Gamble could be two risky: Burley calls Hutton and Gordon for double-header

17 March 2009 11:32
For George Burley, the frustrations of international management have never been more starkly illustrated. Craig Gordon and Alan Hutton remain the most expensive exports in the history of the Scottish game.

At £9million apiece, the Sunderland goalkeeper and Spurs right-back would normally be regarded as cornerstones of the national team; first-picks in a squad flecked with jobbing journeymen.

In a quandary: George Burley names his Scotland squad at Hampden Park on Tuesday.

A trip to the Amsterdam Arena is followed by a must-win home clash with Iceland. To have any chance of reaching South Africa, Burley believes the capture of four points is imperative.

Typical of the lot which invariably befalls the Scotland manager, however, he may have to gamble everything on two players without a single game between them in four months.

Gordon, Burley's former goalkeeper at Hearts, would normally be an automatic choice - but can't get a game at the Stadium of Light.

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Hutton, meanwhile, will play for Spurs reserves against West Brom on Monday night as he completes his recuperation from a foot injury. Hardly the perfect scenario when Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder lie in wait.

'It's not ideal,' said Burley at the National Stadium yesterday, as he named a 26-man party for the flight to the Netherlands.

'We know what type of keeper Craig Gordon is and how good Alan Hutton is at full-back. But you can only play the cards you are dealt.

'It's great to have Barry Ferguson, Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher together. I've never had that as Scotland manager and, for me, those three are top-class midfield players.

'That's a bonus I haven't had before. It's swings and roundabouts and I just hope that things progress well and we don't get any other problems.'

Doubtful: Alan Hutton

It might have been worse. By naming both players, Burley is stipulating Gordon and Hutton have a chance of playing, however hopeless their preparations.

The question for the Scotland manager now is this: is it better to have his first-choice XI on the field with one or two suffering ring-rust? Or might the nation be better served by fielding players who are fully fit, if less feted on the transfer market?

For Hutton, a foot injury sustained in November has been costly. Yet the former Rangers right-back's desperation to play is palpable.

With both players, the coach now faces decisions as arduous as any he may have encountered since taking over the national team.

Hutton's situation is different from that of Gordon. The defender has been back in full training for two weeks, yet inevitably lacks the sharpness which comes only from playing games.

'Alan has been training now for about a week and is going to play in a reserve game for Spurs,' added Burley. 'He has had scans on his foot and it is totally healed. But Argentina was his last game. If there is some reaction or he is not ready, then fine.

'I spoke to Harry Redknapp (Spurs manager) and he will also be at the game to have a look at Alan. We said that we would speak then.

'I think Alan has shown at international level that he can certainly perform, but he must be fit. A totally-fit Alan Hutton will give you something extra to the squad. But if he's not 100 per cent, I won't play him.'

By naming Hutton, Burley leaves an alternative option open, that of omitting the former Rangers player from the Holland game, when the Scots will be under the cosh, and bringing him back for the Hampden clash with Iceland four days later.

'At international level, you have to be right. We have two games, Saturday and Wednesday. Maybe if he misses the first, he can play the second - that's something you look at. We have options there.

'If I totally ruled out Alan, it would give me no option. He will be with us for a week before the Holland and Iceland games, so that does give us options.'

Out of favour: Craig Gordon

There was an equal amount of procrastination on the issue of Gordon, a saga in rapid danger of becoming a soap opera. The keeper's latest quotes following a second successive clean sheet for the Sunderland reserves on Monday night suggest Gordon won' t go quietly.

His plight on Wearside may not be entirely of his making, yet Burley cannot allow sentiment or old times to cloud his thinking. Someone will eventually end up burnishing a sense of simmering resentment.

'Craig has been outstanding for us and has proved what he can do,' said Burley. 'But Allan McGregor came in against Argentina and was also outstanding, so he has shown what he can do.

'Craig has the greater experience, but the problem is that he is not playing at the moment and that's a difficult one. We are not just talking one or two weeks now, we are talking months.

'It's something you have to consider. But I can't please everybody as a manager - that's impossible.

'Whoever I choose, someone won't agree here or there. I must just make the decision I feel is right. Craig is fit, but what he has not got is games.'

The sensitivity of Gordon's situation is obvious. His club boss, Ricky Sbragia last week bristled when informed of Burley's comments on that subject, taking the view that the manager of Scotland's statements should never concern events at Sunderland.

The two men have subsequently cleared up any misunderstanding, yet their friendship goes only so far. There remains no sign of Sbragia axing Marton Fulop against Manchester City this weekend to help out the country of his birth.

'Ricky is a good friend of mine and some press men told him I said Craig Gordon should be playing for Sunderland, which wasn't the case.

'Ricky apologised for what he then said, so there is no problem. I would never dream of telling someone who should play and who shouldn't play. I understand where he is coming from - and Craig can, as well.

'What has happened hasn't been Craig's fault. He played too early really after coming back. Then the other keeper came in and did exceptionally well.

'If you are not playing, it's difficult, especially for someone like Craig who has played regularly ever since he got into the Hearts team.

'He has been phenomenal for Scotland. But Allan McGregor has shown that he is a top-class goalkeeper who can perform at this level as well. So I would have no qualms at all there.'

THE SQUAD Gordon (Sunderland), McGregor (Rangers), Marshall (Norwich); Alexander (Burnley), Barr (Falkirk), Berra (Wolves), Broadfoot (Rangers), Caldwell (Celtic), Hutton (Spurs), McAllister (Bristol City), McManus (Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United),Weir (Rangers); Brown (Celtic), Commons (Derby), Ferguson (Rangers), Fletcher (Manchester United), Hartley (Celtic), Morrison (West Brom), Rae (Cardiff), Teale (Derby); Clarkson (Motherwell), Fletcher (Hibernian), Iwelumo (Wolves), McCormack (Cardiff), Miller (Rangers).

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Source: Daily_Mail