Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Stokes Lesson to Want Away Youngsters

"I'm doing well for myself, I'm scoring goals and what more can I ask for?

"At the moment, I don't see why I would go back to Arsenal unless Arsene Wenger says that I am in the first team or first team squad then I am better playing regularly here.

"I'm in regular contact with Liam Brady and I think Falkirk are in talks with Arsenal about me but there is still four weeks left on my deal here so there is no rush but it would be good to get it all sorted. But it's up to Arsenal at the end of the day."

A refreshingly honest and sensible appraisal of his career from Falkirk’s on loan striker Anthony Stokes.

Picking up his well deserved Young Player of the Month Award for November Stokes did mention that he might, one day, enjoy playing for Celtic.

No doubt the Celtic message boards will be in meltdown right now. But note Stokes was speaking about the future.

This was an interview with a young player just content to be paid for playing football. He hopes still to make it at Arsenal but he thinks he’s giving Arsene Wenger more to think about by playing and scoring regularly with Falkirk.

It’s an admirable, mature attitude that a lot of young Scottish players would do well to copy.

Let’s hope Anthony Stokes sticks to his guns because it won’t be long before another agent or another club come to try and turn his head.

A Chick for Christmas

Christmas is nearly upon us. And the pantomime horse of Scottish football, Chick Young, is at it again.

In yet another column devoted to Rangers, the die hard St Mirren fan, waxes lyrical about Jock Wallace and the relative merits of Paul Le Guen.

The Murder Hills at Gullane beach are mentioned as Chick harks back to a simpler time when football was stuck in the dark ages.

Chick, never the brightest of boots in the kitbag and a man whose career defies any measure of quality, is entitled to his opinions.

But why does he mention Rangers signing Scott Brown in particular? I would guess that in January there will, at the most conservative estimate, be 50 players available for less money than Brown who could improve Rangers.

Indeed Chick himself would probably improve Rangers. At least he’d play for the jersey.

I’m sure Chick laughs at non-Old Firm fans when they speak of media conspiracies. Mostly I’d agree with him.

But Scott Brown is a Hibs player on a long term contract who has had a transfer request turned down.

So why does Chick mention him other than to stoke the flames of rumour and gossip that are licking at the doors of Easter Road? And in the week before Hibs play Rangers?

It’s that kind of journalism that annoys people who get their football fix away from Ibrox or Parkhead.

Chick Young. The most popular Buddy in Govan.

Congratulations to the SPFA, Time for Others To Wake Up

Congratulations to the SPFA for coming out and making a stand against Vladimir Romanov.

Fraser Wishart, secretary of the Scottish Professional Footballers Association, said:

“The SPFA condemns in the strongest of terms what it regards as the wholly unjustified treatment of Heart of Midlothian FC towards our member, Steven Pressley.

"The SPFA and its parent body, the GMB union, have long been concerned about the unorthodox managerial and employment practices of the club and the effects this has had on the personal and professional welfare of our members at the club.

"Steven Pressley has had and will continue to enjoy the full support and backing of the SPFA.

"We, along with our legal team, will offer Steven every assistance to enable him to seek redress via internal football procedures or other means."

I’ve said before that Pressley is the only person to come out of this whole mess with any dignity and he deserves the full backing of everyone in the game.

I almost hope this does end in a Scottish courtroom and Romanov’s running of the club, good or bad, is exposed once and for all.

George Burley and Phil Anderton also still have issues with Romanov that may only be resolved through some kind of legal process.

At the same time Romanov, and his represent on earth, Pedro Lopez, are trying to ensure that any staff leaving Gorgie sign confidentiality agreements that keep a lid on the Tynecastle drama.

The mysterious Mr Lopez now seems to be calling the shots as Director of Infrastructure. Does any other club in Britain have a Director of Infrastructure?

But the fact is that individual disputes, even those backed by trade unions, will not go far enough. The SFA, the SPL and UEFA need to act.

Hearts seem to be in the process of being ripped apart by the personal whims of a man that still has no official role at the club.

Many people will enjoy one side of Edinburgh being made a mockery of. But the whole of Scottish football is suffering whilst this pantomime is being played out.

For the good of the game Vladimir Romanov must be brought to heel by the football authorities.

Monday, December 04, 2006

SPL2 - The Sequel We Don't Want To See

The SPL2 is a misguided plan wrapped up in a monumental folly.

We don’t need a second tier of the SPL. We do need a debate on the way all our leagues are structured but the SPL2 is a muddled compromise that will do little good for Scottish football.

We have too many clubs, in all divisions, playing for nothing. We play too many games in all our divisions. We don’t have enough movement between the top league and the First Division. We have an SPL structure that includes a split after 33 games that is mind blowing in its stupidity.

