Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scotland: Georgia on my mind

The new world champions given a fright at home. Six games undefeated before that.

A new tournament format making qualification for a major championship a less daunting proposition.

Scotland are being unusually generous in offering us reasons to be cheerful at the moment.

Scotland at the Scottish Football Blog
Today offers a chance to add some substance to the idea that Gordon Strachan might just be on the verge of achieving something with this Scotland squad.

Georgia arrive at Ibrox outside the world's top 100 (an altogether unreliable gauge but being outside the top hundred is never a positive). In the last two years Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia, a goalless draw with France arguably providing the brightest moment of a run that includes 10 defeats in 15 games.

Strachan has mentioned this week that being the better team, having the better players, being meticulously prepared can all be meaningless if you just end up having 'one of those days.'

We've all seen it happen.

It can't be allowed to happen today though. While we were taking plaudits and no points in Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland were taking three points against Gibraltar and Georgia.

Just the opening skirmishes but it gave them a start on us. Ireland will likely build on that against Gibraltar this evening. If we can beat Georgia and Germany - as expected - beat Poland we'll be in fine fettle going into the game against the Poles on Tuesday night.

A win today would also mean any faint hopes Georgia have of challenging for second or third, in theory allowing us to concentrate on getting ahead of Poland and Ireland.

Won't be easy. Never is. And Georgia have bitten us on the bum when we've had high hopes before.

Charlie Mulgrew is suspended for being stupid but Strachan has a settled squad to choose from.

There are weaknesses, most notably at the centre of defence. Long gone are the days when redoubtable Scottish centre backs seemed everywhere and Craig Brown could jealously stuff them into each squad.

Elsewhere however there are, if not an embarrassment of riches, certainly a number of options. Will Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith start together? I'd suspect not but it's another nice option to call on.

David Marshall looks set to start ahead of Craig Gordon. I'd take either in my team, the loss to injury of Allan McGregor just highlighting how well served we are for goalkeepers.

Scott Brown will return in midfield with today offering exactly the sort of game that he should relish, a chance to show his seniority in this squad and push the team on.

The signals from Strachan this week have suggested quiet confidence but no complacency.

Sounds good to me.

It might be exactly the right mix to beat Georgia. And after that? It's game on in Group D.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Homeless World Cup 2014: 10 days to go

The countdown to the Homeless World Cup 2014 is on.

We're just 10 days away from the big kick off in Santiago. 10 days to go and 10th October is Homeless World Cup.

A perfect time to get in the mood for Chile by reliving the best moments of the Homeless World Cup 2013, when 500 players representing 103,000 participants in Homeless World Cup project around the world came together in Poznan, Poland.

After seven days of competition Brazil faced Mexico in the Homeless World Cup final:

In 2014 Scotland will join Italy and Brazil in taking a shot at winning their third Homeless World Cup title.

Out last victory was in 2011, edging out Mexico in the final:

Find out more about the Homeless World Cup

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

When Jock Stein went to Leeds

Billy McKinlay's departure from Watford after a little over a week and two games in charge provides us with another of football's "what the actual f---" moments.

The brevity of his reign will be added to the annals, alongside Leroy Rosenior's 10 minute stint at Torquay and Dave Bassett's four day jaunt at Crystal Palace.

Jock Stein at the Scottish Football Blog
And, of course, the failed appointment that has become the most famous of them all - Brian Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds United, the stuff now of novels, film and legend.

McKinlay eclipses another Scot in English football's managerial shorts hit parade, Alex McLeish lasting just 40 days at Nottingham Forest in the winter of 2012/13.

But we've got to return to Leeds United to find an often overlooked example of the "in and out" managerial reign.

It involves maybe the greatest of all Scottish managers. Of our Holy Trinity, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby performed their miracles exclusively at English clubs.

Jock Stein is unique in achieving his footballing immortality without leaving Scotland. Sir Matt Busby tried to persuade him south to Old Trafford but Stein wouldn't budge.

