LISTENING to Scotland manager Alex McLeish the other day, you would have thought that Leigh Griffiths’ gluteus maximus had been defenestrated in terms of his future involvement with the national team.

Talk about damning someone with faint praise?

“I’m not going to throw him under a bus,” said McLeish. “He came to the games the last time round and there was no animosity whatsoever.

“I can see in a player’s body language they don’t like not playing. I could see that not only with Leigh Griffiths but a number of players.

“It’s natural and I think it’s big of him to say he needs to get fitter to play at these levels. He wants to concentrate on his fitness. I had a good chat with him on Saturday.”

That will be one of those chats a chairman gives a manager about ninety seconds before he fires him. “Fullest confidence in you, blah, blah, blah ... fetch that P45!”

I suspect I am not alone in thinking that Griffiths was calling it right in saying that he needed to work on his fitness. Self evidently on his performances this season, his assessment is correct. I personally do not think he should have pulled out of the Scotland squad, but I can understand his reasons for doing so, not least of which is the pressure he has been put under by his club manager Brendan Rodgers to get himself consistently on the scoring sheet again – that is what happens to strikers.

The club versus country argument is as old as professional football itself, and having interviewed dozens of players who have been lucky enough to pull on that beautiful dark blue jersey, I am utterly convinced that no true pro wants anything other than to be selected to play for their country, not least because they know that their value as a player is increased by appearing on the international stage.

I also have a serious problem with McLeish taking the stance that he has with both Griffiths and James McArthur. He effectively suggested that they were putting themselves before their country. That is the only sensible interpretation that you can put on his initial remarks, though to be fair he has since qualified them.

It has probably not escaped your notice that Scotland is not exactly replete with outstanding world-class footballers at this point in time. Yet the national team manager issues what I can only call veiled threats to important players who miss out on games for valid reasons – as McLeish has admitted in the case of both Griffiths and McArthur – that they might not be selected again.

As a man who gave his all for Scotland, I can see where he’s coming from, but that approach is just so wrong. It is simply bad management to say that players who are necessary to the cause are suddenly dispensable. Their excuses should have been listened to, not disparaged.

It also really rankles because McLeish thinks that we all have very short memories and will not recall that he himself, once upon a time, was in such a situation and he chose his own self-interest above that of his country. His move to Birmingham City in the wake of Scotland’s exit from the European Championships of 2008 utterly stank of a professional wanting to make as much money as he could and hang the consequences for his national side, which I contend has not really recovered from his departure at that time.

Remember that McLeish left in November 2007 having led Scotland to almost qualifying for Euro 2008 and that he was building a team which had genuine potential for qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Scotland, since then, has failed to be anywhere close to as good as the team that beat France.

Gordon Smith, who was then chief executive of the SFA, subsequently confirmed that McLeish was offered an improved contract to stay on with Scotland, yet he walked away, though as Smith admitted, McLeish was on “a pittance” – Smith’s words, not mine – when he went to Birmingham, where his salary was improved by a factor of whatever.

There are other matters which will never endear McLeish to a sizeable section of the actual and potential support for Scotland such as his involvement with the issues of the finances of Rangers when he was manager at Ibrox.

Yet I have always liked and respected Alex McLeish, both as a player and manager. On this occasion I think he is wrong and he should be much more diplomatic in his approach to players and the Tartan Army. We’re not good enough to be bullish. Oh, and please win in Israel. Did I forget to say that?