Thursday, 20 September 2012

Celtic v Benfica

If Wednesday night taught me anything, it's how much I've missed Champions league football at Celtic Park. The atmosphere on a European night has been recognised by greats such as Oliver Khan, Xavi & Ronaldo, and they played in their fair share of big games!
The game showed me how much this young Celtic team have matured. It was a very professional performance, but lacked a cutting edge.
Celtic dominated in possession, but couldn't make a chance of any kind. Benfica were tough to break down, and seemed happy to take the draw.
For me, Scott Brown was exceptional, if not his best game in a Celtic shirt. Still not 100%, but everywhere on the park, bossed the midfield. He even received praise via Kyle Bartley on Twitter. Who would've thought eh?
I was VERY pleased to see the goalkeeping coach of a certain international side present to watch Fraser Forster. He was unlucky to be overlooked for the Euro's. In a way, it's almost a shame Forster didn't have much of a chance to impress, but at least he's on Hodgson's radar now, and rightfully so.
I was strangely calm about the back four. It's not often I see Lustig & Wilson playing centre half, and be happy with it, but I felt both have been fairly solid this season, despite still dividing the opinions of the Celtic fans.
A question: Emilio Izaguirre, what's changed? He's a shadow of the player he was before the injury that kept him out most of last season. Why? He's had a full pre season and played almost every game in this so far, so why hasn't he found the same form he did when he first came to Scotland? My only excuse I can make for him is that he needs time, but exactly how much time can we give him?
Next up, Victor Wanyama. Bullies the SPL, never seems to have a bad game, one of Celtic's best players. I've controversially said that he's destined for the top, and I mean the very top, but ask yourself why not? Bullied Benfica, and look at his attributes. He can pass, dribble, shoot, attack, defend and he's only 21! Even Bobo Balde would be scared of this guy. Now Manchester United & Arsenal were viewing his progress, and he can be a very good player for them. It's just a case of the right time to leave Celtic, and he can still learn & improve here, so that time is not now.
A major let down for me however, was James Forrest. I love how direct James Forrest is, always causing defenders problems. but he failed to deliver for me. In an attacking sense, he struggled to get into the game, and 99% of the time the Benfica defence dealt with him comfortably. He wanted to play as a winger in a system that relied on a flat midfield, leaving Adam Matthews exposed too often. Matthews dealt with this very well though.
I did see James Forrest receive criticism for a 'dive'. Let's be serious, it wasn't a dive. It wasn't a penalty, he's tripped.
I've reserved judgement on new Bhoy Miku. Hooper would have started if he had been fully fit, and Miku had a very hard role to play. Can't praise him, but would be harsh to criticise.
Remember guys, this Celtic team had 12 Champions League debutants in the team. We also had Ledley, Samaras, Stokes and Kayal all out injured, so there are plenty positives to take from the game.

My MOTM: Scott Brown

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Rangers Saga

Since all the dodgy business with Rangers earlier this year, I've kept my mouth shut for as long as possible. But in a subject where nobody in Scotland can come up with a conclusion, It's a little hard not to get involved. 

My view is simple. 
"The Rangers" are a Newco, and a newco cannot skip divisions & must apply to the SFL accordingly. "The Rangers" is not the same as Rangers Football club, even though the assets are the same.

Let me explain further.
Forget about Rangers, imagine this was a brand new team into the Scottish pyramid with a built stadium, a squad of players & a big fanbase. Let's say for example they had played in the junior leagues for a number of years.
A space opens up in the Scottish system & clubs apply.
Now if I remember correctly, Annan Athletic gained admission into the SFL on the basis of the standard of their facilities. Therefore, using this same system, The Rangers would be allowed to join the SFL. Murray Park & Ibrox outweighs the other candidates.
That's fair.

What people are forgetting is that Rangers are gone, and this is a new club. How can a new club which have never even played an official game be allowed into the top tier of Scottish football? It is ridiculous!

Rangers, The Rangers, Sevco, whatever you may call it fans may argue about the money, but that is just snacks at desperation as they cannot really see from both sides of the barrel. Remember that the Rangers fans are victims in all of this too.

Scottish clubs & SPL clubs in particular are run off a drip feed the old firm have produced over the years. Admittedly the old firm have taken most of the money, but how come clubs become totally dependant on the old firm, Celtic & Rangers are almost like a mother figure!
At this point I admire the few debt free clubs in Scotland with chairman not prepared to spend money they don't have. It really is that simple!

Raith Rovers Turnbull Hutton gave an interesting point of view that I can't argue with. He said: "If one of the old firm clubs had a bad season and were to be relegated, would the SPL change the relegation rules to prevent this from happening"
Daft it may seem, but think about it for a moment, he's probably right.

