be Levein’s savour but his reluctance to play the 22-year-old from the start due to inexperience at international level led to calls for Levein’s head by the Scottish faithful. Following a less than exciting start to their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign where the Scotland team only managed to secure 2 points from a potential 6, Levein’s job is now on the line and without positive results in the upcoming fixtures against Wales and Belgium, the Tartan Army will be on the hunt again for his replacement.
With Kenny Miller now in the latter stages of his career, Fletcher and Rhodes are surely the future for Scotland striking options. Whether Levein will be around long enough to see this will depend on how he approaches the next few games. Will he stick with the trusted but aging Kenny Miller or will he embrace the potential that a Fletcher/Rhodes partnership could offer? Regardless of what he decides, if Scotland are unable to win their next two games, qualification to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 will be mathematically impossible. Failure to qualify will end Levein’s reign as Scotland boss and the baton will be passed to the next manager to work out how to get the best out of Steven Fletcher.