Ian Black: Paul Hartley backs controversial Scotland call-up

Ian Black is all smiles at Scotland training

Scotland v Australia

Easter Road Stadium
Wednesday, 15 August
20:00 BST
Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Sport website. TV highlights on BBC One Scotland 22:45

Former Scotland midfielder Paul Hartley has backed Craig Levein's controversial decision to call Ian Black into his squad from Third Division Rangers.

Black's inclusion has received criticism from large numbers of Scotland fans on social networks.

But Hartley told BBC Scotland: "I thought he had a terrific season last year for Hearts.

"He is a good player, I think he can handle international football, so I think that's why Craig's picked him."

Scotland coach Levein had last week explained the absence from his original squad of Rangers full-back Lee Wallace by saying it would be difficult for a player to make the transition from the Third Division to international football.

But Black, who has played in the Scottish Premier League with Inverness Caledonian Thistle as well as Hearts before his summer move to Ibrox, could now win his first cap after winning a late call up for the friendly against Australia as an injury replacement.

"I think Lee's a terrific player," said Hartley. "Maybe Craig was looking at his options in the middle of the park and maybe felt he was a little bit short there.

"I know some people are not going to be happy about the decision to pick Black over Wallace, who has had international caps."

Hartley himself experienced the Third Division last season as he led Alloa Athletic to the title as player-manager after stepping down from Aberdeen in the SPL.

Wallace has remained with Rangers now that they are outside the SPL
Wallace has remained with Rangers now that they are outside the SPL

The 35-year-old does not think that playing in the bottom tier should necessarily undermine Black as an international prospect and pointed out that Northern Ireland have also called up Rangers players Dean Shiels and Andrew Little.

"If you are playing well at your club, there's no reason why you can't be involved," said former Celtic midfielder Hartley.

"You look at the likes of Shiels and they will still be involved in the Northern Ireland squad and they are playing in the Third Division.

"I see people's point that he was playing for Hearts last season and was playing his best football yet was not involved in the Scotland set-up.

"But he is a professional player and he gets paid well by Rangers.

"He knows he'll have to be at the top of his game to stay in the team.

"He will have maybe 30-50,000 looking at his performances week-in, week-out."

BBC Radio Scotland football pundit Allan Preston has been taken aback by the response to Levein's decision.

"This has annoyed a lot of people, a lot of fans, on Facebook and Twitter," he said.

"It is massive, it is unbelievable and people are calling for Craig's head. It is ridiculous."

Yet Preston could understand the reaction, saying that he himself had raised the question in the past of whether home-based players had to play for one of the Old Firm clubs before being considered for Scotland.

However, he said: "There's only been one game in the SPL and no league games in England, so Craig Levein is going on last season's form and brought Ian Black in for that reason.

"I was calling for him last season. He was player of the year for Hearts for me.

"Would I pick him now if I was Scotland manager? No.

"I don't think it is sending out the right message for the rest of the players in the SPL."

Preston thought it might have been better to have promoted players from the Under-21 squad, who face Belgium on Tuesday, and did not think Black would be involved once English league football resumes and the World Cup qualifiers begin in September.

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