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Zander in the Sunday Mail

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I won't be bothered if I never gain a full international cap with Scotland, says Aberdeen ace Zander Diamond


Jul 26 2009 Scott Mcdermott


ZANDER DIAMOND used to watch Russell Anderson return from another fruitless trip with Scotland and feel the pain his pal suffered deep inside.


Time after time his Aberdeen defensive partner would turn up for international squads and fail to kick a ball in anger.


Anderson has won just 11 caps - despite playing 280 games for the Dons and becoming a Pittodrie legend before moving to Sunderland two years ago.


And that's why Diamond won't lose any sleep over the fact he's also continually overlooked by his country.


He burst on to the SPL scene as a raw 18-year-old, earning rave reviews and attracting the interest of Celtic.


Diamond admits he suffered a ropey 18 months after those superb early campaigns as his game became littered with mistakes and confidence hit an all-time low.


But the stopper found his feet again last term as Aberdeen finished fourth to qualify for the Europa League.


Despite returning to form, Diamond is still waiting for a Scotland call while rivals like Falkirk's Darren Barr establish themselves in George Burley's national squad.


But the 24-year-old insists he will retire a happy man if Scotland NEVER pick him - as long as he excels in a Dons jersey.


Zander told MailSport: "I don't think about Scotland at all, which might sound strange.


"But I've never sat and wondered why I'm not in one of the squads. I've been at Aberdeen all my years and I used to watch Russell constantly get called up but never play.


"I wondered how Russell could get eight or nine out of 10 every week yet guys not playing for their clubs would get a game for Scotland before him.


"When he came back to Aberdeen, Russell conducted himself as a model pro but deep down it must have affected him.


"He was rock solid for us and people up here couldn't believe he was snubbed.


"Russell was at the top of his game and could have signed for the Old Firm. But he never got proper Scotland recognition.


"That has put the international thing in perspective. I don't feel I'm missing anything. If it doesn't happen it won't bother me. Russell is an Aberdeen legend but will never be remembered for anything he did with Scotland.


"If I end my career having played 800 games for Aberdeen but never having won a cap for Scotland I'll be ecstatic.


"Your club is about playing well every week, whereas the internationals are once every few months.


"If I retire without a cap I won't lose any sleep over it - I won't bat an eyelid.


"As long as I do well for Aberdeen and people remember me by saying 'He did well for us every season', I'll be happy."


Diamond is preparing for Aberdeen's first competitive game of the season on Thursday night against Czech side Sigma Olomouc in the Europa League third qualifying round.


It's Mark McGhee's official debut as Dons gaffer and the stopper is keen to impress.


As he reflected on a rollercoaster six years in the Pittodrie first team, Diamond confessed for the first time how the burden of being dubbed "the new Alex McLeish" weighed heavily on his shoulders.


He said: "When I first broke into the team at 18 I had nothing to lose. I didn't feel any pressure at all. I established myself under Steve Paterson and kept my place when Jimmy Calderwood took over as gaffer.


"I formed a great partnership with Russell in the centre of defence and we were touted as the new Willie Miller and Alex McLeish.


"It seems every good defender who comes through at Aberdeen gets tagged like that.


"To be compared to legends like McLeish and Miller is a big burden as they set such high standards in the glory years.


"It's hard for any of us to reach them. I remember a game against Kilmarnock at Pittodrie. After 12 seconds I passed the ball back and Allan Johnston nipped in to score.


"It was a terrible mistake and I didn't know how to recover from it. Everything had gone so well for me until that point.


"I had been getting praise every week then all of a sudden things started to go horribly wrong. It was really hard. I had gone from being the kind of player who made no errors to one who made them every couple of weeks.


"My biggest downfall was going home and over analysing it in my head. I'd play back the mistake on TV half a dozen times.


"I should just have put it out my mind and got over it."


Diamond is adamant he's now ready to fulfil the potential he showed as a kid.


And his renewed maturity on the pitch has been backed up by big changes off it.


Zander said: "I'm ready to become the player everyone expected me to be.


"I've matured off the pitch as well and changed as a person.


"People can't believe how quiet I am now. I just keep myself to myself. They say I'm not the Zander they used to know.


"But it comes to a point in your life where you have to say you don't want to be the joker any more.


"I still like to have a laugh but not all the time. There has to be a seriousness now to gain respect on and off the park.


"My family have noticed a big change but it's one I'm happy with."

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