August 28, 2010

My apologies for the delayed blog, once again I’ve spent my weekend commentating (and I will be commentating again on the Cruz Azul v Tigres match tonight, too) so I have not had an opportunity to dissect Thursday night’s atrocity. Before I start, I’m sure some of you didn’t get to see the game thanks to it not being available on TV, so here is the YouTube highlights clip.

So what can I say that hasn’t been said before? Truth be told, not much at all. It was a woefully inept performance, and the great promise from the previous week’s comfortable victory had disappeared after 20 minutes. I don’t know about you, but after the second penalty had been given, I knew that only one side were going through.

But then there are the goals themselves. The first one was a naive challenge from Hooiveld, a guy who seems to have a mouth as wide as the Clyde, and he gave the referee a question to answer after just 12 minutes. (I’m sick of hearing about Hooiveld’s opinions in the press, declaring that he wants to be ‘our leader’ and the like, when he is frankly ordinary on the field. Here’s a hint, Jos, if you want to be skipper EARN it. Show us some leadership on the park instead of the press conference.)

The second penalty was even worse. There’s an infamous saying when learning the game of football of “if in doubt, kick it out”. I’m not sure what the Polish, or indeed, the Korean version of that saying is, but I’d suggest that Lenny looks it up pronto. Both Zaluska and Cha had an opportunity to put the ball out of play for a throw in, yet instead they manage to give the ball away and a silly penalty is the result.

Then after the second half kicks off, Lennon’s words surely ringing in the players’ ears, and the phrase “keep it tight” was surely that very message, we concede another ridiculous goal. Why could none of our defenders get a challenge in, or at the very least bring the winger down on the half-way line before he can get to the edge of our box? OK it’s cynical, but why not? Italian sides have done it since the dawn of time. At 3-0 the game is done, and the fourth doesn’t even need talking about.

So we have no European adventure, either in the cash-rich Champions League or the consolation prize of the Europa League.  Now I’ve heard many fans try and be bullish about this, claiming that our defeats will make us stronger over the course of the season, and that without the distraction of European football the squad will become more focused on the league title. What utter tripe.

The effect of this defeat will not be felt this season, but next, and the year after that. No, I’m not talking about the financial side of the defeat, but about the club’s reputation around Europe. Celtic is still a massive name, but that only gets you so far. Players of quality will not sign unless they feel the move can benefit their career, sometimes financially, but also on the field. Will a move to Celtic right now help anybody’s international prospects? Of course not, you’d be better off in the English Championship. The lack of European football this season will make players think not just twice, but three times or more about a move to Parkhead. Why move to a club that cannot give you that platform of Europe to play on?

However, the problem is not just limited to Celtic. Motherwell, Dundee United and Hibs are all out of Europe before September as well, and as much as it pains me to say this, Scottish football is a joke. Although it is becoming more competitive, this is simply because the standards of both Celtic and Rangers have slipped beyond recognition. Changes need to be made now from the SFA, the SPL and the SFL (having one football body would be a good start.)

We also need to move the time of the season. One of the reasons so many clubs struggle in these early preliminary rounds is because they are still rusty from pre-season. Clubs in Scandanavia and Russia start their seasons early because of the weather, but if the Scottish season began in May then late June or early July European games would see all of our clubs in full swing of the domestic campaign, and as such, rustiness is no longer an issue.

Sure, there are possible problems to this (the transfer window for one, and the possibility of a 12 month season if one of our clubs is lucky enough to make a European final again, and of course, the World Cup) but it has to be worth investigating, especially now there is only one Champions League spot up for grabs, and it could take THREE qualifying rounds.  This can hopefully lead to a couple of sides sneaking into the European arena again. This in turn will see a return of prestige, and more importantly, cash to the Scottish game.

This really isn’t a new idea, and that I accept, but without urgent changes the Scottish league will become as prestigious of that in Wales. Dark days then for the game north of the border, and it’s time for fans to make their voices heard.

A complete revolution is the only answer.

An embarrassment. A shambles. Simply unacceptable. All phrases I have heard to describe Scotland’s abysmal performance on Saturday (plus many others which I will not print in a family friendly blog.) The SFA are set to meet today to discuss the future of manager George Burley, a discussion which simply MUST bring his tenure as Scotland manager to an end.