It wasn't until after his departure from Celtic that he crossed Hadrian's Wall, joining Leeds United in 1978 at the age of 55.

And, just four years on from Clough's explosive time at Elland Road, Stein too would last just 44 days in Yorkshire.

Stein must have looked like the sort of candidate that could return Leeds to the glory days of the Don Revie era.

Indeed Mick Jones, Leeds United's centre forward of the time, reckoned that Celtic were the finest team Leeds had played against when Stein trumped Revie in the 1970 European Cup semi final.

Even then it's been suggested that Stein was only the board's third choice. Stein might have known that - he didn't have the chance to be picky because the job offers were, amazingly enough, not rolling in.

At the same time, however, Scotland were in a state of flux. Ally MacLeod was limping along as manager having taken the national side to Argentina and not, as it turned out, winning the 1978 World Cup after all.

MacLeod lasted just one more game after the 1978 tournament. Which left the position of Scotland manager vacant with Stein, the obvious candidate, weeks into a new job.

United's Eddie Gray believes that Stein saw the Leeds job as a bargaining chip in his quest to get the Scotland job on his terms:

"In my deepest subconscious I felt Big Jock was trying to force the SFA's hand. The big man wanted to be the fulltime manager of Scotland and when he moved to Leeds he made the SFA change their way of working and made him the most powerful manager they'd ever had."

If Gray is correct then it's a fairly impressive illustration of the size of Stein's personality and the value he saw in the Scotland job that he was prepared to use a club like Leeds as a pawn in his game of chess with the SFA. That Stein apparently never had a contract with Leeds and didn't move his family south might support this theory.

Others are less convinced that he had a predetermined idea of how it would end.

Rather they saw him bereft at being jettisoned by Celtic and the Leeds job coming along at the right time. It was a marriage of convenience that his heart was never really in.

His record at Elland Road reads ten games played, four wins, three draws and three defeats. Respectable but not stunning.

The Scotland job was his get out clause - just days after MacLeod was sacked Stein was privately briefing journalists that he'd be interested in taking the national job.

Leeds refused permission for the SFA to talk to him but they could do little to prevent him resigning. That's exactly what he did.

He was officially appointed Scotland manager on 5th October 1978 - the day of his 56th birthday. He'd remain in the post until that tragic night in Wales in 1985.

The sparks didn't fly. Novels would not be written. When Jock Stein left Leeds United after 44 days there was regret in Yorkshire but nothing like the scorched earth recriminations that followed Clough's departure.

Stein was able to move into the role that he saw a more natural progression for his post-Celtic career.

And his time at Leeds United is proof that even the greatest managers can sometimes find themselves in jobs that just don't suit them.


Daily Record
Hail Hail Media
The Mighty Might Whites

Monday, October 06, 2014

David Moyes deserves a shot at redemption

There seemed to be an attempt to re-brand yesterday's Manchester United v Everton game as the "Davie Moyes Derby."

A re-branding exercise that dripped with sarcasm.

A new conventional wisdom is popping up that places Manchester United's decision to appoint Moyes as a catastrophic error not just in hindsight but because they should have been able to see that he'd been a crap at Everton in the first place.

There's a harsh revisionism of his achievements taking place that is really not deserved.

His season at United was a disaster.

Can't argue with that. Sir Alex Ferguson's perception of his own powers extended to the rewriting of history. I think he'd almost begun to see Manchester United as a gift passed from Sir Matt Busby to him.

Forget the years of failure in between. One canny Scot to another canny Scot. Where else do you turn but another canny Scot?

That the Scot in question was likely to be so respectful that he wouldn't question the glaring gaps in Ferguson's legacy was probably even better.

Or maybe Ferguson's humility - admittedly a little seen humility - kicked in. Maybe he really didn't realise that it was basically his influence that carried United to his last title and he thought Moyes could pick up where he left off.

Moyes couldn't. And he faced a double whammy: United fans used to success were bereft and fans of every other club, so used to United's success, were gleeful.

