Scotland manager George Burley insisted yesterday that he had to end the international careers of Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor in order to retain the respect of his players.
Burley claimed the pair had a future in his squad immediately after Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Iceland. The Rangers duo had been banished to the bench as punishment for taking part in a Sunday-morning drinking session at the team hotel.
However, Burley and Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith were then angered by captain Ferguson and goalkeeper McGregor's apparent V-signs while sitting on the bench. And, after an angry public response to photographs and television footage of the gestures, Burley felt they had to set an example by handing them lifetime Scotland bans. "I met with Gordon Smith on Thursday and we talked through the arrangements at Cameron House [hotel] and the events leading up to the game," Burley said. "We knew we had to make sure what happened would never happen again and also we really wanted to draw a line under it. At that stage, I hadn't really seen any papers or watched the match again. When I did, I realised we needed to speak again.
"The gestures had clearly made a lot of people very angry and this was obviously something completely different to the incidents at Cameron House. We talked again first thing on Friday morning and Gordon, George Peat [the SFA president] and myself were in agreement. It's not a decision that was taken lightly, but the SFA have to set an example to other players. I have to have the respect of the players and I have to make tough decisions."
However, Peat questioned Burley's judgement yesterday. "I would have sent the two players home [from the hotel] right away," Peat said. "When I heard the reasoning behind them not being sent home I thought, 'OK, fair enough, let's just concentrate on Wednesday's game'. But when I saw what happened on the bench, it strengthened my opinion that more needed to be done. The pictures from the game on Wednesday were flashed around the world and they painted Scottish football in a very poor light."
In the SPL yesterday Rangers, without the suspended duo, kept the pressure on Celtic, by beating Falkirk 1-0, Kris Boyd getting the goal. Rangers trail their rivals by three points.