Quite simply, Scotland are as bad now as they were under Berti Vogts. Yes, there hasn’t been the draw with the Faroes, but the way the side simply rolled over against a Wales side with an average age of 22 showed just how badly they have fallen under Burley. Only a couple of years ago, the nation was celebrating a James McFadden wonder strike which beat the French in Paris, so expecting a performance in Cardiff is surely not asking too much.

So the question we should be asking now is not does he stay or go, but simply who replaces him? However, I think we should open this up even further, and tackle Scottish football as a whole. I say this quite simply because these are dark times for football north of the border. Both Old Firm sides are in decline, the SPL is boring the pants off people, playing the same teams four times a year, and the lower leagues are cash strapped. That’s not even to mention the fact that ALL of Scottish football’s representatives will be knocked out of European competition before Christmas.

So I’ll start with the national team.

Under Smith and McLeish, the players clearly had a level of self belief. Indeed, if it wasn’t for a miss by McFadden and a last-minute header by Christian Pannuci, there’s a fair chance Scotland would have qualified for Euro 2008. There was a belief on-and-off the field that Scotland had it in them to get results against anybody in the world. Now, we’re in two minds as to whether a win against Macedonia is achievable.

What is needed then is the type of appointment who will galvanise the players. A manager who the players will all respect and want to play for (and that includes Kris Boyd, despite many fans’ distaste at his attitude) and there are a few out there. Many people in the press have called for Walter Smith to take the post again, especially as his future at Rangers looks in doubt. Right now, he’s the last person many of the Tartan Army want to see after his previous betrayal. I think it is fair to say many Scotland fans will never forgive him for walking out on his country when qualification was in sight.

However, there are other options. Graeme Souness appears to be another popular one, and he ticks many boxes. If I was on the board and had to name an experienced manager for the job I’d go for Kenny Dalglish. If the players can’t be motivated by these two then they shouldn’t be playing for Scotland.

Then there’s a younger man currently out of work who’d be perfect for the job. That man is John Collins, who although is inexperienced, he’d make an exciting appointment.

But there are other issues we should consider here. This should be the time we bang the heads of the SFA, the SPL and the SFL together. Why are there three governing bodies anyway? And why do they not work together? Indeed, the SPL did the SFA no favours with its fixture list, with a game coming just before an international qualifier earlier in the season. Surely the priority here should be Scotland qualifying for a major tournament, so every aid should be given to this end.

As a result, it is time to strip the three bodies down and ensure they are all pulling in the same direction.

Then there is the league structure. Quite simply, with a total of 42 teams, having 4 divisions makes no sense at all, and it is further compounded by the lack of a pyramid structure. I’ll start with the SPL.

It is now time to end the experiment of 12 teams, and that’s before I even start on the ‘split’. Instead, I think we should expand the league up to 16 teams, playing each other twice with two relegation spots. I think it is noticeable that the intensity of Scottish derby matches has slipped over the last few years. One of the reasons I’d suggest for this is that the games are now so regular that they are no longer special. Indeed, even the Old Firm derby has lost it’s edge. The same would happen in England if Liverpool and Manchester United had to play each other at least 4 times a year too.

This would once again make every match an event, and would also allow for a winter break as there would only be 30 matches a season. Not only this, but the debacle Rangers suffered when they were going for the UEFA Cup would never be repeated. On top of this, the new Scotland manager would be able to call more training sessions with his players as they’d have less matches to play.

I’d also suggest this would increase both attendances and TV interest as matches would be rarer. Indeed, a friend of mine doesn’t mind missing Old Firm matches quite simply because ‘there’s another one in a few weeks’, and there will be many others who feel the same way. At the other end of the scale, having two relegation spots will boost interest as clubs fight to survive. After all, now if the bottom club get marooned by Christmas, the bottom of the table becomes irrelevant. Having two clubs go down at least promotes interest.

That then leaves us with the football league, and the 26 other teams. Now I’m not going to pretend I have the perfect solution here, but at least one of the divisions needs to be clipped. I’d probably suggest another league of 16 and a third division of 10, but then also open a relegation spot in the third division to allow the Junior sides entry into the league.

Then of course there are the lack of youth academies in the country. I think it is time for the SFA to build regional football academies, much like the one currently being built in Burton by the English Football Association. Whether these are built without affiliation to clubs is open to debate, but without these academies there is little chance of further progression for the Scotland team.

I think we all want to see Scotland qualifying for tournaments again, but we need to demand action from the powers-that-be.

Following these changes at least provides Scotland with a fighting chance, and really that’s all we ask for.

Viva La Revolution!