Scotland Must Be Insane To Ignore Leeds United's Ross McCormack

With two crunch games coming up for Scotland, manager Craig Levein has controversially elected to omit Leeds United forward Ross McCormack, arguably the most in form Scottish forward available to him. Is it stupidity, or is there logic behind Levein's call?
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With two crunch games coming up for Scotland, manager Craig Levein has controversially elected to omit Leeds United forward Ross McCormack, arguably the most in form Scottish forward available to him. Is it stupidity, or is there logic behind Levein's call?

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Ross McCormack and Kenny Miller celebrate a lesser spotted Scotland goal.

With two crunch games coming up for Scotland, manager Craig Levein has controversially elected to omit Leeds United forward Ross McCormack, arguably the most in form Scottish forward available to him. Is it stupidity, or is there logic behind Levein's call?

Admit it, the first thing you look for when any international squad is announced, is not whether that particular squad has the depth of options necessary to negotiate the unknown territory of a former Yugoslav republic, but whether your club’s players are in there. International recognition is a bit like seeing your kids off to school with a lunchbox under their arm, you get a warm glow of satisfaction that they are standing on their own two feet and making tentative steps away from the warm bosom of the family nest.

Such is the bare naked necessity for Scotland to gain positive results from their final two group games in the next seven days, it seemed inconceivable that there would be no place for Leeds United striker Ross McCormack in their latest squad. The eternal ability of the Scottish national team to manufacture horse manure from pure gold, however, is once again demonstrated by this curious omission.

The facts are that Scotland need a minimum of two highly unlikely phenomenon’s to happen within four days to snatch the Play Off spot in Group I from Czech Republic, namely group winners Spain need to be inconsistent over two games, which they haven’t been for four years, and Scotland need to be consistent over two games, which they haven’t been, well, ever.

That said, to win matches, particularly for a struggling side, you need goal scorers, and more specifically, goal scorers in form. Putting bias to one side, the Scottish striker in the best current form is Ross McCormack. Nine goals in ten games so far this season for Leeds and brimming with guile, invention and self-confidence, can Scotland really afford to ignore him?

In seven group matches thus far, Scotland have scored a whopping seven goals, one an own goal. I wouldn’t dispute that maybe Kenny Miller and Steven Naismith are in pole position, based on their performances under Scotland boss Craig Levein, but the back-up strikers chosen for the squad have the pedigree of a knock-kneed fawn compared to McCormack, and the logic of their elevated status is perceptibly flawed.

Central to McCormack’s attributes is an ability to score goals from the full spectrum of possibilities. Add to this the fact he can play in a number of positions, indeed, during the ten games he has played for Leeds this season, he has already occupied four. Be it lone striker, dual striker, attacking midfielder or winger, Ross has done the job for Leeds. He has shown pace and awareness, agility, composure on the ball and, a rarity in the Championship, a football brain. When reduced to nine men against Middlesboro recently, McCormack dropped deep and kept a clear head when many around him were losing theirs. He, along with the maturing Adam Clayton, saved Leeds from a potentially fatal mauling that day. We lost 1-0, but a heavy defeat at that point could have sent our season careering down the Blackwell Bypass, a bleak and unforgiving thoroughfare that no Leeds fan wants to travel again, and for this reason manager Simon Grayson seems particularly pleased with McCormack’s emerging influence over the team.

Quizzed over his leading goal scorers exclusion from the Scotland squad Grayson said “Ross is scoring goals for fun and I’m bewildered he’s not been called up. That’s not my decision, though, and Craig obviously thinks he has other players to do the job.”

Good point, but has Craig Levein got other players to do the job? Levein has gone on record stating that he intends to stick with the lone striker formation adopted in recent internationals. Yes, that means he intends to play one striker upfront against Liechtenstein and the same formation four days later away at Spain. Not so much ‘horses for courses’, more ‘I’ll pick one horse and back him whichever course he is on and whoever he is running against.’

