Dodds defies odds to become a favourite

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The Independent Online

Billy Dodds has been called many things, but never an overnight sensation. It has taken him a decade to go from being, in his own words, "sixth or seventh pick" among the forwards at Chelsea to what Craig Brown describes as "first-choice striker" for Scotland.

Billy Dodds has been called many things, but never an overnight sensation. It has taken him a decade to go from being, in his own words, "sixth or seventh pick" among the forwards at Chelsea to what Craig Brown describes as "first-choice striker" for Scotland.

Even now, as he prepares to collect his 19th cap in the Scots' opening World Cup qualifier against Latvia tonight, the 31-year-old Rangers player is reluctant to acknowledge the status the national manager has bestowed on him.

"I still don't see myself as the main man," Dodds said. "You can't rest on your laurels. You can only go out and do your best. It would be unprofessional to go out thinking: 'I can play badly and get picked anyway'."

Dodds, the Ayrshire boy who became stuck behind the likes of Kerry Dixon, Gordon Durie, Kevin Wilson and David Speedie in those far-off days at Stamford Bridge, received a reminder of the endemic insecurity of his trade the morning Scotland flew out to the Baltics. The newspapers were full of stories about John Hartson's imminent arrival at Ibrox.

The Welshman's transfer fell through, leaving the ebullient Dodds, who has averaged a goal per game since leaving Dundee United last December, as Rangers' likely spearhead in their forthcoming Champions' League programme.

"Everyone asks me that question [about the Hartson deal]," he said. "At my age I'm delighted just to be at a big club, doing my job and not letting anyone down. Do that and the rest looks after itself. It's not me that goes out and signs players so I don't worry about it."

Coincidentally, Dodds made his international debut when Scotland visited Latvia four years ago, though it was not his first trip to Riga. "When I was at Aberdeen we got knocked out of Europe by Skonto. I remember thinking: 'Jesus, these boys can play'. We were probably the first to find it out, and they've got better since then.

"I started the next season with a lot of goals and got my Scotland chance as substitute out here. I came on for the last half-hour when were one up and we ended up winning 2-0. The pitch was a bumpy quagmire and the dressing-rooms weren't the best - we got in and out as quickly as possible - so it was a relief to come back and find we're playing in a new stadium with a superb surface."

Dodds made the starting line-up against Estonia in Tallinn four days later. He duly kicked off before the referee called a halt after all of three seconds due to the small matter of the home team having failed to turn up. Thereafter, Scotland first ignored him and then used him sparingly - until a move to Dundee United transformed his career.

"That was definitely the big turnaround for me and I've managed to keep it going consistently. Paul Sturrock [who was then manager at Tannadice] knew how to get the best out of me. Everyone knows I'm not the quickest but I've got an eye for goal and I'm quite sharp. He recognised that I could hold the ball up but knew that I wasn't going to get behind defenders."

Playing in the premier club competition will fulfil one of Dodds' few remaining ambitions. To perform on the global stage in 2002 represents another. "I've got a good engine and can keep going," he said, warming to his theme in a way that suggests the mantle of No 1 striker does not rest so uneasily after all. "I look at guys like Ally McCoist... if he can do it, I certainly can!"

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