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Fletcher: give Levein another campaign

Darren Fletcher last night called for the Scottish Football Association to give manager Craig Levein the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign regardless of what happens in Belgium.

Darren Fletcher believes Craig Levein should carry on
Darren Fletcher believes Craig Levein should carry on

Levein could lose his job if Scotland suffer another bad result in their World Cup qualifying campaign tonight, and if they lose and Macedonia avoid defeat against Serbia, Levein's team will be bottom of Group A as the campaign nears the halfway stage.

But at the team's hotel in Brussels last night Fletcher gave a remarkable show of support for the beleaguered manager, essentially saying that instead of being replaced he should be given an extended contract. Levein's current deal ends in 2014 but he would have to be given a new contract if, as Fletcher wants, he was to remain in place for the next European Championship qualifiers which begin in two years' time.

Many supporters will be astonished by the Scotland captain's claim but his credibility with fans will ensure that his opinion – even if unpopular – will be respected. "We don't want to have to go back to the start again," said Fletcher, who has worked under Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and now Levein since making his debut in 2003.

"How many times are we going to go back to the beginning and do it all over again? That's all we seem to do: whether it's a manager being successful and getting taken away by a club side or whether it's a manager not being successful and getting sacked.

"For me, it always seems to be a 'starting again' process. That's been the theme of my whole international career. We want some continuity. We want someone to see the job through for a number of campaigns because the personnel isn't going to change. The boys definitely want the manager to stay in charge for the next qualifying campaign."

Fletcher conceded that players always say they want a struggling manager to keep his job, but insisted that this time the squad's support for Levein is utterly genuine.

"I think players have to say the right things when asked about a manager," said the Manchester United midfelder. "This time it's coming from a real, genuine point of view. We've got a real belief in what he's trying to do. I think you can sense that from the anger in our voices. We believe in the manager and the ways in which he's trying to progress us. Maybe that progression hasn't been seen by everyone, but I see it.

"Every player wants to be here. Maybe in other [managerial] cases, when results weren't going well players didn't want to be here and it was doom and gloom. When that happens, around the squad everyone is down and there are call-offs. That's not the case here. Everyone genuinely wants to be here and wants to do it for the manager.

"We realise that we haven't put a performance together to repay all the hard work off the pitch, all the preparations and the way he treats us as individuals and players. We are not naive enough to think that everything is hunky-dory. We need a performance and it's got to come from the players.

"The manager will set us up like he always does, meticulously. He puts in a lot of attention to detail about the opposition and the game plan. It's as good as it's ever been since I've been wearing a Scotland jersey.

"In a way, this is a momentous game for us as a squad in terms of trying to qualify and it's momentous for the manager because of the position he's in just now. He wants to see his plan through. So, yes, all those factors make it momentous. It all comes down to this game. Whole seasons and teams can be turned around on one game."

James McArthur, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, is expected to replace the injured Scott Brown, with no other changes to the side beaten 2-1 in Wales on Friday. The home draws last month with Serbia and Macedonia mean Scotland have only two points from a possible nine. Tonight's tie is daunting: Belgium are top of the group with seven points, having won 3-0 in Serbia on Friday.

The Belgians are regarded as one of the most exciting and promising sides in international football. Fletcher remains to be convinced, though.

"We know how difficult it's going to be – Belgium are a top-class side," he said. "But they are by no means unbeatable. They've not qualified for a long time and, although they've got all this talent, they've not set the world alight as an international side. They still need to prove it. They still haven't achieved anything. They haven't qualified yet."

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