Friday, 17 February 2012

The End of "The Rangers Revolution"

The news that Rangers have gone into administration this week seems to have caught much of the Scottish media off guard.  After all it was only recently that the spell former owner David Murray cast over the Scottish Footballing reporting community seems to have been broken.   Never has there been such an infestation of chickens coming home to roost since one G Brown took up residence in 10 Downing Street.

Yet the alleged “financial doping” undertaken by Rangers in the latter half of Walter Smith’s reign and during the reign of Dick Advocaat seems to be only part of the problem.  Employee Benefit Trusts were favoured by clubs who’s recruitment strategies involved high earning foreign players – Arsenal were investigated some years ago and volunteered to pay the money due to HMRC. In the case of Rangers, it is its deployment as a vehicle to make payments to employees without incurring Income Tax or National Insurance that has alerted HMRC. This spending of money that Rangers did not quite have first had an impact on Rangers when they appointed Alex McLeish as manager in 2002, when his transfer budget was significantly reduced from that of Advocaat’s.  Despite this McLeish managed to win 6 domestic trophies, including the treble in 2003 and another championship in 2005, and took Rangers out of their “Champions League” group and into the knockout stages in 2005/6 – something Advocaat never managed to achieve.

While Murray is at fault for the “financial doping” which led to the HMRC investigation and imminent guilty verdict, Rangers new owner has not helped one iota.  Craig Whyte took over last year, yet is already responsible for Rangers entering administration.  How?  Because he has somehow not paid any tax bills since taking over, accumulating a bill owing to HMRC of £9 million. On top of which, the Administrators (pictured below) yesterday announced that there is approximately £24 million missing from the club books – all from a loan from Ticketus – who were hoping to profit from future season ticket sales.  This money appears to have been paid to a “parent company account”.

Yet the warning signs about Whyte were there, the BBC has ran several investigations on Whyte and revealed that he has been disqualified from being a company director in the past, while Whyte has appeared in the pages of Private Eye on several occasions – in an eerie parallel of current events his first appearance involved his involvement in a company called LM Logistics group that collapsed in August 2010.  It almost makes Whyte’s rival as suitor for Rangers, David King (wanted by the South African authorities for tax evasion) seem like an ideal candidate to own Rangers.  Yet Rangers are not the only club to have found themselves in a hole of their own making. 

Both Motherwell and Dundee have been in administration in the past 10 years, while up here Gretna went out of business when their owner fell ill.  Overall in the UK the most serious financial crisis to befall a footballing team was the crisis that surrounded Leeds – which was triggered by their failure to qualify for the European Cup in 2001/2, while Portsmouth seem to have a financial section of the sports pages all to themselves.  Of course, it could be that this could evolve to be the biggest crisis of the lot, because there is the added element of a club owner which would fail any fit and proper ownership test.

Interestingly the one voice that has been quiet on this issue has been the governing bodies.  Perhaps that’s because the crisis at Ibrox has shown that Scottish footballs governing bodies (the two relevant ones being the SFA and the SPL) have not learned the lessons of Dundee and Gretna – we might have statutory 10 point deductions for teams entering administration but there is no veting for potential club owners.  The English Premier League’s regulations might be paper thin, but at least they are there.

Scottish Football has never understood certainty.  Yet Monday’s events have shaken the Scottish Football community to the core.  An institution which has been an integral part of Scottish Football for 140 years could be gone from the landscape.  I can’t be certain that Scottish Football won’t survive without Rangers, I don’t think the prognosis will be as bad as some people think – even with reduced television money (conversely, neither do these posts).  What is certain is that the chances of survival will be enhanced with Rangers (and Celtic).  Yesterday’s confidence from the Administrators in some sort of recovery for Rangers is good news, but should be taken as an opportunity to learn some lessons for the future of Scottish Football

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sporting Picks of 2011, Part 4 - August 1st

2nd Test; Trent Bridge; England (221 & 544) beat India (288 & 158) by 319 Runs

In the end, England were so ruthless in their dismantling of the No. 1 Test side that it was hard to believe India had been in match-winning positions twice in the first two days. Before the fourth day was over in Nottingham, England had secured the two-match lead they need to win the series by to move to the top of the ICC rankings. Their lower-order batsmen ransacked a hapless bowling and fielding outfit, before their fast bowlers demolished India with venom the Nottingham crowd hadn't witnessed since Stuart Broad's hat-trick (above) on the second evening. England had broken India and the upshot was victory by 319 runs, the largest margin in Tests after conceding a first-innings lead.

England were set on their way to test cricket’s number one spot with this win that looked unlikely at points of the first and second days.  Having won the first test by 196 runs at Lords, England went into this test days later as favourites for this test.  However India fought back on the first day, reducing England to 124/8.  Broad then counterattacked, his 64 helped England to reach 221 all out.

On the second day, India were setting themselves up for a large first innings lead, despite having Laxman and Tendulkar out early on in the innings.  Dravid was building a big partnership with Yuvraj Singh, when in the sixth over after the new ball was taken Broad picked up the wicket of Singh.  Broad’s next over saw him take a hat-trick – with the victims being the skipper M S Dhoni, Harbejhan Singh and Kumar.  Soon India had stumbled from being 267 for 4 to being all out for 288 – Dravid top scoring with 117.  Broad did most of the damage with 6/46 – his spell that included the hat trick was 5 for 5.  Day three saw England plunder 400 runs in a day for the first time in a test since day one of that Edgebaston Ashes test in 2005. 

