Monday, December 27, 2010

The ten worst Celtic signings of the century

Told you I had a Celtic list as well. In fact, I wrote it a month ago, to post when I was going through a busy patch and didn't have time to write something fresh. Which makes it a bit inexcusable that I've barely posted in the last fortnight.

10) JUNINHO (free transfer from Middlesbrough, August 2004)
Martin O'Neill must have hoped he was signing the Juninho who had lit up the Premier League at Middlesbrough in the late nineties, or at least the one who was solid in midfield for Brazil at the 2002 World Cup. Instead he got a timid, titchy player whose legs had gone and who couldn't cope with the physicality of the SPL - and who couldn't dislodge Neil Lennon and Stiliyan Petrov from the team. He scored only one goal for the club and left after a year for Australia, having earned a healthy wage in the process.

9) MARC-ANTOINE FORTUNE (£3.8 million from Nancy, July 2009)
Fortune was Tony Mowbray's marquee signing, having had a solid five months on loan under his tutelage at West Bromwich Albion. The Frenchman was a decent target man who could run the channels and hold up the ball - but not a goalscorer - he only scored 2 goals in his first 12 games. That tally was to improve - a total of 12 in 43 - but he was so mediocre he made Georgios Samaras look decent. Celtic at least got £2.5 million back when West Brom signed him in August 2010.

8) DAVID FERNANDEZ (£1 million from Livingston, June 2002)
Both Rangers and Celtic have gone through spells of stealing the best talent from other SPL clubs - possibly more to weaken their opponents than to strengthen their own squads. Fernandez was a prime example; a Spaniard brought across to play in the first division for Steve Archibald's Airdrie in 2000, he moved to Livingston when that all went belly-up and was their star man in the 2001-02 season as the team finished third. Martin O'Neill quickly moved in and, for a million, he got a guy who made all of 20 appearances in 3 years, with a solitary goal against Suduva in the UEFA Cup. But Livingston went downhill after that. After leaving Celtic, Fernandez had spells at Dundee United and Kilmarnock where he appeared to earn decent wages for doing not very much.

7) GLENN LOOVENS (£2.5 million from Cardiff, August 2008)
Obviously transfer fees are not what they used to be, so you would expect to get a centre-half of decent quality for £2.5 million. Instead, Celtic got Dutchman Glenn Loovens, a standout in the Championship with Cardiff City but just accident- and injury-prone since his move to Scotland. Tony Mowbray tried pairing him with both Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell; when that didn't work out he bizarrely chucked the other two and kept Loovens, who hasn't held down a regular place under Neil Lennon. Talk is of him returning to Cardiff in January, with Celtic unlikely to get their money back.

6) JOS HOOIVELD (£1.4 million from AIK Solna, January 2010)
As I said on a previous blog - what does Jos Hooiveld actually look like? As stated above Mogga chucked Caldwell and McManus and spent heavily on this Dutchman who had looked good in Finland and Sweden, but who picked up a thigh injury in his second game and has only made nine appearances in a year. So far, so good...he's another one who may be off to pastures new when the transfer window opens.

5) JIRI JAROSIK (£2 million from Chelsea, June 2006)
Gordon Strachan seemed hell-bent on signing European midfield players - none of whom worked out (also see the next two entries, as well as Marc Crosas). Jarosik had looked out of his depth at Chelsea, then out of his depth at Birmingham as well. The Czech international midfielder did score two Champions League goals for the club, but did little else of note other than look disinterested on the bench and moved to Russia after eighteen unimpressive months.

4) MASSIMO DONATI (£3 million from Milan, June 2007)
The irony with Donati is that he finally put in a few good games for Celtic at the start of the 2009-10 season...and was promptly sold to Bari. A holding midfield player, the Italian was signed with a bit of fanfare, the most expensive purchase of that summer. His high point was scuffing in a late winner against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, but amid reports of homesickness he fell behind Scott Brown, Paul Hartley and Barry Robson in the queue. He made only 13 appearances in his last year and a half at the club.

