Levein regrets stand-off with Sunderland ace Fletcher

GOAL MACHINE ... Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher.
GOAL MACHINE ... Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher.

SCOTLAND boss Craig Levein admits he regrets letting the stand-off between himself and Steven Fletcher rumble on for so long.

The Sunderland striker was recalled to the international fold yesterday after Scotland scout Mick Oliver brokered talks between the two.

But it was difficult to escape the conclusion that peace had only broken out because Levein is under pressure to preserve his job with Scotland’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.

And the manager concedes that the fall-out, which dates back to the beginning of last year, should have been dealt with sooner.

Levein finally bit the bullet to ask Fletcher to be part of this month’s crucial double-header against Wales and Belgium.

Levein dumped Fletcher after the striker, unhappy at not featuring as regularly as he hoped, told the Scottish Football Association he did not wish to be selected for a game against Northern Ireland in February, 2011.

The Scotland boss took a hardline stance over that but has been under immense pressure to recall the 25-year-old with Scotland struggling desperately to score goals while Fletcher has netted five times in four Premier League games for Sunderland.

Levein said: “Almost since I left him out, he’s been scoring. At the time I did what I thought was the right thing and now I’m doing what I think is the right thing.

“You go back to the original situation – I regret that at that minute in time I didn’t do something about it. That was the time to tackle it. The boy’s probably just as stubborn as me. There’s no point in going back over old ground.

“In my time as manager I’ve had lots of confrontations with players, but none of them have ever lasted.

“We move on and we both have the opportunity to do as well as we can for Scotland. It’s a hugely positive thing.”

Levein was told Fletcher was keen to return, while members of his backroom staff also spoke to the player’s agent, Scott Fisher.

“It was the first time that I had heard, from somebody I know, that Steven desperately wanted to come back and play for Scotland.

“Mick Oliver got involved. He texted the boy and then his agent phoned. There were texts back and forth then Mick spoke to the player’s agent and we were told the boy wanted to chat.

“I felt it had gone on for so long and once I got an indication he was ready to have a chat and he wanted to play then I felt I had to phone him because if I didn’t then we would be back in the same old position.

“I thought I would take the bull by the horns and get it done.

“Yes, it was a big moment for me to make that phone call. But when it comes right down to it, the form he is in and the fact he can help us is more important than me being stubborn.

“He couldn’t have been more receptive, he was great. It was becoming a sideshow and it was difficult to ignore, so I am really pleased to get him back.”