Danny Hall’s Sheffield United Column: The mystery of Blades duo’s continued international absence

Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and John Fleck celebrate winning the Sky Bet League One title at Bramall Lane
Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and John Fleck celebrate winning the Sky Bet League One title at Bramall Lane
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Ah, international break. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re either a good chance to get off to Wembley and support Gareth’s boys or, if you’re like me, a decent excuse to knuckle down and tackle the Ikea wardrobe that’s been cluttering the spare room for weeks.

John Fleck and Paul Coutts, Sheffield United’s Scottish pair, likely did neither of these extremes and no doubt enjoyed some deserved R&R after a hectic start to life in the Championship.

But instead, should they have been in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad and on the plane to Slovenia last weekend? It’s certainly easy to a make a case for both. The pair were instrumental in United winning the League One title last season, and have taken to the Championship without issues.

Less than 24 hours after they combined to help United beat Wednesday at Hillsborough, putting four goals past their arch-rivals at their home ground for the first time, Strachan’s squad for the double-header against Slovakia and Slovenia was announced.

Fleck and Coutts were both absent. Wednesday’s Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher, who weren’t much more visible on derby day, included.

Put frankly, a pair of that quality being constantly overlooked is almost as baffling as Strachan putting Scotland’s World Cup disappointment down to genetics (and channeling his inner geneticist with gold like “Genetically we have to work at things, maybe we get big women and men together and see what we can do.”)

Granted, against Slovenia’s giants Fleck may not have proved the answer but Coutts, having developed a steely streak of industry to match the undoubted invention he possesses, could have been.

We’ll never know, of course, and Strachan, who paid for his side’s failure to reach Russia next year with his job, may have regrets to match those of United’s two proud Scots.

In a way, the only winner from the scenario is United themselves, who can get almost a fortnight’s rest into the legs of arguably their two most influential players - and even more in the case of Coutts, suspended for Saturday’s visit of Ipswich.

But as Chris Wilder said at his press briefing yesterday, international calls for your players is a real honour. A sign that you’re doing things right, which United undoubtedly are.

So with Strachan gone, a new era for Scottish football beckons and there’ll be the inevitable bluster that always follows. A new direction. A fresh start.

If they want to give it a real go, they could do far worse than look a lot closer at every Scottish star in Sheffield.