Football: Roxburgh bids his farewell to Gough: Scotland lose disenchanted captain as future prospects earn World Cup exposure

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND awoke yesterday to the news that Richard Gough, nominally the national team captain, did not wish to play for his country again as long as Andy Roxburgh was in charge.

Roxburgh, busy preparing for tonight's match against Estonia at Pittodrie, made it clear he would not be losing any sleep over the Rangers defender's retirement. Gough, who is now on holiday in Israel, revealed the full extent of the rift in a newspaper exclusive, headlined: 'You have betrayed me Andy'. In it he described the national coach as 'naive' in his dealings with players. He added: 'I cannot continue playing for a manager I don't respect.'

Roxburgh admitted he was 'disappointed' at the timing of the announcement, but claimed to have been 'too busy' to read the interview. He also hinted that life without the 31-year-old injury-plagued Gough - who had given Roxburgh 'a smile not a snarl' when he congratulated him after the Scottish Cup final on Saturday - was not an intolerable prospect.

'The international team works on the basis of invitation whereby we ask a certain group of players to work with us. It would appear to be a little presumptuous to knock back an invitation you haven't had,' he said pointedly. 'There's a catalogue of things I could say, but I'll resist the temptation.'

Gough's decision to communicate via a first-person tabloid story on the eve of a World Cup fixture almost certainly signals the end of his international career. First capped by Jock Stein in 1982, he has played 61 times for Scotland and was voted one of the best defenders in the European Championship finals last summer. His alliance with Roxburgh was, however, Scottish football's equivalent of that endured by Messrs Owen and Steel.

Two years ago, the pair had a heated and embarrassingly public argument at Glasgow Airport on their return from a match in Switzerland. Gough had withdrawn at a late stage because of a thigh strain, although the SFA's medical staff regarded him as fit. This season, due to injury and suspension, he has played in only two of the Scots' six games - the 3-1 defeat in Switzerland, where he was sent off, and the 5-0 rout by Portugal, after which he and several Rangers' colleagues were rested for the 3-0 win in Estonia.

For tonight's return, Roxburgh again entrusts the centre-back roles to Brian Irvine, of the host club, and Colin Hendry, who hails from nearby Keith and will have around 50 relatives in the crowd. Alan McLaren, Gough's likeliest long-term successor, continues in the right-back berth.

There are two other changes: Ian Ferguson replaces Dave Bowman in midfield, while Pat Nevin returns in place of John Robertson with instructions to stretch and turn what Roxburgh anticipates will be a massed defence, in the hope of creating space for others.

SCOTLAND (v Estonia, World Cup Group One, Aberdeen, tonight): Gunn (Norwich); McLaren (Hearts), Hendry (Blackburn), Irvine (Aberdeen), Boyd (Celtic), McClair (Manchester United), I Ferguson (Rangers), Collins (Celtic), McStay (Celtic, capt), Nevin (Tranmere), Gallacher (Blackburn).

GROUP ONE STANDINGS

P W D L F A Pts

Switzerland 7 5 2 0 18 4 12

Italy 7 4 2 1 15 6 10

Portugal 5 2 2 1 8 4 6

Scotland 6 2 2 2 7 8 6

Malta 8 1 1 6 3 17 3

Estonia 5 0 1 4 0 12 1

Remaining fixtures: Today: Scotland v Estonia. 19 June: Portugal v Malta. 5 Sept: Estonia v Portugal. 8 Sept: Scotland v Switzerland. 22 Sept: Estonia v Italy. 13 Oct: Portugal v Switzerland, Italy v Scotland. 10 Nov: Portugal v Estonia. 17 Nov: Italy v Portugal, Malta v Scotland, Switzerland v Estonia.

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