3) MORTEN RASMUSSEN (£1.8 million from Brondby, January 2010)
Celtic must wish they hadn't let Tony Mowbray waste so much of their money in his final transfer window. Rasmussen was known as "Duncan" in his home country because of an alleged resemblance to Duncan Ferguson, though since the Dane is a six foot one inch goal poacher I certainly can't see a similarity. Mowbray appeared to quickly decide he didn't like him and marooned him on the bench; Neil Lennon liked him even less and packed him to Germany for a year's loan. Where he still sits on the bench.

2) THOMAS GRAVESEN (£2 million from Real Madrid, August 2006)
Remember when the bald headed Dane strutted around midfield for Everton like he owned the place (usually because he actually did own the middle of the park)?
Celtic didn't get that Thomas Gravesen, who went missing and has never been seen again; instead they got the Gravesen who looked timid and lost at Real Madrid for eighteen months prior to arriving at Celtic Park. He actually scored in an Old Firm game, and a hat-trick against St Mirren too, but sank without trace, with rumours of a poor attitude abounding. A year's loan back at Goodison Park didn't go well and he was let go after two years where he might well have been Celtic's highest paid player.

1) RAFAEL (£5 million from Gremio, January 2000)
Now you know why I made these lists "of the century" instead of "of the decade" - so I could include the misfit Brazilian defender whose full name, Rafael Felipe Scheidt, gave tabloids and fans instant, everlasting amusement. The manager who brought him to Parkhead, John Barnes, was sacked within a month, and his fee of £5 million eventually transpired to be £1 million for each of the five appearances he made in a Celtic shirt. Surely this counts as the worst signing in Scottish football history?

Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grubby political fingerprints smudging everything

The other day, FIFA suddenly decided it would be a good idea to play the 2022 World Cup in the winter. No matter that, during the whole voting process, the Qatar bid was all about playing in state-of-the-art stadiums with special cooling systems to keep the players and fans cool. There was no mention, over the three years that the bid was advertised, that a Qatari World Cup would be used to try and force the rest of the footballing world to stop what it was doing, release all its players, and work out some way of sorting out their leagues to deal with it.

Of course there wasn't a mention - that sort of condition would have prevented anyone from touching the bid with a barge pole. So the World Cup we get will not be the World Cup we were told we would get. Sounds like a liberal democrat campaign promise. The cynic in me believes that Sepp Blatter knew a December World Cup would be inevitable long ago, but kept it quiet - it's amazing how gazillions of petro-dollars can keep one's mouth firmly shut.

The same week, Henry McLeish's long-awaited report into Scottish football was released. I actually trawled through the whole thing (two hours of my life I will never have back) and here are a few points worth noting.

1) It appears to have been written by an eight year old. Literally. Typos and grammatical/spelling errors everywhere. At least most 21st century eight year olds know Microsoft Word has a spellcheck function. The pick of the bunch: "The SFA's turnover in 2009 was £25". I know there's a credit crunch but, well, I paid more than that for my cup final ticket.

2) McLeish does not, technically, recommend a 10 team SPL - he mentions it as one of the best options for change, along with a 14 team league. There is certainly no mention of a two-tier SPL...despite about a hundred BBC articles since the report was published saying that his report endorses this.

3) There is, tucked away in the report, a quiet mention that a 14 team SPL would be "more in tune with what fans and spectators are asking for". I don't see the SPL themselves paying even lip service to this. You would think that customer opinion might we worth more than a warm bucket of piss (a prize goes to whoever knows where that reference comes from).

4) What is there to be gained from a 10 team SPL? It's quite simple; the money is only divided ten ways. As it is, more than a third of the cash goes to the top two teams - with a massive drop off to third place. We've seen, in recent years, Aberdeen and Hearts both finish as low as 9th, and Dundee Utd finish lower. Therefore, everyone except the Gruesome Twosome will have a nervous thought or two about relegation. Methinks this does not mean exciting football - a nil-nil at home will always seem like an ok result. But the Old Firm get more dosh, so what do they care? The bottom line is this - a 10 team SPL is about as competitive as a 100m dash between Usain Bolt and a paraplegic whose wheelchair has been clamped.

