Friday, February 23, 2007

Cryptic Vlad Hits Out Again

Well, I suppose it has been a week since he last spoke out. Once again using Hearts' official website as the conduit for his tirade, Vladimir Romanov has waded back into his row with the media.

The latest statement read:

Dear Monkeys,

Today I will not be showing your portrait to you. It is pointless. You are one step away from becoming human beings.

Go and carefully have a look at yourself in the mirror. Don't you see a human in it?

Stop fighting for the values which the ex-captain of Hearts was fighting for.

Education and truthful information - that should be your input to humankind.

Your leader Mowgli is not taking bananas any more, now he is taking money for lies and untruthful interpretation. However he is greedy and makes you collect rotten information from cesspits and poisons readers with it.

This is unworthy even of a monkey.

Today I will express my opinion in English about refereeing in order that your Mowgli will not make you tell lies.

To discuss whether referees take money or not is the same as discussing a woman who gives herself with no love.

Isn't it better to concentrate on the standard of their work instead of looking for reasons for their poor performance?

A woman cheats herself and nature if she gives herself without love. If a referee officiates a game based on his personal love, he commits a cynical crime, especially when the public has trusted him.

I respect those referees who take money from two stupid teams and then honestly officiates a game. They do not harm football in any way. Though it is bad, still everybody is equal for them. Perhaps that is the reason why football in Italy will never die despite all the scandals that continuously shake it.

I think that is much better than being the champions for 40 years while building up the same system for further 40 years.

Now it has become obvious to me why you, the Monkeys, were trying to ruin Hearts not only in the Championship, but in European competitions as well. I think it was not without your help that the 'frozen' referee from Russia was selected to officiate our match and that in the games against the Greek side we got three red cards.

It is not without your help that traitors were presented as heroes thus showing the road to children for betrayal.

You will always call teachers silly because unlike you they lead children along the correct path.
Protecting your values in that way just spoils not only football, but also a Scotsman's proud name.

I beg you Mowgli, take the monkeys back to the Safari Park!

What is that all about?

I really have no idea.

The media are obviously targets again. Steven Pressley - who surely now must regret that confidentiality agreement - is again accused of betrayal. And the Scottish press will be delighted to learn that they can influence the officials in European games as well as dictate the winners of the SPL!

Bribery of officials is, it seems, just about acceptable as long as the officials remain honest in their dishonesty. And we now know that as well as being a fan of Sir Walter Scott, Romanov is also not beyond the odd Rudyard Kipling reference as well. Although, of course, Mowgli was a prisoner of the monkeys not their leader.

Other than that? Who knows? As a statement intended for clarification it fails miserably. I guess all I can say is that when outsiders choose a football value system for their children to follow they'd probably opt for Steven Pressley's above Vladimir Romanov's right now.

Where does it leave Hearts?

Again I don't know. But it does ensure that the owner will again be on the back (and front) pages of the papers tomorrow. And nobody will be discussing the team. If that is Romanov's aim then you've got to congratulate him on successfully completing his mission!

The saga continues...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Christie the Redeemer?

Good to see Charlie Christie questioning the value of the SPL split in the papers this week.

The Inverness manager asked if, eight years into the experiment, it was really beneficial for the game. Again this year the SPL title and relegation battles are all but over (barring a Dunfermline revival of increasingly grand proportions) before the split.

European places are still up for grabs but it's unlikely that the team in fifth or sixth place will be able to make a sustained run for second, or even third, place.

Which leaves Christie – and a lot of other managers – looking at the Scottish Cup as their main target. Christie even doubts the financial benefits of a top six finish (although there are television and match day revenues to consider).

As Christie concede: "I think it needs to be looked at again, although that is me coming up with a problem, not a solution."

I still don’t know what the solution is but I would consider a 16 team top division. The argument would be (particularly from the Old Firm) that fewer games means less revenue from home matches.

But a brave revamping of the League Cup could fill the fixture vacuum as well as helping money filter down to the lower league clubs.

Why is any of this relevant at the moment? Because the proposals for a second tier of the SPL are still bubbling under.

Which does beg the question: if we can have a two league SPL of 20 teams, why can’t we have one SPL of 16 teams?

