It is this: how is the English Football Association going to stop Craig Levein poaching from its talent pool? Matt Phillips, the 20-year-old Blackpool forward, was yesterday picked for the Scotland squad for the friendly international in Slovenia next week.
He joins six other English-born players in a 24-man party. His selection is a direct result of a concerted effort by the Scottish Football Association to identify eligible players and convince them to play for Scotland. One of the most understated victories in this strategy is the inclusion now in the form for membership of the Professional Footballers' Association in England of a section allowing players to state what countries they are eligible to represent.
The route for Phillips into a Scottish squad has been more intriguing. First, he is a player who could reasonably harbour hopes of playing for a full England side. His manager, Ian Holloway, had urged Phillips to wait for full England recognition after a series of sparkling performances and a cv that includes appearance for England at under-age level. In 2010, Phillips played for England in the European Under-19 Championship, scoring an equaliser against France that sent his side through to the semi-finals of the tournament. Last year he played in the Under-20 World Cup, starting in all three of England's group stage games and the last-16 defeat by Nigeria.
Secondly, Phillips did not come to the attention of the SFA through a meticulous scrutiny of players' histories. Phillips, rather, will travel to Koper because his grandad phoned the Sunday Post. The journalist passed on the details of the forward to Levein and Phillips could now play for Scotland after FIFA clearance is received. This, though, is expected to be a formality.
Levein defended the introduction of another player born outside the country. ''The increase in the quality of the pool has gained a bit of momentum and there is an awareness that we are actively trying to give ourselves the best chance possible of qualifying for the World Cup," said the Scotland manager. "People are more aware of it now and because of that we are getting more phone calls than we have ever done. Matty is a case in point.
"Other countries have been doing what we are attempting to do for years now. It is no coincidence that a lot of those countries have been very successful. I'm very proud of my Scottish roots but my job, most importantly, is to give us the best chance possible of qualifying for Brazil. It's as simple as that."
Levein was nettled that Scotland had lost out on players who opted play for other countries, notably Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy who chose to represent the Republic of Ireland. "One of the things that is really important to me is that although we are actively looking to increase our pool size, we don't want to lose anybody that is in Scotland," he said. "We have not forgotten about the homegrown talent, people born or playing in Scotland, but it's really important that we widen the net and give ourselves the best chance."
He shrugged off any anxiety on behalf of the FA in England that players were being "poached", saying: "There has been an indication that they are not particularly happy about it but I see that as a compliment in some regards."
He had read that the FA "was not happy" but was determined to do the best for the national team. "Who is to say that Matt Phillips isn't any more patriotic towards Scotland than half the people who live in Scotland?," he said. He suggested that players not born in Scotland "feel they have to do more" in terms of displaying patriotism. As well as Phillips, Levein's squad includes Phil Bardsley, Matt Gilks, Craig Mackail-Smith, Jamie Mackie, Russell Martin and James Morrison, who were born in England.
There may well be more after Levein and Stewart Regan, chief executive of the SFA, met representatives of the PFA in England a year ago. The application forms for the PFA now carry a section that allows players to declare their eligibility for nations outside England. "It is not just for us, but for Wales and others too," he said.
Holloway has predicted a stellar future for Phillips, believing his signing from Wycombe Wanderers could be a better player than Charlie Adam, who left Bloomfield Road for Liverpool in an £8m move in the summer. "Obviously it is a great compliment to the boy," said Levein. "My impressions of Matt Phillips having met him on numerous occasions and watched him on numerous occasions is that he will be a huge asset for us."
Levein believes the trickery and pace of Phillips can be a game-changer at international level where counter-attacking is so crucial. The Scotland manager has also signalled his intention to start James Forrest against Slovenia, taking the Celtic winger from the under-21 squad. "I could have left him to play with Billy [Stark]. But I have three games to prepare for this World Cup qualifying campaign," he said. He added that if Forrest continued the pace of his improvement then Scotland would have a "real player on our hands".
Craig Gordon, the Sunderland goalkeeper, returns to the squad after long-term injury in an attempt to add his 40 caps. "At this moment in time Allan McGregor is my No.1 choice, and that's partly because Craig has been out for so long," said Levein. "For me, there is nothing between the two of them. I hope Craig can get back to the level he was at and then I have a difficult, but tremendous, decision to make as a manager, to be picking between players of such quality."
Phillips, almost certainly, will have a part to play in Slovenia. But there was a mischievous inquiry about whether the Blackpool player could vote in the referendum on independence. Levein, still enmeshed in the Steven Fletcher impasse, said: "I have enough trouble with politics of my own without getting involved in that . . ."