Scotland striker Steven Naismith has denied that a bitter rivalry has developed between himself and Leigh Griffiths.
Naismith will lead the line for the national team against Israel in Haifa tonight as the Scots aim to take command of their Nations League group.
Griffiths will be back at home, perhaps working on his fitness after providing that as the reason for his shock withdrawal from Alex McLeish’s squad.
The news that the Celtic frontman had given both the competitive game at the 30,000-capacity Sammy Ofer Stadium and Sunday’s friendly against Portugal at Hampden a swerve started murmurs that he had maybe taken the huff.
There was, after all, talk from Griffiths of being “kicked in the teeth” by Aberdeen legend McLeish after the national coach picked Naismith ahead of him for the Group C-1 opener against Albania.
The Hearts player, of course, proved that decision to be the right one when he scored one goal and made another in a comfortable 2-0 home win.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that something is not quite right but Naismith does not see the pair as rivals.
The former Rangers and Everton man said: “People are going on about this tension but that’s not for me.
“I couldn’t care less who else is in the squad.
“I might play or not but it’s not because of anybody else.
“If I am playing well enough then I’ll be in the team. If I’m not, then I won’t be in it.
“So I have never really seen it that way.
“In terms of the bigger picture, though, there was definitely a bit of satisfaction after the Albania game that: ‘Right, I’ve made a point there. I want to now push on.’
“Maybe you have seen it in the past at clubs when you have had two scorers saying: ‘I’m the man, I’m the man.’
“I just don’t see that with us at all.”
Naismith insisted he had some sympathy with Griffiths, having himself given the infamous end-of-last-season trip to Peru and Mexico a miss.
He also doesn’t believe this will be the end of the Parkhead player’s Scotland career.
“I can understand it,” he said of Griffiths’ reason to pull out of the squad.
“It is a situation where people will think: ‘That’s crazy. How can he do that? He should be grateful.’
“But if Griff doesn’t think he can come away and give his best then he is sacrificing himself to give someone lese a chance and you have to appreciate that and understand that.
“Players go through these periods and it is kind of like when I had something similar in the summer.
“I spoke to the manager and said: ‘Look, I’ve got a bit of an injury. It wouldn’t keep me out of a competitive game but I don’t think I’d do myself justice or the team.’
“That is obviously Griff’s mindset.
“Griff is a top player.
“Playing for the Old Firm in Scotland you get a lot of attention and he has had that.
“But he will deal with it the right way.
“So, no, I don’t think that (it’s the end for him).
“Griff has been in a lot of squads where he has not played a lot of games but he has continued to turn up.
“If anything he is coming to a time in his career when he is reaching his peak. Why would you want to miss out on international football when you are coming into that period?”
At the grand old age of 32 and having played 47 times for Scotland, Naismith is hoping to become member of the 50-cap club soon.
He said: “There is probably a core group of five or six players here that I would say I have made the journey with.
“Then there are all these younger guys who have no fear and are hungry.
“Just to be back involved in the dynamics of the whole squad is great.
“The manager, a lot of the backroom staff and the squad have changed so it was different but, looking back on it now, I missed it more than I thought I did.
“It is great to be here now and long may it continue.
“I have always been one where, as regards highlights of my career, Scotland caps have been up there because you grow up going to the games and then, suddenly, you are on the pitch.
“I definitely have more of an appreciation for it all now.
“A lot of things in your career, when you are younger, are a bit of blur. They just happen to you.
“You then look back on it and that’s when you really appreciate it.”
“Yeah, it’s close to 50!
“When I wasn’t in the squad I maybe gave up hope of getting that at some point.
“I am not banking on it yet. I am just taking them as they come.
“It would a dream come true if I could do it.”