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!

Scottish failures: A retort

November 6, 2009

Now then, my good friend Mr Mantle has recently posted a direct response to my latest blog about Scottish football on the European scene.

He makes some good points, it must be said. Scottish football is dying a death, and the squeeze the Old Firm have had on Scottish trophies does it no favours at all.  However, arguably the decline of the Old Firm has breathed some life into the game north of the border.

After all, the league is now genuinely competitive for the first time in a generation. Both Celtic and Rangers have deteriorated to such an extent that a trip to Motherwell is now tricky, not to mention a visit to Tynecastle or Easter Road. Last season, both clubs dropped points no fewer than 26 times between them. This is more or less unheard of in seasons gone by.

There are, of course, pros and cons to this. The biggest pro of all is that the league has some excitement, and both Celtic and Rangers have lost that aura of invincibility that they had previously had over the rest of the league. However, this is not because the rest of the league has improved, but because the Old Firm have declined drastically even since Martin O’Neill’s time in the Parkhead hotseat.

The figures are there to prove this. In Martin O’Neill’s first year, Celtic spent £18m on Sutton, Lennon and Hartson, and another £3 million on Alan Thompson. This kind of investment is now unheard of, and Celtic even struggle to compete with English Championship sides in the transfer market. Indeed, the latest TV deal means that Celtic earn roughly £3 million a year through Sky and ESPN. Compare this to Hull City’s £15 million and you’ll see where the problem lies.

However, Ross does have a point. The lack of prestige in the Scottish league makes it monumentally difficult to attract quality continental and home based players, partly because they don’t fancy a trip to St Mirren on a cold Tuesday evening, especially when their wage packet is significantly smaller than it would be in England.

A few years ago, the Old Firm were able to punch above their weight and compete on the European scene. Indeed, since 2003 both clubs have made the UEFA Cup Final, and qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League 3 times between them. However, this is not enough. Both clubs need a change of ethos, concentrating on youngsters and bringing the best coaches available to Glasgow.

Without this, the Old Firm will swim in a sea of mediocrity, on a slow journey to their death. The catch 22 is the more the two clubs decline, the better the SPL will become. On the flip side, Scotland will lose the automatic Champions League spot it currently enjoys, and yet more clubs will be thrown to the wolves.

What is needed is further investment, into clubs individually and Scottish football in general. However, one area where Ross and I do agree is an emergency Old Firm move is inevitable.

The question over whether they’ll survive the ambulance journey is open to debate.

Mowbray must wield the axe

October 19, 2009

Well, it’s a frustrating time at Celtic Park right now. Tony Mowbray must be scratching his head at just how poor Celtic have been since the season began. The highlight of the season so far was undoubtedly the win in Moscow, but that aside we’ve been ordinary at best.

I can only advise ‘Mogga’ to rip the squad apart in January because it’s painfully obvious we aren’t good enough right now, and the problem is the same as last year; We just can’t take our chances.

I think there are a few too many players who need to be moved on, and if I can see this, I’m certain Mogga can too, and this means quite simply that Peter Lawwell has to put his hand in his pocket and support his manager.

I’ve already heard a bit of grumbling about Mowbray and his team, but let’s be honest, it ISN’T his team yet. He’s not been able to put his stamp on the side, and we’re still playing with Strachan’s players.

The other week at Ibrox we were a shambles defensively and toothless up front, and this cannot be allowed to continue. Gary Caldwell whining about a new contract whilst we are at our worst at the back for years won’t have gone unnoticed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him punted in the window, along with other underperforming players.

What is certain is we need to see the board invest. A new commanding centre half and a striker are obvious targets, but I’d like to see us change our system and try something different. It was good to see a couple of changes for this weekend, including giving McGinn a start and seeing Robson back in the side but Mowbray must be thinking about going to his favoured 4-3-3 soon.

But let’s be honest here. Celtic are dire. Only time will tell if the board are prepared to resolve that by backing their manager.

Hi folks. Apologies for the gap in time since my last post, I’ve had a dissertation to finish and I’ve taken the dogs up north for a holiday. Which was fun. Anyway, back to the important stuff.

Much has happened since my last post, including Sol Campbell signing for- and promptly leaving- the mighty Notts County. Arsene Wenger proved the big clubs are more important than the integrity of the game when he forced UEFA to climbdown on Eduardo’s diving challenge, and the red nosed monster Fergie has slated the fitness of referees in a fairly unjustified attack on the men in black.

