Friday, November 20, 2009

Back To business

Another international break and it all went a bit medieval. After being slain in a distant land we embarked on a spot of regicide. So it's bye, bye George and hello .... ? God save the king, whoever he might be.

We don't know. Walter Smith and Mark McGhee have already said they don't want the job. Jim Jefferies won't talk about it, Craig Levein is hotly tipped but United are extending a half threatening, half protective arm around his shoulder. And Csaba Lazlo, inevitably, wants the job.

And the other seven SPL managers are no doubt praying that they don't pick up the paper to find their names thrown into the hat.

The SPL holiday may be the moment when normal order is restored and Rangers and Celtic - suffering, like lovestruck teenage boys, the pain of rejection - reestablish themselves and take control of the league once and for all.

Or maybe not. It seems unlikely that either Tony Mowbray or Walter Smith has found the key to reinvigorating sides that are back pedalling quickly towards the chasing pack. Although we must always point out that it is the big boys from Glasgow who continue to sit atop the league table.

So what does the weekend ahead have in store?

Falkirk v Hamilton

A six pointer in the early season relegation skirmishes. Things would look even grimmer for Falkirk if Hamilton were to sneak a win here although the Bairns should be boosted by their thrilling draw with Celtic last time around. And they've signed Pele. Hamilton haven't signed Pele but they look a far more cohesive outfit despite their struggle for consistency. Despite that I'm going for a home win. It's the law of averages and all that.

Hearts v St Johnstone

A goalless draw with Hibs last time out was the least Hearts deserved but it was a performance that highlighted their inability to score goals. St Johnstone have scored 17 goals to Hearts' nine in the first eleven games. But they've conceded 23 to Hearts' 17. It's Hearts defence that has them a point ahead of St Johnstone as things stand. I expect a spot of leapfrogging on Saturday though as the Saints get their second away win of the season.

Motherwell v Aberdeen

Fifth play sixth in another of Saturday's six pointers. Aberdeen have been blowing hot and cold which, I fear, makes them rather tepid. Motherwell have bounced back from a couple of setbacks to remain very much in the mix at the top of the table. It would be remiss of me not to mention the spice added by the return of Mark McGhee who seems to have found it far harder to settle in Aberdeen than he did at Fir Park. More glumness for him this weekend as I back the home side for a win.

Rangers v Kilmarnock

Rangers can sneak ahead of Celtic in the overnight table if they beat Kilmarnock, a team that have often huffed and puffed to very little avail against both sides of the Old Firm. We've already seen how difficult what Mr Craig Burley would insist on calling the "provincial sides" can make it for Rangers this season. More of the same on Saturday. For sure. But the Ibrox masses will still be rewarded with a home win.

St Mirren v Hibs

The goalless draw at Tynecastle was proof that, impressive as it has been, John Hughes' Hibernian revolution is not yet complete. They'll be looking to bounce back but can expect some stubborn resistance from St Mirren. That said Gus McPherson will still be disappointed with their home form as they struggle to turn St Mirren Park into a fortress. I'll tip Hibs but wouldn't be shocked with a draw.

Dundee United v Celtic (ESPN, Sunday)

We have to wait for Sunday for the pick of the games and United will be desperate to take advantage of the stuttering Celts. Tony Mowbray will be just as keen to get a decent performance and kick start a decent run of form. I've got reasonably high hopes that this will turn into a watchable clash, perhaps a bit low on true class but intriguing nonetheless. I'm going to back a United win. The SPL might be back but it's still going to be a topsy turvy season for a few weeks yet.

The form book: 23 out of 59. If I was an SPL team I'd be in sixth and half place. Exactly mid table. A platform to push on or a slippery slope?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Say What You Mean

It was a contrite and regretful Gordon Smith that broke the news of George Burley's departure. Or was it? Interpreting for the cynical:
The decision was taken after a meeting with the board of directors and, subsequently, the national coach. The board was in unanimous agreement.
The rest of them agreed with my decision. I then met George and told him to "get tae."
It should be stressed the decision was not a direct consequence of Saturday’s unacceptable 3-0 defeat to Wales but, rather, a realisation that the expectations of the supporters, the Scottish FA and George, himself, were not being met.
My God, we were bad on Saturday. There’s nothing like being gubbed by the Welsh reserves to get us shaking in our blazers. Still I only got really worried when the fans started booing me.
On a personal note, I would like to thank George for his contribution and, on behalf of the Scottish FA, I wish him all the best for the future.
On a personal note, I’ve been a stunning failure in this role. Thank you, George, for providing everyone with an even bigger numpty by way of distraction.
I should point out that the Scottish FA stands by its decision to give the national coach our full support despite failure to qualify for the World Cup play-offs. It would have been negligent not to have given George every opportunity to rebuild and revitalise the squad in light of the improved performances in the last two qualifiers against Macedonia and Holland. Unfortunately, the adverse results in the two subsequent friendlies against Japan and Wales provided confirmation the improvement could not be sustained.
Keeping George was the cheaper option so we kept our fingers crossed and said our prayers. Speaking of prayers, it was a miracle he managed to find a team that could beat Macedonia. As George Peat said to me then "if there’s even a slight chance you’ve got a miracle worker on a contract, you don’t sack him." Sadly he turned out to be more Brian than Messiah.
We now have four months until our next scheduled match, against Czech Republic, and will therefore utilise the intervening period to ensure we attract the best possible replacement to take Scotland forward.
Anybody not currently in employment who is happy to work for free should get in touch.