5) McLeish claims a 14 team league means "the quality of the SPL would also be a major consideration" - i.e. we would be letting two rubbish teams in. Since the last decade has only seen the damned Gretna relegated the year after promotion, and with St. J nearly making top six last year and Inverness flying this time around, this argument, frankly, is complete hokum.

6) So what is this report actually useful for? Real toilet paper would be more comfortable, and I can't think of any other reasons.

The bottom line? Never again should anyone believe for a second that anyone at the top of football is interested in the good of the game, for all they care about is self-preservation and the lining of their own pockets. The only thing that makes them less crooked than some of those who call themselves MPs is that no-one's charged the cleaning of their moat to FIFA or the SPL yet.

But it's only a matter of time.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

The decline of Clyde

Ever heard of Steve Hislop? Even by Caley Thistle fans, he is hardly a club legend, having spent two years at the club from 2003 till 2005. Since then he had brief spells with Gillingham (who dopily paid us £50,000 in a transfer fee), and Livingston when they were an SPL club, and since then has tottered around clubs in the second division. He currently plays for East Fife, and I'm sure I read in the papers a few years back that he is training to become an optician or something.

There are plenty of reasons why Clyde FC lie bottom of the Scottish league at the time of writing, but Steve Hislop is one of them. For in spring 2004, Clyde led the first division, ten points clear at one point, though Inverness, their main chasers had games in hand. In March, the Bully Wee travelled to the Highlands for a rearranged midweek game where, with Caley 2-1 up, midfielder Roy McBain was sent off for handball on the goalline. The resultant penalty was missed and the home side won 3-1. Clyde, managed by Irishman Alan Kernaghan at the time, hardly collapsed, but they dropped enough points in the run-in to give Inverness a sniff. When the sides met again at Broadwood in May, it was the penultimate game of the season and Clyde were still two points clear - a draw would mean they just needed see off Alloa, the division's whipping boys, to get to the promised land of the Scottish Premier League.

Hislop had been at Inverness for eighteen months, having joined from Ross County but his hard work and constant running never really made up for his inherent clumsiness. My own username on the club's fan website is "Hislopsoffsideagain", out of homage to a commonly used phrase on the terraces during his tenure. He was a bit part player during that season, demoted to the bench because of the prolific scoring of veteran striker Paul Ritchie. But he came off the bench at Broadwood with the score 1-1, and it was he who arched his neck back to power home a header with 11 minutes left that turned out to be the winning goal. Clyde gubbed Alloa the next week but it was no use, for Inverness saw off St. Johnstone and won the division instead.

In 2004, Clyde were that close to being in the top division. As 2010 draws to a close, they are at the foot of the third division, with only one win from their opening twelve matches.

And unlike Livingston, they've never been demoted because of going to administration. They've ended up in the fourth tier of Scottish football because they've been relegated twice.

Clyde FC are a team that can be found mentioned even in the oldest history books
about footie in this country. Founded in 1877, they were named for the river that runs through Glasgow, and whci was adjacent to their first pitch at Barrowfield. The side joined the Scottish Football League in 1891 and soon afterwards moved to Shawfield, the ground which would be their home for 88 years. Shawfield was initially owned by the club, but was also (and still is) used for greyhound racing - and for financial reasons Clyde sold the ground to the Greyhound Racing Association in 1935. This somewhat came back to bite them...for in 1986 their owners evicted them so that Shawfield could be renovated.