However, over the last couple of days the story which has caught my eye is the idea of the Old Firm moving south again, so that’s where I’ll start.

Firstly, yes I know I’m an Old Firm fan so straight away you may think I’m blinkered viweing this. I’ll take that point on board, but I firmly believe that Celtic and Rangers leaving would be good for Scottish football as a whole, not just the Old Firm.

Let’s look at the evidence. No team outside the Old Firm has won the Scottish championship since Aberdeen in 1984-85. That is a shocking state of play by anybody’s standards. A common argument is that the Old Firm are needed for commercial reasons, and without the Old Firm clubs won’t sell out their grounds. I think that idea is scaremongering at it’s worst, and Mr Thompson’s latest attack on the Old Firm shows a lack of creative thought on his part.

Right now, clubs like Aberdeen may sell out their ground 4 times a year when the Old Firm come to town. However, with the Old Firm gone they suddenly are in with a shout at the title and Champions League football. Fans want to see title winning sides, so within a few weeks, the gates on ‘average’ games against Falkirk and the like start to rocket. Next thing you know, every week is a sell out as the club chase the title. And this argument can be transfered to most SPL sides.

Within a few months, most grounds in the country are selling out, and interest in the game is restored. This in turn leads to businesses wanting to invest again, and commercial revenue picks up. We’d then have clubs like Hibs and Dundee United chasing Champions League spots, which would breathe a massive kiss of life into the club game, and hopefully the national game too.

As for the Old Firm, they then get their wish of going to England. Everybody is happy. Well, other than some of the English, who aren’t interested in the clubs, but that’s another debate entirely.

Let me know what you think, and please tell me who you support in your comment. I’ll do my best to respond to them all.

We often hear about the lack of funds in the Scottish game, and how this has left the SPL in the financial wilderness. Just this summer, the TV revenue invested in Scotland has roughly halved when Setanta went the way of the Titanic, and the difference in class was there for all to see when Arsenal spanked us all over the park in the qualifier. But is money the be-all-and-end-all?

Arsene Wenger was lucky to be able to rest two of his stars last Wednesday, in Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie. Yet even without this pair, and the likes of Nasri, Rosicky and Fabregas, it was a stroll for the Gunners.

After a little glance at the BBC 606 site, I see that most Arsenal fans think their side wasn’t particularly expensive, coming in at a combined total of about £33m. Celtic, on the other hand fielded pretty much their strongest side, with the exception of million pound midfielder Barry Robson. Celtic’s full-strength side had a value of about £17m, or the price of Arshavin. You see where I’m going here don’t you? Just so you can see my figures, I’ve included the teams below, and the values I believe were paid. (If I’ve got anybody a million or so off, I apologise, but keep looking at the bigger picture)

Almunia- 1.5m
Sagna- £6m
Gallas- free
Vermaelen – £10m
Clichy- 250k
Song- 2m
Diaby- 3m
Denilson- 2m
Eboue- 200k
Eduardo- 8m
Bendtner- free

Overall-32.95m

Boruc- 1m
Hinkel- 1.5
Caldwell- free
Loovens- 2.5
Fox- 1mil
McGeady-home grown
Brown-4.4m
Donati-2m
Maloney-home grown
McDonald-750k
Fortune-3.8m

Overall- 16.95m

So that’s it eh? Celtic fans should just accept that European progress is now impossible and forget completely about the Champions League? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Surely the answer here is our scouting network. If clubs like PSV can make the Semi finals, as they did in 2005, then why can’t we? PSV spend pretty much nothing on transfers, but sell players players on to the bigger leagues and then reinvest the profits. If we use PSV as an example, here’s a list of their players over the last few years, most of whom were signed for nothing or almost nothing….

Ronaldo (the original one, the one with a minge on his head, not the ‘winker’), Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, Arjen Robben, Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Mateja Kezman.

Compare that with some recent Celtic players and you’ll see my point. Surely a club of Celtic’s stature should have a scouting network that can uncover some similar gems? And if not, somebody needs to be sacked.

PSV aren’t alone. While Arsenal were struggling to make ‘marquee signings’, they were able to sign the likes of Adebayor for £3m, and sell him for £25m!

Now I accept my philosophy would make us a selling club, but it’s only by adopting this attitude that we’ll be able to generate the kind of money and with that, any chance of any real European success. Controversial, yes, but sadly, I think it’s essential.