More than a third of Alex McLeish’s Scotland caps came in friendly games.
Half of the games he was involved in during his second spell as manager of the national team were also in challenge matches.
However, the former Aberdeen defender and Rangers manager insists that there is no longer a place in the football calendar for international friendlies – and he’s calling for them to be killed off for good.
“First and foremost, you have to look after the well-being of the players, and they’re currently being asked to do far too much,” claimed McLeish.
“Celtic’s Callum McGregor is a case in point.
“He’s averaged over 60 games per season for club and country in the last three years.
“That’s why, when I took over for the second time in 2018, I deliberately left him out of the post-season trip to Mexico and Peru.
“I spoke to the clubs to find out which players needed a rest, and which ones would benefit from the experience of being in the squad and playing against those teams.
“That gave me the opportunity to experiment and blood some new faces.
“Ryan Christie came through those tests, and he’s been flying ever since.
“But even in international games, expectations are still high and results are important.
“Playing too many games takes a toll on players – physically and mentally – especially when there’s a lot of travelling involved as well.”
Big Eck also fears that footballers are currently asked to play in far too many games during seasons which sometimes last for 50 weeks.
“The most fundamentally-important thing is that players don’t suffer from burn-out,” he said.
“I know that they’re young, strong athletes, and that they work with sports scientists and nutritionists and all the rest of it.
“But they can still be put under too much strain, especially if their clubs are progressing in European competitions.
“There’s no respite for these guys, and you can often tell by watching them that they need a break.
“I think we’ve reached the stage now – particularly since Covid-19 has compressed our seasons – to get rid of international friendlies.”
McLeish is convinced that his successor, Steve Clarke, whose 10 games in charge have all been competitive ties, would benefit from not having to play friendlies.
“I know from personal experience – and from both sides of the fence – that club managers tend to dread international friendlies,” he said.
“They resent having their players taken away from their training ground for 10 days, and they also fear the prospect of having them pick up a serious injury in an otherwise meaningless match.
“You can understand why some club bosses try to persuade players not to join up with the national team in those circumstances.
“Doing away with friendlies should make it less of an issue for them to release them when it really matters.
“You could also see that the fans aren’t particularly interested in them anyway.
“When we played Belgium – No.1 in the World Rankings – in a bounce game at Hampden in September, 2018 – the stadium wasn’t even half-full.
“Now we also have National League games on top of World Cup and European Championship qualifiers.
“So it’s common sense to end friendlies for good.”
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