The Chance Of A Second Chance?

It did not take Chick Young long. In his obituary of George Burley's reign as national team boss the great oracle of our game points out that a new manager means a new chance for Kris Boyd, Allan McGregor and Barry Ferguson.

Fair enough. A new broom and new beginnings. No manager taking the job should have his hands tied.

Likewise the new man (if it is indeed it is a man: let's not reduce our options by ruling out half the population without serious consideration) should not be the subject of a press campaign to get anybody included in his squads.

Barry Ferguson is the past and we need to be looking at the future. He could have had a role as the team's elder statesman. But age did not bring maturity. The drinking perhaps should have been an internal issue. When it erupted in public, however, it all but sealed Burley's fate.

Was the captain contrite? No, like a spoilt schoolboy given a national stage he chose to act like a prat and offend the nation. That rightly ended his national career. Full stop.

Allan McGregor was, perhaps, misled by Ferguson. But Allan McGregor is not 10 years old and should have known better than to get involved in prolonged sequence of acting like a bloody idiot. Will any manager feel he can trust him? As my old headmaster so nearly used to say: "Sorry, Allan, but if you fly with the craws then you run the risk getting a bloody great bullet up your arse."

Which leaves Kris. Dear Kris. The Boyd Wonder.

Is the national squad of a country struggling with paltry resources the place for a drama queen? Kris Boyd may think he turned his back on George Burley but in reality he threw a gigantic hissy fit that was as much of a two fingered salute to the Tartan Army as anything Barry and Allan managed.

With the supporters downbeat and apathetic will they be willing to welcome back someone who turned his back on them? Will the players who have been through these lowest of times welcome back the fellow warrior who walked away?

For what he will contribute to the cause is Kris Boyd worth taking a risk on? I'd say the divisive nature of any recall would be a hell of a call for the new manager. If it was me I'd leave him in the cold.

Yes, I know he's a prolific goalscorer. But here's a thing. All I've heard over the weekend is the wonders that Walter Smith managed as Scotland manager. Well Walter shares Burley's view of Boyd's effectiveness in big games.

So the new manager has a choice of ignoring Boyd or picking him for the off chance of a hat trick against San Marino and then a flounce off home when he's not picked against Spain. Mud sticks. It's Boyd's own fault that he's done most of the mud slinging himself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It could be you

And so George Burley's reign ended as we knew - and in his heart of hearts he must have known - it would. The sheer inevitability of his sacking was blatantly obvious at around 3.30 Saturday afternoon.

In truth it has been inevitable throughout a 14 game reign that never looked like building momentum. The flickers of life that were detected during the defeat to Holland and the win over Macedonia proved to be but brief glimpses of what might have been.

We now have time to make a sensible and considered appointment for the next campaign. To do that we'll need a strong, forward looking organisation staffed by footballing men of stature.

Sadly we'll have to make do with the SFA of Gordon Smith and George Peat.

So who are the runners and riders?

Graeme Souness: Ruled himself out before anyone could rule him in. Included here for two reasons. Firstly his damning indictment of the players at the new manager's disposal suggests that this is a job few will covet. Secondly the rumour that Gordon Smith wouldn't enjoy being overshadowed by a big personality like Souness sounds depressingly possible and could cast a long shadow over the recruitment process.

Craig Levein: Few would argue with this and we could expect to see Scotland adopting a revolutionary new approach based around organisation and cohesive tactics. But Levein is only 45 and master of all he surveys at Dundee United where the bare trophy cabinet points to what he considers to be unfinished business. Will the call of his nation appeal? I'd predict he'll quietly rule himself out in the weeks ahead.

Jim Jefferies: He would bring organisation and might be considered the right age. Would he inspire the fans to shake off their growing apathy? No. Nothing against Jim but a bigger character is needed to repair the damage of the last year. He might be qualified but he's not the figure we need to rally around.

Jimmy Calderwood: See above. Jimmy and his tan would be the Harry Redknapp option: probably qualified, probably a good guy but the national job is no longer a sinecure position to reward a solid but unspectacular career.

