Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

McCarthy: Fletcher a top player

Former Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy has warned they will face a striker who could play for any team in the English top flight when they travel to Celtic Park.

McCarthy managed Scotland striker Steven Fletcher at Wolves and tipped him for the very top.

The Sunderland forward has yet to find his range at international level, scoring only once in 17 games for his country, but McCarthy is wary of the centre-forward ahead of his former team's European Championship qualifier in Glasgow on Friday night.

"I was his manager when he wasn't playing for Scotland," said McCarthy, referring to Fletcher's exile from the national team amid a disagreement with former Scotland boss Craig Levein.

"I could never understand that to be honest. Well I can and I can't but it was just a shame because he was playing well then.

"When I was asked about Fletch by other managers I said he could play in the top four teams in England. If it was a Champions League team looking for a centre-forward, I would have hung my hat on him. Without any doubt. I think he's that good."

Fletcher has struggled to rediscover his goalscoring form since suffering an ankle injury while playing for Scotland against Wales on March 22 last year.

But McCarthy is in little doubt that the former Hibernian player remains a potent force.

"I don't think it's taken its toll," the Ipswich manager said. "He's still a young man, he's only 27 and should be at his peak. Unfortunately some of the injuries have restricted him from playing.

"Honestly, I thought he could have played for any one of the top four teams.

"I don't see him much now but I saw his goals against Crystal Palace and I thought his header was fantastic and his second was the finish of a real, cold, calculated predator.

"And he used to work at it, day in, day out, with Terry Connor, my assistant. And he loved it, he works hard at his game."

Fletcher did not play for Scotland for more than two years amid a stand-off with Levein, the disagreement stemming from the manager's decision to play a 4-6-0 formation while the striker sat in the stand in Prague.

"It hurt him," McCarthy said. "He wanted to play, he wanted to be involved. It was just a set of circumstances between him and Craig. But he's back playing.

"I don't think it affected him in terms of his club career, not at all. I wanted him to play (for Scotland) but bizarrely I was getting more out of him by him not playing. You want them to play for their country but then they come back injured.

"It didn't affect him on the pitch but you could tell it was hurting him."

Meanwhile, McCarthy batted off questions about Irish assistant Roy Keane, whose rant at his former national team manager saw him sent home from the 2002 World Cup.

When asked if Keane's big-game experience would help the Irish squad this week, McCarthy said: "Well, not if I was there."

When questioned over Keane's influence as assistant to Martin O'Neill, the former Celtic defender said: "I don't know because I only ever had him as a player, I have never come across him as a manager or a coach.

"I would think he would be learning a fair bit off Martin because he's the guy who finished in the top six with Aston Villa three years on the bounce. That's a good place to be working."

McCarthy admits Friday's game is too close to call but feels Scotland are under more pressure given they are at home and sitting three points behind their opponents in the table.

"I've got to go for Ireland, even if I thought differently," he said. "But that's just subjective because if I sat down and analysed both teams, I don't think there would be too much between them.

"I think it's whoever turns up on the night, who handles it best. I think the pressure is on Scotland because they have done so well and the expectation is there."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph