James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Surely this man should receive an international call?

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Eight years ago, when Rangers could still name a starting eleven which befitted one of Britain’s greatest clubs, Walter Smith’s side travelled four miles across Glasgow before drawing 0-0 with bitter rivals Celtic.

David Weir was on the bus which pulled out of Ibrox’s main gates and onto Edmiston Drive before, having traversed the Clyde at Rutherglen Bridge, venturing deep into enemy territory. Barry Ferguson, Pedro Mendes and Steve Davis also.

Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and John Fleck could receive Scotland call-ups if they impress in the Championship

Sheffield United's Paul Coutts (left) and John Fleck could receive Scotland call-ups if they impress in the Championship

The match, played out in front of 58,766 spectators, was a pretty dour affair. The atmosphere, as both sets of supporters roared on their teams, anything but. Amid the maelstrom, John Fleck made his debut in an Old Firm derby; becoming, aged 17, the youngest Gers player to do so since Barry’s older brother Derek a quarter-of-a-century earlier.

Fleck’s appearance was significant because it proved Smith, a manager known for his demanding methods and strict code of discipline, thought he was made of the right stuff in a technical, physical and psychological sense.

Scott Brown played for the opposition that day and the Sheffield United midfielder, who left Rangers in 2012 following their financial implosion, must surely be destined to join him in the Scotland squad if he continues his current rate of progress. Particularly, when coupled with the Smith seal of approval, after Chris Wilder’s side were promoted back to the Championship. (Paul Coutts, his colleague and compatriot, could also emerge as a dark horse after a superb campaign).

Indeed, when you consider the facts and figures of Fleck’s career, there is an argument that Gordon Strachan would have been foolish not to consider him for the forthcoming visit of England.

Lacking the pool of talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, Strachan, Wilder’s counterpart at Hampden Park, routinely selects players from the second tier of the English football. Nine members of the 29 man squad called-up for this month’s meeting with the Auld Enemy in Glasgow are plying their trade at that level, including Ikechi Anya, Chris Martin and Tom Cairney.

Fleck, of course, excelled in the third tier last term which means some will disregard him purely on the basis of snobbery. But, having spent half a decade with the seven-time SPL title-winners, he has featured in more top-flight matches than all of those three.

Far too good for League One, the former under-21 international will be impossible for Strachan to ignore if he continues to impress. Not least because of his background and pedigree.