No other European country has followed our lead and adopted the split. That, if nothing, else suggests it’s now time to go back to the drawing board.

Rangers Reprieve But Problems Remain

How to feel about the news that UEFA have accepted that Ranger’s fans were not giving Nazi salutes at their recent UEFA Cup game in Israel?

Given recent events in Italy, and now France, along with Ranger’s fractious relationship with the authorities last season, the risk could have been that UEFA could have decided to make an example of Rangers and give them the order of the boot.

We should, I suppose, all be grateful that Rangers have been cleared: had they been found guilty it would have been an unthinkable stain on football, on Rangers, on Scotland. That’s not to mention the crass stupidity of people swathing themselves in Union Jacks and giving Nazi salutes.

But, as Rangers' Chief Executive Martin Bain conceded, a bitter taste remains:

"Some Rangers fans continue to give Red Hand salutes, which the club and the vast majority of supporters discourage because they will be misinterpreted. Our supporters will be bitterly disappointed that the club is once again the focus of UEFA attention because of a handful of people who continue to put our club at risk through their mindless actions."

Because how can we be grateful that, far from invoking Nazism, a group of Rangers fans went to a country blighted by religious divides, a country that has seen too many deaths caused by religion, and happily invoked the prejudices and memories of another sectarian conflict?

I know the whole debate about sectarianism and bigotry can appear boring. That it can get in the way of football. But until the Scottish game is completely clear of the zealots it is our duty to point out the absurdity of their prejudices.

People in Northern Ireland want to move on. It’s time for Rangers to do the same. Let’s applaud Bain for tackling bigotry. But his club have to act against the minority or UEFA will act – and Scottish football will be the poorer for that.

Milan Impress But Celtic Still Alive and Kicking

Celtic playing host to AC Milan in front of one of the most passionate and atmospheric stadiums in Europe should be a meeting of two footballing aristocrats.

Instead, as Celtic woke up to the realities of life at the top table of the Champion’s League, this was an enthralling clash between the aristocrats of Milan and the artisans of Glasgow.

That Celtic are still very much in the tie, that progress to the last eight remains an unlikely possibility, is a testament to the spirit that Gordon Strachan has rebuilt in his team since they crashed out of this tournament in the qualifying round last season.

The feeling persists, however, that Celtic will struggle to raise their game in the return leg. Or that even if they do Milan will simply step up a few gears of their own. Strachan’s admission that he would give his side on five out of ten for technique was a stark reminder that dominance in Scotland is not preparation enough at this level.

Celtic’s defence was sound. The goalkeeper Artur Boruc was called upon to make only one save that could be described as out of the ordinary. But it was a solidity that required two holding midfielders in the centre of the park. That undoubtedly robbed Celtic of the chance to attack Milan through the middle. In his 100th Champion’s League game Paulo Maldini will no doubt be relieved that his aging legs were never tested by the pace of Kenny Miller or the strength of Jan Venegoor of Hesselink.

In the centre of midfield Neil Lennon and Evander Sno performed heroically for Celtic. But it must be noted that Milan’s Rene Gattuso was able to perform their two man job on his own, in doing so freeing up Kaka and the rest of Milan’s rich talent to drive forward. And when they came forward it was with a pace and skill that we rarely see in Scotland.

Aiden McGeady and Shunsuke Nakamura didn’t receive the service to impact on the flanks: and even when drifting inside were too well marshalled to create opportunities.

And yet. Miller had a couple of half chances that a striker with more confidence might have converted. Nakumara’s two free kicks were disappointing but showed that Milan are not immune to giving him opportunities on the edge of the box. Thomas Gravesen’s introduction, as Lennon visibly tired, gave Celtic an impetus that proved they could ruffle Milan.

And, but for that one save from Gilardino, Boruc was barely troubled.

Still though the feeling persists that Milan looked at this game as one to come through unscathed. The football equivalent of “rope a dope.” Celtic will hope they can put that strategy to the sword in the San Siro.

That will, as Strachan conceded, require an improvement in technique and self belief that Celtic have rarely shown away from home in this competition. And few will have been shaken from the belief that spirit and effort are highly commendable but will only carry you so far in this competition.