Friday, October 08, 2010

Dundee In Administration

Another administration story:

Dundee's impending slip into administration for the second time in seven years will result in 10 of the current playing staff being released. STV understands the cuts could also see manager Gordon Chisholm and his assistant, Billy Dodds, laid off by administrator Bryan Jackson.

The First Division club, who have been fighting a demand from HM Revenue and Customs for an unpaid tax bill of £365,000, are understood to have started proceedings to go into administration, with one-time Motherwell administrator Bryan Jackson set to be appointed to the same role with Dundee.

What can you say?

It's all too common. And any time we see a team sinking money into the dream of moving through the leagues we suspect that this might be just around the corner.

The curse of modern football. And it's going to keep happening unless we can somehow find a way of making our game sustainable.

All that's for later. For now we can only wish the players and the Dundee fans all the best and hope that this sorry saga is somehow sorted out.

Czech Republic v Scotland

Scotland’s chosen ones: McGregor, Hutton, Weir, McManus, Whittaker, G Caldwell, D Fletcher, Dorrans, Morrison, Naismith, Mackie

Scotland’s formation: 4-2-2-2 or maybe 4-6-0 or maybe something else.

Craig Levein’s taken a risk or two with his selection for the game against the Czech Republic tonight. And it’s left me unsure what to expect.

Gary Caldwell returns for his first start after injury playing in midfield, although it’s his fitness that offers the biggest concern as the defensive sitter role is one he’s used to.

And, as you’ll have heard, no Kenny Miller.

Poor old Kenny never looks particularly happy. Maybe he’s always gutted by his bad luck. After the best part of decade amassing caps on the back of occasional bouts of club form, a willingness to work hard and a lack of competition, he now finds himself dropped on the eve of his 50th cap when he’s in the form of his life.

Not that we should be surprise as a tabloid newspaper had broken the story on Wednesday – a situation that enraged Levein. Best, perhaps, to gloss over the fact that one of the paper’s star columnists was at the centre of the storm.

So we go into the game with an angry manager, a raging debate over selection and formation and, it appears, a touch of discontent in the squad. Magic.

We shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Which of us hasn’t, current form not withstanding, worried about Miller’s profligacy as an international striker? And which of us has seen enough of Jamie Mackie, an Anglo with a Scottish grandfather, to write him off before he’s mouthed along to the anthem?

The formation itself could offer some fluidity. With attacking full backs and a third centre half in midfield it looks to be a selection that can quickly be adapted to suit the pattern of the game while retaining the defensiveness that will be our calling card under this manager.

Obviously espousing that theory on a tactics board is one thing, having enough trust in the players to actually put it into practice is another matter.

Certainly I can’t see it being a team to scare the Czechs as we search for our first win in Prague since before the Second World War.

But we’re not really setting out to frighten them. We’re turning up to contain them and snatch anything that comes our way. Maybe, just maybe, Mackie is better placed to feed off scraps than Kenny Miller.

Certainly I can see it being a long night and an uncomfortable night. A draw is clearly the aim and that can be a dangerous game to play in itself.

We’re going to set out to frustrate opponents who will be desperate for a win. It’s not exactly Pele’s jogo bonito. But it can be effective.

I hope it is tonight.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Phil In The Blanks

Enough scoffing.

In years to come we’ll remember where we were when the news filtered through. It will be our JFK moment. With less blood, and fewer conspiracy theories. And much happier.

The day Scotland welcomed a new star.

The day Craig Levein picked up the phone and called Phil Bardsley.

Suddenly the doubts raised by those twin performances against Lithuania and Liechtenstein were washed away. The fear about facing the Czechs and the Spanish eased.

Scotland are on their way and Phil’s leading the charge.

All nonsense of course.

Who knew that Bardsley had a Glaswegian father? Who knew that he was still at Sunderland? Who knew that Alan Hutton kept him out of the side at the Stadium of Light last season?

Craig Levein knew and that’s all that matters.

We live in a world that is getting smaller. We occupy a strange postion in that, along with the other home nations, there are going to be a lot of cases of dual qualification (in Bardsley's case triple qualification). And we are entitled to use that to our advantage. It’s within the rules and the manager is entitled to use those rules as he sees fit for the good of his team.

And when it brings success we’re likely to forget all about it. John and Martin Leslie were parachuted into the Scottish rugby team. That raised eyebrows but was forgotten when they were instrumental in winning the last ever Five Nations Championship in 1999.

It’s the lack of ambition that annoys.

Phil Bardsley might be a great guy. He might even ceilidh dance around his living room while munching on haggis balls washed down with whisky, Braveheart on a constant loop on his TV. And his somewhat stalled career might hide a world class footballer who has simply been unlucky with injury, managers or some other of the many variables that can take a toll on promising young careers. (In my case the most damning variable was being crap at football but I’m sure Phil doesn’t share that affliction.)

Levein has said that Bardsley is the sort of young but experienced player Scotland needs. But he’s not. At 25 he would only be called young in a country that has zero confidence in taking a risk on youth. Scotland is such a country. And with under 100 senior appearances he would only be considered experienced in a country that considers being a Manchester United youth player and appearing a few times in the English Premier League as experienced. Scotland is such a country.

