James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Seriously, what does this lad have to do to win a senior international cap?
First it was his genes.
The fashion rather than biological kind although, so ridiculous was Gordon Strachan’s reasoning, he may as well have been talking about a pair of snow washed denim slacks.
So when Alex McLeish succeeded the former Middlesbrough chief as Scotland manager, John Fleck could have been thinking that an international call-up might beckon. After all, unlike his predecessor, the 59-year-old seemed determined to base his selection policy on footballing ability rather than feet and inches.
So the Sheffield United midfielder’s continued absence from his country’s squad, confirmed earlier this week when McLeish unveiled his picks for the forthcoming friendlies against Peru and Mexico, was something of a surprise. Or, to put it another way, a downright bloody scandal given his performances at Bramall Lane over the past two seasons. Graeme Shinnie, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch are all accomplished players. But McLeish must have a plethora of talent at his disposal if there is no room for Fleck in Scotland’s engine room. And recent results suggest he does not.
So while Fleck wonders what has seemingly made him persona non grata at Hampden Park, those of us who do appreciate the 26-year-old’s gifts are perhaps better-off trying to solve this great footballing mystery.
At first glance, he should be perfect for McLeish’s set-up. Not least because being comfortable in possession and fearsome in a tackle should make him an obvious replacement for Scott Brown.
Stefan Scougall noticed the resemblance and, although the comparison was probably not appreciated, likened his one-time team mate and lifelong Rangers supporter to the Celtic’s combative skipper. Raised in Yoker, located in Glasgow’s western western suburbs on the north bank of the Clyde, Fleck also boasts big game experience having lifted the Scottish FA Cup once, the SPL title twice and appeared in three Old Firm derbies after progressing through the Ibrox youth system. Oh, and competed inside cauldrons including the Estádio José Alvalade and Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium in European tournaments.
Perhaps the only thing missing from his repertoire is goals. But, given that Shinnie, McGinn and McGeouch only scored nine between them last term, this should be no obstacle.
Walter Smith, described by one respected commentator as “hardly cavalier in his approach to youth”, rated Fleck so highly he handed him his senior debut at just 16 years of age. Big Eck, for some unfathomable reason, apparently does not and try as I might, I can’t work out why.
Perhaps, although the suggestion will be as well-received as Scougall’s observation, he should take a leaf out of England’s book and adopt a more radical approach to selection. After all, neither ourselves nor our Caledonian cousins have enjoyed great success on the international stage of late. Southgate understands, for all his lack of experience, that essentially doing the same thing is unlikely to produce different results. And the Three Lions, with all due respect, are going to the World Cup.