Now I'm delighted that the supporters are getting a say ahead of all the money men that have almost completely destroyed our national game. Once all the money has gone, the supporters remain & as Jock Stein famously said: Football is nothing without supporters.
Now there are fans in Scotland that are desperate to have a kick at Rangers when they are down, but there is also many, particularly in the SFL I've noticed, who speak perfect sense when it comes to what should happen to the Newco.
Why should a new company get priority over these clubs?
And if you believe that The Rangers, and Rangers are the same club, then I ask why you feel the club should get away with cheating and effectively gaining an unfair advantage over everyone in the past 20 years.

Yes Scottish football loves an old firm game, it's one of the biggest derbys in football altogether, but enough is enough. 
For how much longer could we have survived when all the other clubs are getting slowly into more debt. It's going to catch up with us anyway! As so many keep saying, we can ruin our game now by demoting Rangers, but we will ruin the game if we don't.
If you can't win anyway just play by the rules, and everything will sort itself out in time.
We may have to sacrifice the quality we have left in our game, but if we as a nation can get rid of the "punt it" mentality and focus more on the technical side of the game, then we can get money from producing players and bring our game slowly back to size.
Not to mention the benefit this will have on the national team of course. 
It may take 20 years, but what have we got to lose? As if we are sitting in a pretty position now anyway, nothing we do is a risk anymore.

We need change & fast, or face being the new league of San Marino.
I am one of the many fans who have lost patience in the people in charge of our game, who bottle the big decisions and pamper the old firm at any opportunity. There are 42 senior clubs in Scotland, some say this is too many, but whilst there are 42 all should be treated the same.
I can't actually believe we are willing to give Rangers special treatment, It's nice to know that at least the fans speak sense!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Scratching Below The Surface

Dundee United have led the way in recent years, having a reputation of pulling good players from the depths of Scottish football.
Danny Swanson, Morgaro Gomis, Barry Douglas, Craig Conway and new arrivals Mark Millar & Michael Gardyne have all been plucked from the lower leagues in Scotland.

Now Dundee United are an established top 6 SPL team consistently competing for European places. They have no money to spend, and have the same financial constraints of much of the Scottish clubs. They have relied heavily on their youth system, and free transfers. The quality of players they have managed to bring in sets them aside.

I remember sitting inside Starks Park in 2007 wondering who David Goodwillie was. He now looks set to become a big player for Scotland over the next 10 years. Likewise with Johnny Russell, United have been able to consistently produce players of such quality.
In January, youngster Scott Allan was snapped up by West Bromwich Albion after impressing for United at the start of the season. Admittedly, the SPL lost one of it's hottest prospects, but Dundee United will have made a tidy profit on the transfer.
The quality of scouts to spot a player and a bargain are even more crucial now than ever before For example, how many of us had actually heard of Danny Swanson of Berwick Rangers when he signed for United? Now signed for Peterborough this summer, he has been one of the success stories of Scottish football.

There are still plenty prospects in the SFL at the moment waiting for their break in the top flight.
John Baird has recently moved to Dundee from Raith Rovers. He has played in the SPL with St Mirren before, but has came on leaps and bounds since his last stint. Obviously Dundee have ambitions to secure SPL football by the end of next season, but why hasn't a premier league club snapped up Baird before Dundee did?

Falkirk are another team that support the SFL gold mine. It's no secret that there is no money in Scotland, this has forced lower league teams especially to field younger players. From 17 first team players, 10 have come from the Falkirk academy. Craig Sibbald has massive potential after making his debut at 16 this season. He has held his own at such a high level and scored 2 goals in the league last season. Future Scotland international? Most likely.
From Reece Donaldson of Raith to Lee Kilday of Hamilton, most clubs have 2-3 players who can potentially play in the SPL or down England. This to me, suggests progress.

Dundee United have taken advantage of such good players at a low price. Notable transfers include:
Danny Swanson - Berwick Rangers
Morgaro Gomis - Cowdenbeath
Barry Douglas - Queen's Park
Craig Conway - Ayr United

Conway, Gomis & Swanson now play in the championship. Douglas seems to have Paul Dixon ahead of him in the pecking order, but has played a considerable amount of games and has proved he can play at this level.
Other teams must now follow United and take advantage of the quality of young players coming through the ranks.
It still seems that teams see trust in youth as too much of a risk, although it has proved to be the way forward.
In times of financial deprivation, Scottish clubs can still progress. Such moves will also benefit the national team in the long term.

Maybe then, we can qualify for a major tournament.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Euro 2012

The First Post

I want to start with a Euro 2012 post.

I personally have Germany to win, but France also seem a good outside bet.