Moyes seemed unable to grow in the role and United - dazed and confused at the loss of Ferguson - seemed to suffer a collective collapse of confidence.

The players didn't like what they were seeing, the season drifted away and Moyes looked ever more haunted on the touchline.

United were forced to act. Moyes was sacked. And that simply confirmed the idea that had grown over the season that Manchester United were particularly stupid for listening to an out of touch Ferguson and giving the job to a hapless managerial Inspector Clouseau.

David Moyes at the Scottish Football Blog
Which, as Daniel Taylor pointed out over the weekend, left Moyes dealing with both the biggest catastrophe of his career (as a manager, I well remember him losing the 1991 League Cup to Hibs as a Dunfermline player) and the stigma that everything he'd achieved in his career up to that point was a mirage anyway.

Sir Alex Ferguson's place in the pantheon of managers will be debated for a long time. But we can say that his was a unique career in its longevity and because it spanned football's transformation into a multi-billion pound global entertainment industry.

A hard to act to follow. United need a giant personality, Moyes isn't that. Louis van Gaal could be but even he might currently attest that it's not the easiest gig in the world.

David Moyes would probably never need to work again. No financial issues there and who needs the stress?

But he surely work again. There must be chairmen and chief executives in England and elsewhere looking at his work with Everton and wondering if he could do the same for them. If he wants to go through it all again he probably could.

He might not want to. But it would seem unduly harsh if his dream job turning into a nightmare means he never gets another chance.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

SPFL Premiership: Celtic's stumbles give Deila food for thought

Yesterday I was writing about how the SPFL Premiership has been been a bit of an oddity this season.

It gets odder.

Celtic could have jumped up to third by winning today's home game against Hamilton.

Then this happened:

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1, the Scottish Football Blog

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1.

Which leaves the table looking like this:

SPFL Premiership league table after Hamilton beat Celtic

Hamilton top, Celtic sixth.

Maybe the drama of Hamilton's defeat of Hibs in the play-off matches has given them a momentum that survived the summer.

Maybe it's just a flash in the pan.

Hamilton won't win the league. But Celtic need to do more than just win their game in hand to get back to the top of the table.

When Ronny Deila was given the Celtic job a lot of people asked "who is Ronny Deila?"

It's a problem for him, not yet a fatal problem but an issue nonetheless, that we're into October and people are still looking at each other and asking "who is Ronny Deila?"

Sixth in the table after eight games and no Champions League football (despite getting a couple of chances to make it).

Thursday's Europa League win over Dinamo Zagreb was a bright spot. The continued rehabilitation of Craig Gordon to fill the gap left by Fraser Forster's departure is another.

His is a team in transition. But being Celtic manager means making your mark on the team while still winning games. If you don't get the knack of that quickly you've got problems. Ask Tony Mowbray.

And the weight of expectation and the evidence of history combine to make unusual defeats look more meaningful than they actually are.

So this wasn't just a bad day at home to a useful Hamilton side.

This was a first home defeat to this opposition since Neville Chamberlain was still trying to appease Hitler.

It ends a run of home form that stretched to 34 games undefeated.

Celtic's strength is usually to rise above the rest of the teams, a refusal to get embroiled in that aspect of the Premiership which means anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.

To do that you need to be winning more than 50% of your games.

He's won four from eight in the SPFL and seven from 17 in all competitions. That's not good enough.

As I wrote yesterday, Celtic will win this league. The board should also show patience with Deila, they need to back their man.

But the patience can't be endless. Spending much longer than a quarter of the season mucking about in mid table isn't acceptable.

My personal view is of a manager still uncomfortable in a new role in a new country. I don't think he's handling the press particularly well and, Celtic fans might want to correct me, I don't sense a huge connection with the support.

Sometimes managers, however good, just don't "fit" with certain clubs. Deila's not yet convinced me that he's not fallen victim to that situation.

After the game he told the media:

"I'm not worried."

Any more results like today and he'll probably be feeling a lot less sanguine about his team and about his own position.