Bearing this tactic in mind, Levein selected four strikers for this squad; the aforementioned Miller and Naismith, David Goodwillie of Blackburn and Craig Mackail-Smith of Brighton. Now if you presume, for the sake of argument, that the selections of Miller and Naismith are justified on current form, what are we to make of the selections of Goodwillie and Mackail-Smith? Goodwillie has potential that lead to a summer move to the Premiership, but he has played only once this season despite Blackburn’s struggles, without scoring, ironically, also his overall record in a Scotland shirt. Mackail-Smith on the other hand scored 27 goals for Peterboro last season…….in League One, the third tier. One of the arguments against McCormack is that he is doing the business only in the second tier of English football, yet thus far this season, where we can legitimately compare the two, in a Brighton side that has enjoyed a blistering start, Mackail-Smith has scored only five goals to McCormack’s ten for an inconsistent Leeds side spluttering into their rhythm.

Anyone thinking Levein had an oddball aversion to scoring goals would have plenty of evidence to gorge themselves on, and add to this the exclusion of Ross McCormack, the most versatile and currently prolific Scottish striker available, and some things just don’t add up.

A study of the other alternatives, suggests a peculiarly sinister resentment towards strikers within the Scotland manager’s philosophies. Currently flying in the SPL is Garry O’Connor of Hibernian, with ten goals already this season. The problem? He is currently awaiting separate trials for cocaine possession and insurance fraud, and Levein was not hiding away from the fact that this was the reason for his non-selection "…the reason Garry isn't involved in this particular squad is I feel he has other issues to deal with off the field. Once he has those clear and out of his mind it would allow him to concentrate completely on football.” Hibs fans would argue that he is capable of concentrating on football quite perfectly at the moment thanks, but nonetheless O’Connor is on the back burner.

So what of ex-Hibernian striker Stephen Fletcher? Has scored three goals already for Wolves in the Premiership but enjoyed a self-imposed exile from the Scotland squad under previous manager George Burley, and ex-Hearts boss Levein (can you see where I’m going with this….) has yet to forgive him, "I've heard rumours he wants to be involved and he's been saying this and that in newspapers. But, as yet, I haven't had any evidence of that” explained Levein, possibly through Jambo-tinted spectacles “all he has to do is send a text or phone - just the same way as he told us he didn't want to be involved in the first place." Ignoring the fact that a Manager has to deem a player worthy of being selected and then tell them, rather than the other way around, you could argue that Levein has a chip on his shoulder regarding Hibernian, or more strangely strikers in general.

Scotland seem to have enjoyed a rich harvest of promising forwards in recent years, all hailed as the next Kenny Dalglish, but high profile moves render them more likely the next Kevin Kyle. James McFadden is currently without a club, Kris Boyd largely failed in England and currently turns out for Eskisehirspor in Turkey, and Derek Riordan failed miserably at Celtic and despite a fruitful second spell at Hibs now plies his trade for Shaanxi Chan-Ba in China. All three appear to be permanently exiled from the Scotland squad.

Anyone thinking Levein had an oddball aversion to scoring goals would have plenty of evidence to gorge themselves on, and add to this the exclusion of Ross McCormack, the most versatile and currently prolific Scottish striker available, and some things just don’t add up.

As Grayson added as an after-thought to his puzzlement at McCormack’s absence “International football is great recognition for players. From a selfish point of view I wouldn’t want any of my players going away because it gives me a free week to work with them. But Ross will be disappointed and understandably so.”

Therein lies the issue. I can look at this objectively from the sidelines as an English Leeds fan. I can sympathise with the perennial under-achievement most Scotland fans feel, but for their sake I don’t really care that McCormack has been omitted. Whatever Levein’s reasons are, it’s his loss. As a Leeds fan, it keeps McCormack fresh and available and maybe riles him a little to keep his performances right up there at the very top of his game. Leeds and not Scotland can only benefit from that.

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