Pieterson (63) & Bell (159) added 162 runs for the third wicket, Bell & Morgan (70) added 104 runs for the fourth wicket while Prior (73) and Bresnan (90) smashed 119 for the seventh wicket.  If India were not a broken side after that, they would be on the fourth day.  Not content with sharing a stand of 119 with Prior, Bresnan shared a stand of 82 with Stuart Broad (44) – before with half an hour to go before lunch England were bowled out for 544, setting India 478 runs to win.  It would be a target that India would crumble trying to reach.

M S Dhoni falls to Bresnan
Both Dravid and Laxman fell either side of lunch, before India subsided in a battery of short aggressive pitched deliveries from Bresnan.  Mukund, Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni fell to Bresnan as he picked up four wickets in the afternoon session.  An hour into the final session, it was all over as India fell for 158, Bresnan picked up 5/48.  England were 2-0 up in the series, but crucially they now had the psychological edge over India.  In the third test, India were put in and bundled all out for under 250 before England piled on the runs – with Alistair Cook surpassing his 235* made at the Gabba the previous winter by making 294 – making 710/7 declared.  For much of this test India had the look of a beaten side.

England were now the best test team in the world, and were playing like it (of course this is before they came up against their old bĂȘte noir’s Pakistan).  Judging by India’s performances in Australia in the recent test series, this victory is the one that broke India in more ways than one.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

After Capello...

So what did you watch on Wednesday night?  Did you see the Middlesborough V Sunderland replay, or were you taken aback by the events unfolding at the English FA's headquarters.  Capello's resignation brings forward the decision that the English FA needed to make at the end of this season, who to give the poisoned challice of the England Manager's job to.

Firstly, Capello's big mistake was to put so much faith in John Terry.  Whether he is guilty or not of the charges he faces, his past conduct makes him an unsuitable leader of a football team, never mind inspiration to millions of England football fans.  Possiably Capello thought that this England generation was devoid of leaders. Whatever his rational,  Terry does not strike me as leadership material.

So, what next for England.  Stuart Pearce will take charge for the friendly against the Netherlands at the end of the month, after that who knows?  The clamour from within Football for Harry Redknapp though has been unanimous.  I'm not sure that he would be the ideal candidate for the suits at the English FA, to much of Terry Venables about Redknapp for some people within the EFA's liking I suspect, while his own tactical nouse might come into question from some people.  Given his record with Switzerland from 1992-96, maybe Roy Hodgson might appeal to the EFA's suits.  I just have this feeling that Redknapp is just too obvious to be the next England manager.

What Capello's resignation has not done is dampen down the expectations of certain sections of the media, with some people suggesting that this crisis will bring the players together.  Not sure about that, but i think that we can now say with 99.99% certainty that England will not win the European Championships this Summer.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Sporting Picks of 2011, Part 3 - July 23rd

Tour De France, Stage 20

Cadel Evans is all but certain to become Australia's first Tour de France winner after a stunning time trial-victory in the suburbs of Grenoble.  Evans recorded a time of 55 minutes 40 seconds to take the yellow jersey from Andy Schleck before Sunday's largely ceremonial final stage in Paris.  Germany's Tony Martin won the time-trial from Evans, who moved 1:34 ahead of Schleck in the overall standings.  Schleck began the day with a 53-second lead in the general classification.
Evans (right) with Green Jersey winner Mark Cavendish

So in the year that Cycling seems to have entered the British Sporting consciousness big style thanks to the Manx Missile’s Green Jersey win, I’ve not plumped for one of Cavendish’s wins but for the penultimate stage in what was a remarkably close Tour.

To recap, the defending champion, Alberto Contador was racing under the cloud of a doping ban.  This was rendered meaningless early on when Contador suffered a series of setbacks that put him all but out of the tour.  The surprise package of the tour was the French rider Thomas Voeckler who stayed in Yellow until Andy Scleck eventually overhauled him on stage 19 – which finished on the slopes of the iconic Alpe d’Huez.  Shleck had missed out on yellow the previous day by 15 seconds.  Neither Andy Schleck, nor his brother Frank, were renowned time trialists though, which meant that Cadel Evans, who had performed admirably to stay with the leading group throughout the mountain stages, was still within touching distance 57 seconds behind Andy Shleck.

The stage was set for an almighty tussle.  What unfolded was the most dramatic sporting spectacle of the year as Cadel Evans tore into the course, as both of the Shleck brothers dramatically collapsed.  By the first check point at 15 kilometres Evans had taken a huge chunk out of that 57 second lead, with Andy Shleck trailing (on this stage) by 36 seconds, by not long afterwards Evans had ridden himself into yellow.

Stage 20 was won by Tony Martin, but only finishing 7 seconds behind was Evans.  Andy Shleck had though conceded a total of 2 minutes and 31 seconds to Cadel Evans on this stage – more than enough for Evans to take Yellow and to hold it through Stage 21’s lap of honour through Paris.  This was one of the most remarkable turnaround’s this race had ever seen, in what proved to be the closest race for many years.