To be honest, Clyde were just another team in Glasgow anyway. Though they won the Scottish Cup three times, the last in 1958, and spent several seasons in the top flight, they were but a tiny fish in a pond ruled by the Old Firm and where the scraps went to Partick Thistle. It was with Partick that Clyde had to groundshare, initially, when they left Shawfield. As if five years as tenants at Firhill didn't damage their support base enough, a further two years at Hamilton, out of Glasgow altogether, probably eradicated this. So Clyde took the gamble of completely abandoning their roots, and left for the new town of Cumbernauld, about 20 miles out of Glasgow and with a population of 50,000. And without a football team. North Lanarkshire Council built (and still own) a stadium called Broadwood, and a capacity crowd of 6,000 turned up for the first game. Not a bad idea, huh?

Except that Cumbernauld is not a very affluent town. No, let's be honest - it is an absolute hole. And its proximity to Glasgow means that, inevitably, the locals still enjoy a considerably loyalty to the Gruesome Twosome. In reality, even when challenging in the first division, Clyde's attendances were less than 2,000. On the pitch, the club found itself in the third division in 1998, but the reigns of managers Ronnie MacDonald and Allan Maitland saw back-to-back promotions, with the coaches improving the squad by attracting the best players from junior football. Trying to get to the SPL was a big gamble, however, and one which failed miserably.

By the end of that season, creditors were sniffing around, and whilst they never quite ended up in administration, a Compulsory Voluntary Agreement was required which left the club debt-free, but weak, even after a shock cup win over Celtic in 2006 (best remembered as Roy Keane's debut for the Hoops). Even with a poor team, the bills were run up again and the last two seasons have seen back-to-back
relegations. And to cap it all, this week they have announced that they are going to leave Broadwood.

Sadly, it's not as if they are leaving much of a support behind, much like in the 1980s.

Clyde's story is increasingly typical of the lower reaches of the Scottish game; a club who have been around forever, but whose support has drained over years and years. The lack of income off the field leads to a lack of quality on the field - and this means less paying fans, and so less income...and so on. And Clyde were one of those teams, like Livingston, and Dundee, and plenty of others, who gambled it all on reaching the big time, and were almost irreparably damaged as a result. Goodness knows where the club go next - there is no other "Cumbernauld" out there, no town that looks like ripe pickings. If they go back to groundsharing in Greater Glasgow, who would go and watch them?

The romantic in me finds it a depressing tale, and hopes that this historic club
find themselves a niche in the Scottish game. The pragmatist in me wonders whether there is any point to their existence any more.

And their current plight is a depressingly common one throughout the lower reaches of Scottish football. They might just be the first who end up fading away. There will be others.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Craig Brown takes up Pittodrie's poisoned chalice

Reasons why Craig Brown might think leaving Motherwell for Aberdeen is a good idea...

1) He wasn't given the assurances he was looking for regarding strengthening Motherwell's squad - guys like Alan Gow are out of contract in January whilst his top scorer, Nick Blackman is only on loan.

2) Stewart Milne has offered guarantees that Brown will be given cash to perform a complete overhaul of the squad - you can currently count on the fingers of one hand the number of players they have who are good enough for a top six SPL side. (In which case, where has the money come from and why wasn't McGhee allowed a sniff of it?)

3) The age of 70 is old enough that Brown's memory might be beginning to go - has Milne tricked him into thinking that the year is 1985, that the Dons are still a force in the game and that his centre-backs will be McLeish and Miller rather than Ifil and Diamond?

(that last comment is going to lead to accusations of ageism...)

The thing is, two summers ago Aberdeen wanted to replace an (apparently) underachieving management team, and they went and picked up a new coach who had plenty of experience north and south of the border, who had done impressive things on a shoestring Motherwell.

That turned out well, huh?

Either Craig Brown will be the man who finally turns Aberdeen around and brings the fans, and good football, back to Pittodrie, or he will dent his own reputation and legacy and just become another in the long list of coaches who have failed in the North East.

Which outcome do you think is more likely?


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just a bit of fun - the ten worst Rangers signings of this century

It's a slow news week football-wise, so I thought a wee blast from the past might be fun. As the potential sale of Rangers continues to develop, chairman David Murray might not want to look at this list of reminders of where a lot of his money got wasted (for the sake of fairness, not to mention fun, there will be a Celtic list at some point too - otherwise someone will accuse me of sectarianism).

