When Craig Levein changed his tune on Steven Fletcher last week, welcoming him back to the international fold after saying he never would again, I thought that would be the subject of my first blog on the National Team.
It’s a big story, a huge story, and I am sure I’ll write about it in the run-up to the coming international double header … but for now I want to focus on another of the issues at the heart of the Scotland team, and Craig’s team selections. It’s this; what the Hell is the issue with Kris Commons?
Some people look at the situation with Fletcher and conclude that Craig Levein is a weak manager. Other people will conclude the opposite; that a man who is willing to admit when he is wrong is actually a strong individual who doesn’t need the conventional reinforcement some managers do – a bunch of people telling him how great he is. Certainly, the National Coach is not surrounded by sycophants. This is a man who wholly owns his decisions, who lives with them regardless of what others think.
Whatever you believe about him – a self confident man who isn’t afraid to change his mind, or a weak willed loser who can be bounced into changing course – it doesn’t really matter, because the end result in the Fletcher case is the same. The player is back in the team, and Scotland will be better off for it. In the fullness of time, I wholeheartedly expect the same thing to happen with Kris Commons.
Commons is Scotland’s best attacking midfield player. Snodgrass and Morrison are decent footballers, but neither gives you the edge Commons does. His goals, first in England and then at Celtic, cannot be ignored. This boy is one of those rare midfield players who knows how to find the back of the net on a regular basis. I couldn’t believe it when, last season, he struggled to do what he’s done regularly his whole career. At Forest he scored 32 times in 138 league games. At Derby he had a 1 in 4 ratio. There are strikers who would be well pleased with that kind of record. So far at Celtic, he has 19 goals in 65 matches, an ever better return than at Derby.
He also has 2 goals for Scotland, in 9 international games.
In the 2010/11 season he won his move to Celtic, and between the games he played in Hoops and the games he had already played for Derby he made 48 appearances, and scored 27 goals. When he was called up to the Scotland squad for the 2011 Nations Cup, he pulled out, citing exhaustion. Is that too hard to believe, considering the monumental shift he had put in, both north and south of the border? Craig Levein has not selected him since, although last season he had the cover of Commons “loss of form.” Yes, in terms of goal-scoring … but Commons played 31 games for Celtic and was one of the key performers in the league winning side.
Now, Commons is back to his best. He is buzzing off the back of a great start to the season, with 3 goals in 6 league appearances, and another goal in Europe. His dynamism has returned. His eye for goal is sharp and his energy levels are high. He has that ability to get forward from the middle of the park, to get behind defenders, to pull them out of position and to find space amongst them. It is a rare thing for a midfielder, and no other player in our squad can do it from that area of the pitch.
Levein says he has better options. This is a different rationale than the one he used not to select Fletcher. His is not claiming Commons is out of contention, just that he is not the best player in his position. This is a ridiculous claim, of course, as anyone who has watched Commons regularly knows, and with the player performing on the stage of the Champions League it will become ever more evident. His performance in Moscow was proof of his ability to play on that stage, and further proofs are going to come. Next stop for Commons and Celtic is Barcelona, and a good display in that match will destroy Levein’s assertion that there are “seven better players” than Commons to choose from.
The man has already shown he can change his mind. Whether it’s weakness or strength doesn’t matter. Fletcher is back. Sometime soon, Kris Commons will be too.
It’s a certainty.
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