Monday, 16 November 2009

Wanted: Miracle Worker. Apply Within

So history repeats itself, but with more speed. 5 years ago Berti Voght’s jump the shark moment arrived with a 4-0 hammering in Cardiff. Six months later the SFA bagged Voght’s after an insipid start to the following World Cup campaign. Saturday saw George Burley’s own jump the shark moment, again a heavy (3-0) defeat in Cardiff saw Burley over the edge. This time around the SFA waited 49 hours after the defeat to give George the silver bullet.

What seems to have brought matters to a head is the Tartan Army’s exasperation coming to the fore on Saturday. When Scotland went 3-0 down (after 35 minutes), the fans started calling for his head, and for the head of the SFA board. About 500 fans also left the match, straight after the second goal.

What has gone wrong with the reign of Burley has been poured over in various pieces and blogs since the loss to the Netherlands in September. But what seems to have condemned Burley to his fate is his choice of two hopelessly out of form central defenders (Caldwell & McManus) in Cardiff, when a wiser manager would have dropped them, citing the need to experiment (as was the case in midfield).

Already the Sports Journalists have turned their attention to the identity of the next Scotland Manager. In this annis horriblis for Scottish Football, the right choice needs to be made, as I think a lot of people are close to loosing their interest in football. Season ticket holders, Pay-TV subscribers, even people who turn to the back pages first – all people ready to turn their back on the game. That’s a lot of pounds Scottish Football needs to keep coming in. The 500 odd fans that left after 35 minutes of the game on Saturday is just the tip of the iceberg. Both Parkhead and Ibrox have had European Games where their stadiums have been substantially less than full, and the practice of leaving early has been seen on more than one occasion this season at Greenhill Road. In recession Britain, people are realising that Football does not represent value for money. What confidence should we have in “the product” (I will be going for a shower after typing that phrase) when the Old Firm clearly don’t have confidence in the SPL.

I digress. Already Graeme Souness’ name has already cropped up for the job, as has that of the Dundee United manager, and immediate bookies favourite, Craig Levin. Walter Smith’s name has already been mentioned in dispatches by those who fancy a repeat of his salvage job in 2005-2006. Oh and Billy Davies has also been mentioned in some quarters too. The only name missing seems to be that of the almost mythical Stewart Baxter. The most interesting, and left field name to have been mentioned was that of Jim Jeffries, the former Hearts and Bradford manager currently at Kilmarnock. Jeffries believes in playing good football, and has won trophies, The Scottish Cup in 1998, the season his Hearts team pushed the Old Firm into the last weeks of the season for the Championship itself.

Whoever gets it, and there are pros and cons to all of the names mentioned above, this has to be the first step towards the improvement of Scottish Football.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Into The Lions Den

With some considerable irony, England jetted off to tour South Africa at the weekend. England might have won the Ashes, but as Australia fell off the top of Test Crickets ranking’s it was those South African’s who displaced them. This will not guarantee then a warm welcome though as England participate in the itinerary of 2 Twenty20 internationals and 5 one-dayers before the test series starts on 16th December at Centurion.

The contrast from 5 years ago could not be more stark, as England start as clear second favourites. When England last toured South Africa 5 years ago, they had won series against the West Indies (home and away) and New Zealand at home winning 10 tests out of 11. After winning 2-1, with wins in
Port Elizabeth and Johanasburg, England would go on to beat Bangladesh and Australia in that series.

This time around, South Africa start as favourites, having won the
Basil D’Olivera Trophy in England 18 months ago. They went on to beat Australia in Australia before being undone slightly by Australia at home. They have 2 batsmen in the shape of captain Graeme Smith (above - saluting his 154 not out which clinched the 2008 series at Edgebaston) and Jacques Kallis in the top 10 rankings. Crucially they have 3 bowlers in the top 10 rankings, the slow bowler Paul Harris and the paceman Makhaya Ntini are behind the current number 1 bowler in the world Dale Steyn.

England go into this series with an Andrew Flintoff sized hole in their team, with Stuart Broad looking the likely person to fill those Freddie sized boots. Kevin Pieterson should be back from injury just in time to play in his home country in a test series for the first time. Bizarrely both Andrew Strauss (who was player of the series 5 years ago - 656 runs @ 72.88) and James Anderson (who played in the win at the Wanderers) are the only survivors from that test win (Pieterson, Collingwood and Bell were in the squad and played in the one-day internationals). More worryingly perhaps is the lack of experience of hard wickets throughout the bowling. Anderson was in South Africa 5 years ago, and I think Plunkett might have toured Australia in 2006/7. Apart from that, the bowlers look too reliant on trying to find swing, which is difficult in dry hard conditions.

To sum up, South Africa will win this series, probably by 2-1.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Problem With Scottish Football...

Saturday’s win by Hamilton Accies not only stopped St Mirren’s winning momentum, but once again flagged up St Mirren’s inability to be able to break down defensive teams, or teams which adopt ultra defensive tactics. The Accies tactics provided the starting point of one of those oh so familiar heated debates about the state of Scottish football.

According to several people around me, Scottish football has gone to the dogs because of foreign footballers rolling about the pitch, and being allowed to by our spineless referees. The focus of these fan’s ire was both Paixio and their forward Antoine-Curier, it was Curier’s involvement with the sending off of Lee Mair which set some fans off.

McGinn fluffed a pass and it fell to Curier who before he got on to the ball was dragged back by Mair. It was a sending off because a) Mair was the last man and b) he had his hands all over Curier. Yet there were fans who though Curier had dived. What really disgusted the fans though was the sight of 5 Hamilton players running to congratulate Curier for getting Mair sent off. It was at this point the fans started saying that Scottish football has really gone to the dogs and that they had never seen that happen before “in this country”. Tosh, utter tosh…

Hamilton’s victory was not just based on three very poor defensive errors, but was based on tactical nous and the ability to change the mentality of the team you are playing. It’s this mental toughness which is severely lacking in Scottish Football. Of course a lack of technique is the main factor behind the current slump in Scottish football, but like most sports its not about how good you are, it’s about how good you are upstairs. Yesterday, St Mirren were unable to block out Hamilton’s mind games, and as a result let frustration get the better of them, but hey the tale of Scottish Football is chock full of exactly the same story. The question is when will we learn.

From Zaire in 1974 to our recent games against Macedonia, Scottish teams have been unable to beat with some comfort, teams who tend to play defensive formations, and have seriously struggled against sides who dabble in the black arts of gamesmanship. If we are to look at the bringing up of young players who are able to have technique on the ball, surely we should look at helping those players to be able to cope mentally with the game as well.