Fletcher backs Burley as pressure mounts
George Burley awoke yesterday not only to a Monday-morning monstering at the hands of a national press on the verge of demanding his resignation but also to the news that one of Scotland's midfielders, Lee McCulloch, had told the Scottish FA he does not want to don an international shirt again as long as Burley is in charge.
It was also claimed, in inflammatory style, that unease is rife in the Scotland camp after four games without a win under Burley, three of them friendlies and the fourth the 1-0 World Cup qualifier defeat in Macedonia on Saturday. The calls for Burley's head seemed to be an atypically speedy rush to judgement, akin to the English media's apparent desire to label Fabio Capello a busted flush as soon as possible. The fourth estate north of the border is usually more forbearing.
But then McCulloch's situation was clarified. At 30 and increasingly injury-prone, he has decided to retire from international football to concentrate on his Rangers career. According to a source, the SFA official who took McCulloch's call to that effect last Thursday – and played a part in leaking a "spun" version of it to a newspaper after the Macedonia game – had also decided to keep the information from Burley.
Hence it was all news to the manager – embarrassing news – when he faced the press yesterday to discuss tomorrow's next qualifier in Iceland. Burley could only say he had no problem with McCulloch whatsoever. The player later called Burley to assure him that retirement was "nothing personal". An SFA spokesman said: "George thanked him for the call and said if there came a time when he wished to reconsider, he would be happy to speak to him."
Several of Burley's players, notably Manchester United's Darren Fletcher, gave Burley their full, public and apparently heartfelt support. Fletcher described the notion of players losing faith in Burley as "a total misrepresentation". He added: "It doesn't ring true to me or the rest of the squad. George has got the players' backing, especially from me and from any players I've spoken to. He really has got our backing in this campaign. You can see the effort he's putting in. He's trying to take us to the next level. He's trying to make us more expansive. He's trying to make us a more attacking side. And that's not going to happen overnight."
Burley's task has undoubtedly been made harder because of expectations raised by a Euro 2008 qualifying campaign that went to the wire and included wins at home and away against France. Thus the 1-0 defeat in Macedonia, even with mitigating factors, was still seen as poor, because of a woefully uninspired first half.
Burley is pragmatic. "I know that in football things change quickly," he said. "The only way things change quickly is by getting results. It's a learning curve and I'm not downbeat. I'm going to work as best I can for my country and the same for the players."
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