Sheffield United: After years in the cold, John Fleck's time for Scotland appears to have finally arrived
On Saturday afternoon, as Sheffield United licked their wounds following a gut-wrenching defeat by Liverpool, Steve Clarke was relaxing on his sofa and feeling remarkably upbeat.
It was an unusual experience for the former St Mirren and Chelsea defender. Losing three of his opening four games in charge of Scotland, Clarke's first five months at Hampden Park have been difficult as best. But after watching John Fleck's display against the reigning European champions, he knew his hunch the United midfielder warranted an international recall had been one hundred per cent correct.
Despite finishing on the losing side, Fleck produced a bravura performance as Liverpool were forced to rely on character, resilience and a huge slice of good luck to beat Chris Wilder's side. Before Dean Henderson's error gifted the visitors their victory, the 28-year-old initially helped his colleagues establish a foothold in the contest and then went on to grab it by the scruff of the neck; showcasing superb technique as well as his usual tenacity.
Despite emerging as a driving force behind United's climb from League One to the top-flight in only three seasons - becoming one of the first names, when fit, on Chris Wilder's team sheet - Fleck has found the SFA remarkably difficult to seduce. Regarded among the finest talents of his generation after progressing through Rangers' youth system, he represented his country at under-21 level but is still waiting for a first senior cap. With the benefit of hindsight, choosing Coventry City as his next club after deciding to leave Ibrox was probably not the wisest decision the player or his representatives have made. But since joining United three years ago, Fleck's career has been on an upward trajectory. Which, when you consider Scotland's miserable record during the intervening period, makes his wait for recognition even tougher to fathom.
Clarke appears destined to become the manager responsible for rectifying this situation after including Fleck in his squad for this month's Euro 2020 qualifiers against Russia and San Marino. With the Nations League now their only route into next year's finals, it seems inconceivable Scotland will refuse to experiment in Moscow and Glasgow, meaning Fleck is likely to feature in one or both of those games. Oli McBurnie, United's record signing, is also included after featuring during last month's loss to Stanislav Cherchesov's team. With Scotland also succumbing to Belgium, they find themselves fifth in Group I; nine points behind their opponents on October 10. San Marino visit Glasgow three days later.
Fleck, who has missed the last two national training camps for personal and fitness reasons, replaces Southampton's Stuart Armstrong. Another uncapped player, Lawrence Shankland of Dundee United, has also been selected by Clarke.