STUART Armstrong might have brought the curtain down on his Scotland Under-21 career but Billy Stark is glad the midfielder will still be in a Dundee United shirt for a little longer.
Stark was disappointed to see Armstrong pull out of the conclusion to the European Under-21 Championship qualifying campaign with the double-header in Slovakia and Luxembourg. An ankle injury deprived Stark of his captain and Armstrong, at 22, is now too old to play at that level again.
There had been intense speculation that Armstrong would be moving to either England or Celtic, so the closing of the transfer window is not just a relief for Dundee United supporters, but also to Stark, who is convinced Armstrong will benefit by staying another year at Tannadice will see.
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"I know Jackie McNamara has spoke to Stuart and told him it is a really big season for him and I agree," said Stark yesterday of the player who made 20 appearances for the Under-21s. "I am not surprised that he is still a United player because I think you have to look at the bigger picture and United have already earned big money by selling Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson and it would upset the fans if there were wholesale transfers.
"I know one or two clubs were interested in Stuart but I am not sure if there were any firm bids. Dundee United will be delighted to keep him and if Stuart gives them a really good season, then his value will rise and he will earn them more money next year.
"I thought Stuart had a good season last year. He scored 11 goals, which is good for a midfielder. Goals are what a make a midfielder stand out and if Stuart could get 15 this time, it would really make him better. He has been in the first team at United for three years and is an important player for them but there is a more of an onus on him now, with the others leaving, and Jackie will want Stuart to make the next step."
Last April, Armstrong revealed that he has a burning desire to play in the Bundesliga and with a trip to Germany imminent for the full national team, Stark believes that Armstrong can push himself into Gordon Strachan's plans for the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
"Stuart was called up to the big squad for the Croatia game last season," said Stark. "I think he can get back into it, even though midfield is the area of the team where competition is strongest but if he keeps developing as he has, he can do it.
"Stuart is very grounded. He was a real stalwart of the Under-21s over the last few years. I knew from the Under-19s and then came to the 21s as a younger player. It is a real shame that his Under-21 time came to end before it should have but when he was injured at Celtic, he knew he was struggling. Stuart phoned me to say he was very grateful for his time with the Under-21s. That typified his good behaviour. Stuart was not a vocal captain but led by example."