So let’s have a 16 team SPL. Teams play each other twice, home and away. The fixture list is drawn up on a simple home and away basis, so fans know that if they’re away one week then they’re at home the next.

Admit two more sides into the football league and have two divisions based on geography with 14 teams.

Relegate up three teams from the SPL every season. The bottom two to be replaced the two lower division champions. The third team to play in a round robin with the runners up from the two regional leagues.

And admit up to 3 teams from the junior ranks every year as well. The bottom of each regional league to be relegated and the two second bottom teams to be involved in a play off with the third ranked non-league side.

I know we might need to be slightly open with our geographical definitions and that clubs would play fewer games. The former is a pedantic argument, the latter can be solved with a beefed up League Cup.

Celtic and Rangers would still be favourites. But lower down things would heat up – if three teams are to be relegated then scraping the odd draw to pull away from the bottom side wouldn’t work.

With fewer games the league would become more competitive - two or three losses in a row would become a massive problem. Teams would have to go and win games.

Obviously everyone has their own opinion on this. But what I think is clear is that the SPL2 is just an attempt to create a bigger buffer between the elite and the also rans.

The system I propose would allow romance back into our game. And it would circulate some much needed fresh air around our stagnated football world.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fall Guy Fletcher is Inspirational

“The brazen Scottish argument that teams who aren't good enough to qualify under the current system should be allowed in because, um, that would be nice, should be dismissed with the same blend of pity and scorn that would greet Darren Fletcher if he called for Fifa to make football a 20-a-side sport just so he could get into the Manchester United starting line-up. Because the result would be the same: messy mediocrity.”

Excellent work on The Guardian’s blog site from Paul Doyle on Thursday. In one pithy, 40-something word sentence the master of brevity calls the Scottish football team rubbish and picks on the United fall guy.

On Saturday evening Fletcher scored the winner in a game that took his side six points clear in the Premiership.

He may not have the talent of Wayne Rooney or the flashiness of Cristiano Ronaldo but he has a work ethic and passion that makes him a valuable squad member at United.

Why the United fans choose to pick on him eludes me. I might be wrong but the criticism seems to get worse when Fergie’s going through a bad patch.

Perhaps, unwilling to stick the boot in their boss, the supporters use Fletcher, another Scot, as a conduit for their abuse.

We should support Fletcher. He’s fighting a lone battle in the upper echelons of a league that once pulsed with a Scottish heartbeat.

Let’s use him as an inspiration for other young players to prove that they can make it at the very top down south. We might want to keep our talent in Scotland but we are a small pond.

The more players we have playing for top European sides the easier Walter Smith’s job becomes.

SFA Chase Rich Rewards For Mediocrity

The SFA wants to increase the European Championship to a 24 team tournament.

Lennart Johannson, aiming for reelection as UEFA supreme is in favour. Mainly because it will mean more teams can qualify and so should win him votes from the smaller nations.

It’s tempting. I grew up expecting Scotland to qualify for tournaments. Expectation has been replaced by a kind of forlorn hope.

But the European Championship should be about excellence. I know we’re all supposed to be inclusive these days but an event for the elite shouldn’t be expanded to include the also-rans.

Scotland will qualify when they are capable of doing so. That’s how it should be. With the team improving qualification shouldn’t be far away. The SFA should have confidence in the team and Walter Smith.

Instead, they’re trying to erect a back door that will see their coffers boosted by qualification.

They should remember that Scotland being awarded for mediocrity will do little to boost the future of the game in this country.

The Week in Scottish Football

The runners and riders in Scottish football over the last seven days:

Well Done You!

Until this afternoon Kilmarnock were going to get this for performance of the week. But Falkirk made a late charge and came through on the inside after putting Rangers to the sword.

A special mention to Scott Brown. After building up a reputation as the player other teams love to hate he’s achieved a double whammy by becoming the player the Hibs fans love to hate. A transfer request months after signing a new contract is not endearing. A transfer request minutes after an abject performance is insulting.

Oh Dear!

Stephen Kenny went back over the water to win the FAI Cup with Derry City. Congratulations but after a 6-1 loss yesterday Dunfermline fans will be asking where the manager’s thoughts have been this week.

Paul Le Guen. Turning the corner on Saturday. Hits a dead end on Sunday. Much work still to do.

Villain of the Week

Management at Hearts. Some optimism had returned. Then Steven Pressley was dumped again and the gloom descended once more.

Willie McKay or Rod Petrie. Petrie must wonder how keeping his mouth shut has meant becoming involved in a war of words. McKay says Petrie is in the wrong. Thomson and Brown act like children. Somewhere along the line football becomes the loser.