Friday, March 05, 2010

David tells it like it is

Soccerex in Manchester this week with delegates paying upwards of £795 to discuss the business of football with the great and good of the game.

A chance to develop your understanding of the game with men like our very own David Taylor.
Due to changes in UEFA's coefficient ranking table, the Scottish Premier League will receive just one place in Europe's elite club competition from the 2011-12 season onwards.

Taylor, who is now the UEFA events chief executive, told BBC Sport that the financial impact of the change will be felt by clubs across the country."It's a big blow," he said. "These are large sums of money which used to be coming into Scotland and in future these sums will not be invested in Scottish clubs, so it has to be a big negative."
That's the sort of searing insight that money just can't buy. Unless you're a delegate paying that £795 plus VAT to hear it.

If that's the genuine footballing knowledge it takes to rise to the top of UEFA then the Scottish Football Blog is waiting patiently for the invite to become president of FIFA.

SPL Preview: London calling

I'm away this weekend, enjoying a mini-break - or at least a mini-bar-break-in - daahn Saarf. Like Dick Whittington, I am off to the mean streets of London. Although I'm sure it will be a shock for everyone if I end up being made Lord Mayor before I come home on Monday.

I might come back a changed man. I am after all visiting the home of the "best league in the world." I might never be able to look at our runty little SPL in the same way again.

All that lies in the future. For now I will content myself with the SPL preview of the weekend ahead.

Quick Predict:

  • Hamilton v Aberdeen; Draw, no goals
  • Hibernian v Kilmarnock: Home win
  • Rangers v St Mirren: Home win
  • St Johnstone v Motherwell: Scoring draw
  • Falkirk v Celtic (Sunday, Sky): Away win
  • Dundee United v Hearts (Sunday, ESPN): Scoring draw

A season long journey through my incompetence: 49 out of 122.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Positively good

So how will Scotland fare under Craig Levein?

We're no closer to knowing the answer. Getting off to a winning start is a positive and a first friendly win at Hampden since 1996 is long overdue.

But anyone looking at last night and hoping to get some indication of our how we'll cope with the Czech Republic in the Euro 2012 qualifiers was unlikely to find many clues.

As predicted Levein's first team selection looked a bit cautious in the opening exchanges although even then the Czechs were able to trouble us enough to confirm that Levein will need to rely on the heroic performances of Craig Gordon as much as his predecessors have.

It took the goal - and if we're honest a heap of Czech substitutions - for Scotland to find their feet as an attacking force with Graeme Dorrans announcing himself as a viable option and Alan Hutton confirming how important he can be pushing up from fullback, especially against weaker teams.

Kris Boyd returned and, in his case at least, the fans seemed ready to forgive and move on. Given his insistence on dictating his own selection policy the cheers that greeted Boyd's entrance will have cheered the manager.

Scott Brown took his goal well but if Levein wants him to do that regularly then he'll need to be released from the anchor role that doesn't allow him to influence the game in the way that he can.

In the Sky studio Charlie Nicholas and Gary McAllister were keen to stress the "good positives" from the night, presumably tact prevented them from raising the "bad positives," "good negatives" and "bad negatives."

This blog can't match that level of "positive positivity" but we're heartened by a performance that suggests, if nothing else, we're likely to be more cohesive and tricky to beat under Craig Levein.

Right then, trivia fans. What details can you recall from our last friendly win at Hampden Park?

It was the same score that night as Scotland beat Australia by a single goal from Ally McCoist.

Craig Brown's full line up back 27 March 1996 was:


Four subs were used: Nevin, Gallacher, Jackson and Booth

There was one big difference of course. In 1996 we were looking forward to a summer spent at the finals of a major championship.

In 2010 we're looking forward to a weekend in a leaky caravan in Skegness.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A new era?


James McFadden has failed to prove his fitness so Dorrans will replace him. Lee Wallace is fit to play.


So which of George Burley's four renegades would make the cut in Craig Levein's first Scotland team.

None. Not Barry Ferguson, devoted to life at Birmingham. Not Allan McGregor, waylaid by that strange assault. Not Lee McCulloch, hurt in Sunday's Old Firm clash. And not Kris Boyd, confined to the bench.

