Tuesday, August 05, 2008

For crying out loud

An under-15's cup final. A great day for all involved. A special day for the youngsters.

And so it comes to pass that, as Leith Athletic beat Ayr Boswell in the Edinburgh International Soccer Tournament on Sunday, the Ayr manager is sent off and one of the players headbutts the referee.

Absolutely brilliant. And we wonder why we don't bring many youngsters through these days. It seems the touchline parents are still alive and well. No doubt the professional players who question each decision will be blamed. I'd say the boy probably has some issues that need to be worked through. But the manager that got sent off must take a large portion of the blame.

Would you expose your child to this?

I'm getting old and reactionary but I'd ban every Ayr Boswell team at all age groups for a year. That might, just might, send out a message.

Vlad Laughs Loudest

Vladimir Romanov's "other club" gave him his most famous victory over either half of the Old Firm tonight and, a contrarian to the core, he refused to bask in the glory.

Questioned by Dennis the Menace's ginger, less articulate big brother (or Jim Spence as he's called on the radio) Vladimir claimed that FBK Kaunas had achieved more by beating Andorran side Santa Coloma in the previous round. Take that David Murray.

With Kaunas riding high Vlad also used the opportunity to clear up his revised ambitions for Hearts. It seems that he now looks on Hearts as a club that can help youngsters develop before selling them on.

Still controversial, he claimed that, given the sickness at the heart of the Scottish game, he could try for forty years and never knock Rangers and Celtic off the top. The ambitions have had to change.

Where does this leave Hearts? Who knows? The fans might like some explanation of this apparent change of emphasis. No doubt the message from Tynecastle will be that the supreme leader was misquoted - if so then it's a clear case of shoot the interpreter.

But right now Kaunas would look to be the more promising side in the empire: will that have any bearing on Mr Romanov's commitment to Edinburgh?

The Good, The Bad, The Farcical

The Bad: Sorry Walter, you're out of Europe five days into August. Queen of the South have lasted longer. And, given your ill mannered outburst last week, you have made it clear that the buck stops with you and you alone.

The Good: Look on the bright side, no chance of crying into any microphone you find about a fixture pile up this year.

The Farcical: The BBC Scotland caller blaming the Kaunas result on the SPL's failure to change last season's fixture list. I half suspect this was a Celtic fan on the wind up. Only half though, given some of the Rangers fans you meet.

Kaunas 2, Rangers 1 - Over and Out

Farewell Europe. What a difference a close season makes. After the UEFA run last year Rangers crashed out of Europe tonight after losing to Kaunas.

For those readers who enjoy the discomfort of either of the Old Firm I suppose now is the time to have a hearty chuckle.

For Rangers this is a truly shocking result. Where did it all go wrong? Hmmm.

Kaunas, although inferior on paper, had more match fitness. Carlos Cuellar and Barry Ferguson were missing. The new signings hadn't the luxury of time to gel.

And, simply, Rangers were poor tonight. So poor in the second half that you wonder if they can play that badly again. If they can then this year will be more of a struggle than anyone would have predicted a month ago.

But there are other reasons. I wrote earlier today that Rangers stretched every sinew and maximised the ability of this group of players to reach the UEFA final last year. In doing so they played a defensive style that meant they had to ride their luck against better teams.

As many of us predicted Walter Smith - stubbornly, arrogantly - refused to change that style. That meant tonight Kaunas - again I stress a cheaper and inferior side - were invited to come at a Rangers team that ran out of ideas at one all. This Rangers team had this result coming. It's a very expensive lesson.

Where now? Smith has to change the style, there is no question of using the SPL as a warm up for Europe this season, they need to be more positive. Kris Boyd should be given a chance, the signing of Kenny Miller might well begin to look a major mistake. Signed to play in Rangers' European style where does Miller fit now?

Money? 90 minutes in Lithuania have created a chasm between the two Glasgow clubs. Rangers may need to sell to balance the books: Carlos Cuellar, able to play for anyone in Europe this season, suddenly looks a whole lot more available than he did this time last week. If that happens Smith has a headache: David Weir showed tonight that to cope with the ravages of time he needs someone of the stature of Cuellar alongside him.

One game, one bad result. At this level that sometimes all it needs. Can we now see that this Rangers squad are just not good enough to play at the level the club aspires to?

I think, to an extent, that is the case and that brings a whole series of problems. Not only can Rangers not now afford replacements, they also find themselves in the unenviable position of paying too much for mediocrity. That means it becomes very tricky to recoup your outlay on players.

I say again, it was just one game. But, right now, Rangers are a club in crisis before the season has even begun.

A couple more bad results and Walter Smith is going to be hanging that famous club tie on a very shoogly peg!

Reffing Hell!

The SPL kick off may be delayed by a referee's strike.

For the love of God, how much more ridicule can football in this country survive?

Bad enough that this fine band of men make so many ludicrous decisions. Bad enough that you are unable to question them. Bad enough that some clown thought it would be a good idea to have them sponsored by Specsaver.

Now we're being held to ransom as the men in the middle demand something approaching a 74 percent pay rise. 74 percent. Robert Mugabe would cringe at that level of inflation.

They have claimed they want to be paid a similar wage to countrparts in similar European leagues.

Quick question: other than the distortion of the wages paid in Glasgow does the SPL pay comparative wages to players?

First reaction - tell them to go whistle. Ship in some referee's from elsewhere and see if the standard improves.

Second reaction - we need, unfortunately, to do a deal. If the league doesn't kick off at 12.30 on Saturday then what little credibilty we do have is going to be shattered.

Can we afford to let that happen?

Still Questions in Leith

According to the Edinburgh Evening News today Hibs stars (stars? how many of them actually qualify as stars?) have been holding "clear the air" talks following their dismal pre season.

A sign of a group players taking responsibility for their collective incompetence? Or a sign that problems do exist at Easter Road?

I'm thinking the latter. I wonder just what role Rob Jones has as club captain - it seems clear that much of the John Collins saga revolved around Jones' leading a player revolt? Does he think is bigger than the managers?

I think this one is going to run and run. Right now I'd say Leith isn't big enough for Jones, Mixu Paateleinen and Rod Petrie. Something or someone is going to need to give. Interesting times for the Cabbage.

Rangers Face Destiny

Rangers biggest European game? Last season's UEFA Cup final, right?

No, actually. Try tonight's qualifier for the Champion's League. Don't think so? Then try this. Rangers are 90 minutes away from going out of Europe before the domestic season has started. Out of Europe. No UEFA Cup to break the fall.

Was last year's run a flash in the pan? It was certainly a team achieving something that was at the very limits of their ability. But to go out of Europe this early would be a disaster, a massive disaster.

Remember Celtic are in the group stages this season. The clubs are so close at the moment that a big cash boost for one or the other can make a real difference. So if Rangers fail tonight the ramifications carry on until next season.

High stakes. A high cost of failure. And if they do fail - as I mentioned here - do cracks begin to show in Walter Smith's second reign?

Should be an interesting one.