Would Levein’s squad really have suffered if he’d taken a punt on a player playing in the SPL who is actually young? Would, in the long term, that not have been more beneficial for both the player and the development of Levein’s squad?

According to the manager, the SFA had been aware of Bardsley’s eligibility for some time but the player had only recently decided to throw his lot in with Scotland. One wonders if he felt the need to phone Fabio Capello to tell him that he no longer wanted to be considered for selection.

Maybe Levein has uncovered a gem in Bardsley. If not then this seems a pointless call-up. And one that will serve only to increase the gulf between the manager and the fans.

Roll on Friday night…

Hibs Still Searching

What madness have I returned to?

With a shiny, completed ground and a financial position that the board enjoy describing as “healthy” all should be rosy in the Easter Road garden.

Unfortunately football is still about finding a manager and a squad of players who can deliver something on the pitch.

And that, recently, has been Hibs’ failing. That John Hughes had to go was of little surprise. He will, with his normal “character,” defend his record. Europe for the first time in five years, fourth place in the league. Fair enough. But the harsh reality was that Hughes’ Hibs team wasn’t good enough, that it may even have been less than the sum of its parts. And for that the buck stops with the manager.

I’m told Hughes is blaming the media for “interpreting” recent results to fit their argument.

OK. But how much spin does it take from even a third rate scribe to turn one win out of ten in the SPL and European and League Cup exits into a damning indictment of Hibs current form? Or how about the worst run of home results since the club was founded in 1875?

Hughes was fond of saying that “football” people understood what he was trying to do. Well, football people and non-football people can surely agree that the manager was going to come under pressure with such a paltry return on what, for Hibs’ famously reticent board, has been a reasonable investment in the playing squad.

I’d actually take Doc Brown’s DeLorean back to the start of last season to pinpoint the problem of the Hughes reign. I’d return to a stage of the season that came before that now almost unbelievable period when people were breathlessly hailing Hughes as the man to split the Old Firm.

In the fourth game of last season Hibs lost 2-0 at Hamilton in a performance as insipid as it was disjointed. It was to be a recurring theme. If the big players didn’t click then Hibs seemed powerless to do anything in the face of well organised opponents. There was no Plan B because, and this gnawed away even during the long unbeaten run last season, there was no Plan A. The seeds of this season’s discontent were sown last year. In focusing only on the final league position Hughes chooses not to acknowledge that.

That, of course, fits in with the pattern established in his last season at Falkirk when a cup final and a last gasp escape were constantly used to defend his record without ever facing up to the problems that had pushed his team into a lengthy relegation battle.

Given his reputation as a hard man – a reputation apparently well earned – his lack of control in the dressing room also seemed odd. But discipline does seem to have been an issue and man management problems seem to have been constantly rumoured. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of Yogi’s motivational speeches I can vouch for both their length and the essential lack of substance at their heart, like a call to arms delivered by the worst sort of New Labour apparatchik. Did the players simply stop listening?

All of which is a shame because Hughes is a decent bloke with Hibs and Leith in his heart and he shared a bond with the fans. Unfortunately, and many other former players will vouch for this, having the best of intentions and loving a club is not enough to make a success of it in the dugout.

The final verdict has to be that for the majority of his 15 months in charge this son of Leith was unable to deliver any sunshine.

Where, then, do the board turn now?

For a club that likes to consider itself “stable” Hibs have been anything but of late. There has been a constant turnover of managers and a lack of any cohesion that belies the success of the youth development staff but is borne out by a decade that has, in truth, been only intermittently inspiring.

In fact the one constant has been Rod Petrie, a man hailed for his shrewd financial guidance but who has a poor track record in identifying coaches with whom he can forge long term working relationships. The admission by Jim Duffy that he taught Petrie all he knows should not, perhaps, be much of a surprise given the mess that Duffy himself made of the manager’s job.

But with financial stability, a reasonable squad and an open race for third place there is likely to be no shortage of contenders for Petrie to choose from.

Some of the names we’ve already seen linked include: Paul Hart, Steve Clarke, Jimmy Calderwood, Billy Reid, Ian McParland, Uwe Rapolder, Gus McPherson, Derek Adams, Derek McInnes, Steve Constantine, Tony Mowbray, Mark Venus, Michael O’Neil, Pat Fenlon, Craig Brown, Sir Bobby Charlton and Colin Montgomerie.

I’ve made a couple of those names up. And I’m not going to back anyone.

Why? Because Rod Petrie would have made a damned good operator in the political machinations of the Kremlin. He gives nothing away and doesn’t feel why he should. If he was running any other business he wouldn’t discuss personnel issues with his customers and he sees fans as no different.

Thus the more names he sees linked the better, the stronger the cover for the cloak and dagger operation that will see the new man eventually emerge.

All I’ll say is rule out anyone you see as an obvious candidate. John Hughes was the obvious candidate and also the wrong one. Expect Petrie to return to the method that saw him unearth Tony Mowbray from the Ipswich coaching staff.

For all his failings – and balancing balance sheets aside he has many – Rod Petrie enjoys springing surprises more than you’d expect from a man of his dull countenance. Expect him to do so again in the next week or two.