Many people - and the author concedes he is amongst them - might be dismayed by the inclusion of Kenny Miller up front, a certainty after Steven Fletcher's injury. The fear has to be that Levein's Scotland will remain blunt in attack. But given the way the team is likely to play Boyd lacks the all round game to provide the answers to any questions that Miller's abilities raise. The manager has acknowledged that in his team selection. We'll just need to see how Kris reacts.

Shocks in the team? Not many.

Andy Webster's international hiatus ends after four years, a nod to Levein's apparent desire to have men he knows and trusts in his starting eleven.

With James McFadden set to play, depending on a fitness test tomorrow, the formation could be called a 4-4-2. In reality it's set up to go 4-5-1 more often than not. Graham Dorrans is on standby to fill McFadden's fluid attack/midfield role if required.

Anyone hoping for a tactical revolution will be disappointed but Levein was never likely to offer that.

What he needs to show is a team organised enough to do what is needed and inspired enough to perform better than the sum of it's various parts.

Can he get Darran Fletcher to replicate his perfomances at Manchester United? Can he get Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson to rediscover the carefree performances that earned them multi-million pound moves from Easter Road? Can he get his four defenders to play like they trust each other to get the job done?

These are the abilities an international manager requires but they're difficult to measure, the proof is only really delivered when the final whistle goes.

We could lose tomorrow but give a performance that suggests Levein is ready to make progress. We could win and be left with the feeling that little has changed.

What do I want to see at Hampden? Organisation, passion, desire, a work ethic. I'm not asking for the world but I am expecting better than a lot of what's gone before.

Prediction. OK, if I'm pushed, I'll take a scoring draw. But basically, please God, just let it be better.

D Fletcher

Levein, incidentally, gave what I think he'll want to be the final word on his selection policy yesterday:
I believe there will be people who resent the fact that I have picked some players who didn't want to play under George. But that's my decision.

The players then have a decision to make themselves. If they decide they want to play for Scotland, which they all have done, then I feel they have thought through that decision and are prepared for whatever comes their way.

I would ask everybody who is watching the game to have one thing in mind - these guys are playing for their country.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Strips and songs

According to The Scotsman today saw the launch of the "controversial" new Scotland strip.

Not sure how it's controversial but if The Scotsman says it is then that's good enough for me.

I've reached an age - and a body shape - that really prohibits me from donning much cheap polyester but I need only look around me at any football match to see gentlemen of all ages and sizes do not share my modesty.

Anyway first impression is that it looks OK, not sure about the crest detail on the front but then I like my football strips simple.

It would please me much more if the strip was going to be on show in South Africa in the summer but you can't have everything.

In other Scotland news it's been announced that Darius Danesh-Campbell will be singing the anthem before Wednesday's game against the Czech Republic. Really that is so wrong, on so many levels that it makes me want to cry.

Allan's new reality

I have been much vexed by the continuing tribulations of Allan McGregor, a man seemingly hellbent on living his life out as a low rent version of Footballers' Wives. Readers' Footballers' Wives.

Last week's revelations about Allan getting a proper, old fashioned (and still mysterious) kicking after a night out in Glasgow even moved that wise sage Frank McAvennie to offer some lifestyle advice. And that sentence is more beyond parody than any I've written.

Maybe Allan's just misunderstood. Maybe he just needs to sort out his PR.

In which case might I recommend that he deletes Frank from his speed-dial and instead gets in touch with former Belgian 'keeper Jean-Marie Pfaff. In 1986 Jean-Marie was in goal as Belgium reached the World Cup semi-finals and went on to be included in Pele's bizarre list of greatest living footballers in 2004. In a long and celebrated career he also won the Bundesliga three times on the bounce with Bayern Munich.

Back in 2003, despite having been retired for more than a decade, Jean-Marie somewhat oddly found himself at the front of the queue when Flemish television was casting around for the Belgian equivalent of The Osbournes.

And so The Pfaffs was born. It survives and thrives to this day, charting the trials and tribulations of Jean-Marie, wife Carmen and their expanding family.

With STV searching around for homegrown hits to go with their heady mix of films even your granny has seen and hard hitting Antipodean drama, Allan could be the answer. Take one Jade Goody sized intellect, throw in more sex and violence than Jordan and Alex Reid could manage in a decade, mix in a fiance who is never happier than when she is being long suffering in lingerie, add an exasperated father.

Reality TV gold.

Skating On Thin Ice?