Sheffield United: John Fleck should not have waited so long to receive his Scotland call-up but better late than never
If John Fleck does make his senior debut for Scotland tomorrow night, when Israel visit Hampden Park for a UEFA Nations League decider, it will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the Sheffield United midfielder's career.
It should have written a long-time ago. But the 27-year-old, whose performances last season were recognised by everyone except the SFA, is unlikely to be thinking about his country's myopic selection policy should he start or be summoned from the bench.
Instead, Fleck and his family will be bursting with pride; basking in the glory of a first international cap and knowing the sacrfices they made long before he moved to Bramall Lane were all worthwhile. Chris Wilder and his staff should feel pretty smug too, after identifying the player's potential before signing him for nothing two-and-a-half seasons ago. The investment United made, both in terms of time and wages, has quickly delivered a pretty hefty return.
But Fleck's mood, even if he spends the match sat in the dug-out, will contrast sharply with the one surrounding Alex McLeish and his team. Indeed, despite beating Albania 4-0 over the weekend, the former Aberdeen defender felt compelled to urge supporters to get behind his team ahead of the meeting with Andreas Herzog's side.
"We thank the fans who came to Albania, they were terrific, and we gave them something to cheer about," McLeish said. "They should be phoning around all their pals and saying '˜get to Hampden on Tuesday'."
Fleck did not travel to Shkoder after reportedly being called-up too late to arrange a place on the plane but spent yesterday working with his new team mates at Oriam; Scotland's elite performance centre in Edinburgh. The win over Albania means Scotland will be promoted from League C Group 1 and be guaranteed a Euro 2020 play-off berth if they beat Israel. A draw would be enough to see Israel finish first.
Despite their most recent result, the narrative surrounding Scotland's national team remains downbeat following a series of high-profile withdrawals and subsequent suggestions that many of McLeish's players, after growing frustrated by events behind the scenes, were voting with their feet. Although the manager has dismissed those claims, Herzog has already demonstrated he will attempt to exploit the situation by insisting Scotland, not the Israelis, will be under pressure this evening.Â
"We have taken enormous leaps forward and achieved some fantastic results," he said. "We have enjoyed excellent preparation for the Euro qualifiers and regardless of what happens in Scotland that will remain the case."
With John Egan sustaining a calf injury on duty with the Republic of Ireland - fellow United defender Enda Stevens was in the squad which facesÂ Denmark tonight - Wilder must wait until Thursday morning before finalising his plans for this weekend's trip to Rotherham. Ben Woodburn and Kieron Freeman have both travelled with Wales for their friendly against Albania while Dean Henderson is expected to start for England under-21's in Denmark. Academy goalkeeper Marcus Dewhurst has also been working with the under-18's in Murcia, Spain.