Another international break, another Scotland squad named. And another chance goes by for Sheffield United’s John Fleck.
The squad announcement, when it was made on Twitter on Monday morning, attracted a number of comments usually centred around who was out rather than in; Ryan Jack, Liam Lindsay and even Antti Niemi (if that makes no sense, type his name and Scotland into Google and all will be revealed).
The biggest omission though, once again for fans of the Blades, was Fleck, United’s talismanic midfielder who, as is often the case, delivered by far his most commanding performance of the season at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, just two days before Alex McLeish’s squad to face World Cup semi-finalists Belgium and Albania.
Some of the names in the squad write themselves, with the likes of Fulham’s Premier League pairing Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald included alongside John McGinn, who Fleck will go up against this weekend when Aston Villa visit Bramall Lane.
Scott McTominay’s status as a Manchester United player is surely behind his inclusion – unless the 14 minutes he’s played all season, as a sub against Leicester, was truly sensational – and when others are turning out for the likes of Celtic, Southampton and Cardiff in the Premier League, it’s difficult to argue they should have been left out for the still-uncapped Fleck.
But the fact that he still remains capless is amazing. Since their dream of reaching this summer’s World Cup in Russia ended, Scotland have played five friendly games – against the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Hungary, Peru and Mexico – and midfielders Jack, Chris Cadden, Dylan McGeouch, Lewis Stevenson and Graeme Shinnie have made their international debuts.
With respect to the teams included and the level they play at; Cadden is of Motherwell, who finished seventh in the 12-team SPL last season and McGeouch now plies his trade in League One with Sunderland after moving from Hibernian.
Stevenson and Shinnie, who can both also operate at left-back, play for Hibs and Aberdeen respectively. Two great, proud clubs, but not exactly a level above the top half of the Championship. If McLeish couldn’t find a place for Fleck in his midfield this time around, that’s understandable. But to not even take a look at him in the friendlies while the aforementioned players all earned their first caps? Seems strange, to say the least.
I wrote on Twitter when the news was announced that it was bad news for player, club and country and still believe that to be the case. Fleck is a proud Scot who, like most of us, would snatch at the chance to pull on the senior shirt of his country and undoubtedly has the ability to do so.
United boss Chris Wilder has repeatedly, in the cases of David Brooks, John Egan and Enda Stevens, explained the benefits to the Blades when their players join up with international squads. They come back better players, richer and hungrier for the experience. And although there is no suggestion whatsoever that Fleck may go down the same path, it isn’t too long ago that Jamie Murphy expressed a desire to leave United to achieve his dream of representing Scotland.
And for Scotland? They’re currently ranked 40th in the world, behind the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina, DR Congo and Iran, and haven’t qualified for a World Cup for 20 years. There’s no guarantee that Fleck would change that, of course, but at what stage do McLeish and Co. sit down and say, ‘it’s time for something different’?