Walter Smith: Will the SFA be searching for smoke signals from the financially impoverished offices of Ibrox. Tempting to see the last few as a series of events conspiring to deliver Walter back to Hampden. But if he is to leave Rangers at the turn of the year would he want to have another shot at another thankless job? And would he be able to produce the alchemy that raised the hopes of the nation last time around? Or might he suggest to his loyal deputy that the Scotland job is the escape he needs? And would Ally McCoist be considered by the SFA?

John Collins: Young and still relatively inexperienced. If he wants the job he has the, ahem, self confidence to believe that he can do it well. With no other options presenting themselves at the moment he might well throw his hat into the ring. But if he felt the powers that be at Hibs were reactionary, how will he take to the SFA? Questions remain over his man management and that must be a consideration if this group of players are to be scraped off the ground.

Gary McAllister: Not an unblemished record in a short coaching career. The decision not to join Burley's staff now looks like a wise move. Other countries have not been slow to take a risk on relatively inexperienced coaches with long international playing careers. But a risk it would certainly be.

Mark McGhee: A long shot but might the Scotland job offer him a get out from an Aberdeen job that is clearly frustrating him? Would need to be decisive though and must also realise that his career needs stability at this point.

Billy Stark: Doing well with the under-21's. Promoting from within offer a comforting reminder of what we must now consider to be the Roxburgh-Brown glory years. Good results in age group matches don't always translate though so Billy might be best left out of the spotlight.

Johnny Foreigner: All the above point to a small pool to choose from at home. The Berti Vogts years remain a painful memory but there's a whole world of coaches out there who have international experience. Would anybody of stature consider the Scotland job? The recruitment process will have failed if it doesn't at least investigate some options.

AN Other: Would any of the Scottish managers currently plying their trade in the top three divisions of English football consider the national job to be better than what they have at the moment? It's probably unlikely and that rules out a number of options that would otherwise have been shortlisted. A name, however, might still emerge from leftfield. And management is a precarious business. The SFA won't rush this and unforeseen option may well appear as they mull over their decision.

So there we have. It's a long list and there are no names that jump out at me. The available choices don't inspire and I'm not sure how much pulling power the job has for those in employment.

These are bleak times to be taking a difficult job. It's more in hope than expectation that I wait to see if the SFA can get this right.

If they are struggling then maybe they should just choose someone from the #whymeforscotlandmanager thread on Twitter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Scotland in win shock

Bad news follows bad follows worse.

That's the season so far.

So, as a special treat, some good news and heartfelt thanks to the youngsters:

Azerbaijan U21 0 - 4 Scotland U21

JAMIE Murphy, scorer of a last-gasp winner in Scotland's previous qualifier at home to Belarus, continued his impressive form with a double as Scotland moved to the top of European Under-21 Championship Qualifying Group 10 with a comfortable victory [More]

And Smith must... go

It's funny the things that play on your mind when you head to the hills for a week to enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation.

One question kept flickering through my mind. What is the point of Gordon Smith?

His tenure at the SFA has coincided with a dismal downturn in the national team's fortunes. Boozing players and a manager with only the grudging support of his employers. The SFA looks rudderless and are amplifying the impression of the Scottish game in terminal decline.

One big success on Smith's watch, the change in international eligibility, should have been a triumph for football's future role in Scotland's multicultural future. Instead Smith allowed the rule change to get swamped in the Andrew Driver soap opera:
I feel sorry for the boy because, at the end of the day, he knows two girls - he's not going out with either of them. So he's not upsetting either of them by not selecting one or the other - he might still have not made his mind up which one he prefers.
A quote which gives the impression that the SFA is being run by Swiss Tony-lite.

On the day when it was recommended that Scotland's qualifying matches being shown on free-to-air TV up popped Smith again bleating about the loss of revenue for the SFA.

When he should have been rejoicing that the nation could again come together to watch Scotland, Smith was arguing that we should instead be charged or forced to watch the games in the pub.

Let them eat cake, Gordon?

I imagine Smith's extensive media experience was a major factor in getting him the job. But as Chief Executive he has shown himself to be completely unable to set the agenda and even less adept at reacting to events.

There's a lot wrong at the top of Scottish football and one man falling on his sword won't change that.

When he got the job it was suggested that Gordon Smith would be a mould breaking Chief Executive. So far he's just been a crap.

But redemption could lie ahead. Fall on your sword, Gordon. A principled resignation with a parting shot. Expose all the vested interests, hypocrisies and failings that blight the SFA and our other governing bodies. Tell us what needs to change, who needs to be ousted and who can get those changes made.

Do it quickly and you might salvage some pride. Delay to long and your tenure at the SFA will go the way of Brighton's FA Cup hopes.