Former Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy has warned his former international side he managed that they will face a dangerous striker in Scotland’s Steven Fletcher, when they travel to Celtic Park.
McCarthy, who managed Fletcher at Wolverhampton Wanderers, is wary of the forward ahead of his former team’s UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier in Glasgow on Friday night.
“I was his manager when he wasn’t playing for Scotland,” he said, referring to Fletcher’s exile from the national team amid a disagreement with former Scotland boss Craig Levein.
“I could never understand that to be honest. Well I can and I can’t but it was just a shame because he was playing well then.”
“When I was asked about Fletch by other managers I said he could play in the top four teams in England. If it was a Champions League team looking for a centre-forward, I would have hung my hat on him. Without any doubt. I think he’s that good.”
Flethcer has struggled to rediscover his goalscoring form since suffering an ankle injury while playing for Scotland against Wales on March 22 last year, but McCarthy is in little doubt that the former Hibernian player remains a potent force.
“I don’t think it’s taken its toll,” the Ipswich Town manager said.
“He’s still a young man, he’s only 27 and should be at his peak. Unfortunately some of the injuries have restricted him from playing.”
“Honestly, I thought he could have played for any one of the top four teams.”
“I don’t see him much now but I saw his goals against Crystal Palace and I thought his header was fantastic and his second was the finish of a real, cold, calculated predator.”
“And he used to work at it, day in, day out, with Terry Connor, my assistant. And he loved it, he works hard at his game.”
Fletcher did not play for Scotland for more than two years amid a stand-off with Levein, the disagreement stemming from the manager’s decision to play a 4-6-0 formation while the Sunderland man sat in the stands.
“It hurt him,” McCarthy said.
“He wanted to play, he wanted to be involved. It was just a set of circumstances between him and Craig. But he’s back playing.
“I don’t think it affected him in terms of his club career, not at all. I wanted him to play (for Scotland) but bizarrely I was getting more out of him by him not playing. You want them to play for their country but then they come back injured.