Steven Fletcher is a great Scot in the making
According to his acolytes, Martin O’Neill is a proud Ulsterman who should be managing England, and as manager of Sunderland may well save Craig Levein’s job as Scotland manager. If you need to solve that UK conundrum, look no further than Steven Fletcher’s form for Sunderland.
There were plenty who doubted O’Neill’s determination to spend as much as it took to sign Fletcher from Wolves. Depending on whom you believe, Sunderland paid anything between £12m and £14m for a striker once fancifully linked with Real Madrid.
Since Fletcher has scored all Sunderland’s Premier League goals so far this season – five from a mere six shots on target in six matches – that may be viewed as prudent rather than “quite obscene”, which was Levein’s tart response to the deal.
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave in the Outer Hebrides, they fell out in February 2011, when Fletcher sent Levein a text message stating that he didn’t want to be considered for a game against Northern Ireland. It was handbags at dawn until each man realised they needed the other.
As far as the beleaguered Levein is concerned, Fletcher’s recall to his Scotland team, which once seemed as likely as a Rangers away win in the Scottish Third Division, comes just in time for the critical World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Belgium.
As far as Fletcher is concerned, his career needs the exposure provided by international football. For someone with such self-evident gifts, he has been strangely underrated and consistently unfashionable. He emerged at Hibernian, and was tainted by association with the relegation of Burnley and Wolves from the Premier League.
A blinkered minority mistakenly stereotype him as a throwback centre-forward who scores most of his goals with his head. Any dispassionate study of his contribution reveals a well-rounded, modern striker who has averaged throughout his career nearly a goal every two games in difficult circumstances.
Fletcher has the technique to control the ball under pressure, exceptional spacial awareness and has excelled at Sunderland despite inconsistent service. He shoots readily and accurately. Confidence is not an issue.
Will that be enough to save Scotland from ritual humiliation? Probably not. Should it prompt bigger clubs than Sunderland to monitor his progress? Most definitely. O’Neill knows, you know.
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