Paris in the springtime lived up to Cole Porter's promise yesterday as Scotland arrived in weather that would represent high summer in Paisley or Peterhead. But a North Atlantic outpost in the autumn was clearly on Berti Vogts' mind when he arranged for Barry Ferguson to join his squad, even though the Rangers midfielder has been ruled out of tomorrow's friendly with France.
Ferguson, whose absence will deny potential suitors from the English Premiership a chance to see how well he matched up to Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and friends, helped his club beat Partick Thistle on Sunday. However, the 24-year-old has a rib injury which later required a pain-killing injection, and Vogts accepted he was not fit to partner the new captain, Paul Lambert, against the world champions in the Stade de France.
That, under the previous regime, would probably have been the end of the matter; Craig Brown was careful not to antagonise the clubs on whose goodwill he realistically depended. Yet his successor is not only preparing for a daunting first match after only six weeks in charge. He is also seeking to assert his authority ahead of Scotland's Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, which starts in the Faroe Islands on 7 September. To that end, Ferguson is to fly out to the French capital.
"I am not satisfied that Barry will not be here to play, but that's a normal situation – France have lost Robert Pires," said Vogts. "He will be coming out on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. He is one of the key players and also vice-captain, so it is good for team spirit that he will be with us.
"After talking to the Scottish FA doctor and to Rangers' doctor I have accepted the situation. Even if it was a competitive fixture, Barry could not play. He is in a lot of pain and cannot do his best. At international level you need to be able to keep going for 90 minutes. With respect to Partick, the game with them was a training session for Rangers."
Vogts spoke to Ferguson's manager, Alex McLeish, who assured him he was always willing to help Scotland. The Ibrox captain, too, had told him he "loves" playing for his country. A compromise was therefore struck, ensuring that neither the German nor McLeish, who is also settling into a new job, lost face early in his reign.
The dubious distinction of being the first player to withdraw from a Vogts squad went not to Ferguson but to Steven Pressley, the Heart of Midlothian defender. The back injury he suffered against St Johnstone on Saturday created an unexpected opening for another young player, 21-year-old Maurice Ross of Rangers. With the midfield options further depleted by the loss of a second Hearts man, Scott Severin, the Norwich and former Kilmarnock ball-winner Gary Holt has been recalled.
"I have no fears about playing the youngsters against France," Vogts insisted. "I was 19 when I made my debut [for West Germany] in a World Cup qualifier against Yugoslavia, and that was tough. Franz Beckenbauer was 18, Johan Cruyff 17. The stadium will be full – which shows there is a lot of respect for Scotland – so it will be good experience for them. I can't look back because the team we had was very old. I have to find a system and players for some positions and we have only five games before we play the Faroes."
To the friendlies (a word and a concept the new incumbent dislikes) already arranged – Nigeria at Aberdeen on 17 April and Denmark in Glasgow on 21 August – the Scots have now added fixtures with South Korea in Seoul on 16 May plus South Africa and Turkey in Hong Kong on 20 and 23 May respectively. If Paris represents the honeymoon period for Vogts, Scotland's itinerary seems certain to test relations with the clubs.Reuse content