More specifically, I want to look at SPL players past & representing their countries in Euro 2012.

Firstly, the Polish.
Thought Artur Boruc was in with a shout, but it wasn't to be. Poland have one player who has played SPL football as they face possibly the easiest group. 29 year old striker Pawel Brozek will be the SPL's first representative.
Brozek came to Celtic in January from Trabzonspor in an attempt to get first team football and prove he was worth selection for the Poland squad. He achieved the latter. Only played 3 games for Celtic, and didn't find the net, but with Stokes & Hooper in such excellent form he didn't really stand much chance.

It is mostly always forgotten that  Newcastle United shot-stopper Tim Krul played in Scotland. In season 2007-2008 Krul signed for Falkirk on a season long loan deal. Falkirk hinted at a permanent deal, but Newcastle (quite rightly), turned this down. Krul kept a clean sheet on his debut in a 4-0 victory over Gretna. However, things took a down turn as he received his first career dismissal & dislocated his shoulder, forcing him to miss a chunk of the season. Krul did manage to make 22 league appearances for Fakirk before returning to Newcastle where he has been one of the premier leagues stand out keepers last season. Fully deserves his call up. His Netherlands side face Brozek & Poland in Group A.

In Group C, we have Croatia.
Stipe Pletikosa had a trial at Celtic but surely that can't count?
The obvious name that springs to mind is Nikica Jelavic. Jelavic signed for Rangers in 2010 from Austrian side Rapid Vienna for a fee of around £3.5m. As a Vienna player, he scored 3 goals in 2 games against Celtic in the Europa League. Jelavic proved to be a lethal goalscorer netting 30 league goals in 45 games for Rangers. This did not go unnoticed. In January, Everton took the gamble & paid £5.5m for the forward. He immediately became a hit in the Premiership scoring 9 goals in 13 games, including 2 against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Our first current SPL player (bearing in mind that Brozek will have moved back to Trabzonspor), is Celtic's Greek forward Georgios Samaras. Samaras isn't a renowned goalscorer, and is often criticised for his style of play. However, on his day, he can cause defences all kinds of trouble. Seems to save his best performances against Rangers or in European games, so Euro 2012 may be the perfect stage for him to show what he has.
Samaras signed from Manchester City in 2008, initially on a loan deal, but was soon made permanent after Samaras delivered a string of impressive performances. To date, Samaras has made 111 league appearances for Celtic and scored 32 goals. He also has over 50 caps for Greece.

Daniel Majstorovic would almost definitely have been going with Sweden, but a knee injury has kept the 35 year old out of the tournament & was one of the reasons behind Celtic opting against renewing his contract. He has now returned to AIK in his homeland.
Celtic defender Mikael Lustig is a player who is going to the Euro's. Lustig signed for Celtic in January on a free after his Rosenborg deal expired Celtic had to fend off the likes of Fulham and Espanyol to secure his signature. He was injured upon arrival at Celtic, and hasn't featured much. He has made 4 league appearances and has 23 caps for Sweden.

Kasper Schmeichel is one of the Danish keepers attending the tournament. Schmeichel's story is similar to that of Tim Krul, in that he came to Falkirk on a loan deal. Son of Manchester United legend Peter. He is now first choice keeper at Leicester City.

Finally, we have the Republic of Ireland.
Goalkeeper Shay Given was at Celtic as a kid, and even featured on the subs bench. Kenny Dalgish knew better and signed him for Blackburn Rovers in 1994. He has since established himself as a consistent premiership keeper and has played for Newcastle, Manchester City & Aston Villa.

Darren O'Dea was a product of Celtic's youth academy. He made his debut under Gordon Strachan but failed to impress current boss Neil Lennon and has been sent out to Reading, Ipswich & Leeds United on loan. He is currently a free agent after leaving Celtic last week.

Aiden McGeady is one of the Celtic youth academy's biggest success stories. Mcgeady scored on his debut in 2004 against Hearts. In 6 years in the Celtic first team, McGeady flourished under both Martin O'Neill & Gordon Strachan and became a major part of how Celtic played. Famous for 'The McGeady Turn' the tricky winger made 185 league appearances for Celtic and scored 31 goals.
In 2010, McGeady broke the Celtic record for their highest fee received after Spartak Moscow forked out £9.5m to lure him away from his boyhood club. Also one of Ireland's big players.
The last SPL past/present representative is LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane. Keane was signed in 2010 by Tony Mowbray on a short term loan deal in a forgettable season for Celtic. Keane however, proved a big hit. He scored 12 goals in 16 league games for Celtic and showed his class as he became Celtic's player of the year for the season. He is the Republic of Ireland captain and holds the goalscoring record for his country with 53 goals.