So, for the record, here are the ten worst Rangers signings of the 21st far...

10) JEROME ROTHEN (loan from Paris St. Germain, September 2009)
Rothen by name, rotten by nature; Walter Smith has made few transfer market mistakes in his second spell as Rangers boss but this was one. The French winger won 13 caps, the last in 2008, and was the only signing that summer - he played eight games in an eight week period, the last of which was a dire performance in a 4-1 home humping by Romanians Unirea. He came down with "a viral illness" after that and was shipped out in January. At least he only cost four months' wages.

9) EGIL OSTENSTAD (free transfer from Blackburn, August 2003)
Alex McLeish really didn't have much cash to splash in the summer of 2003. My memory of the burly Norwegian forward's time at Ibrox is of an old man who looked years past it - yet I'm surprised to see that Ostenstad was only 31 when he signed for Rangers. A cult hero in his younger days at Southampton, he had achieved little in four years at Blackburn prior to this and started only two league games all year. His only goals came in league cup games against lower league teams St. Johnstone and Forfar.

8) MARCUS GAYLE (£1 million from Wimbledon, March 2001)
A very good example of the reckless spending during the Advocaat years - a couple of strikers injured with six weeks of the season left? No problem - here's nearly a million quid for a useful but unspectacular forward from down south. Four games and no goals later, he was shipped back to London - to sign for Watford - for £100,000 less.

7) MICHAEL BALL (£6.5 million from Everton, August 2001)
On the face of it, Ball, a 22 year old left back who had just won his first England cap, looked like quite a coup for Advocaat - but his four years in Govan were basically a nightmare. He was fined for swearing at his manager when subbed during his first Old Firm game, then, after only his eleventh appearance, he buggered his knee and was out for a year and a half. Then having worked his way back to fitness, he barely played at the beginning of the 2003-04 season because his 60th game would trigger a £500,000 payment to Everton. This was resolved - but he left in 2005 after only 78 appearances for the club, in a £500,000 move to PSV Eindhoven.

6) LIONEL LETIZI (free transfer from Paris St. Germain, June 2006)
One of Paul Le Guen's early moves as boss was to sign Letizi, who had been PSG's keeper for six years, to be his number one goalkeeper. He gifted Dunfermline a goal in his third league game, then was injured after his fourth and watched Allan McGregor put in a string of good performances as his replacement. Le Guebn controversially chose to restore Letizi to the side despite this, and was "rewarded" when another catastrophic blunder gifted Inverness a 1-0 win at Ibrox. Despite consternation from the supporters, he stuck with the Frenchman for another few weeks, but eventually dumped him. After a grand total of eight appearances, it was no surprise when he left shortly after Le Guen's dismissal.

5) KARL SVENSSON (£600,000 from IFK Gothenburg, May 2006)
Another to follow Le Guen into Ibrox, Svensson was as catastrophic as every other signing the Frenchman made as Rangers coach (with the exception of Sasa Papac). His poor performances at centre-half were all the more mystifying as he had been in Sweden's World Cup squad prior to his move to Scotland. He couldn't head the ball and he couldn't tackle, and he looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than Glasgow. Despite this, his boss persisted with him right up to his sacking, but he made only seven appearances under Walter Smith before signing for Caen on a free.

4) NUNO CAPUCHO (£670,000 from Porto, June 2003)
As I said before, McLeish had almost no transfer kitty at all that summer - so why splash it on this hapless Portuguese wide man? That said, at the time it looked like a decent deal for a 31 year old who had played at the 2002 World Cup and started in the 2003 UEFA Cup final. Don't be fooled by the fact he scored six goals in his solitary season - I remember seeing him being kept under control by Aberdeen's Scott Morrison (not exactly the best full-back ever) at Pittodrie that season. He was so bad that everyone laughed at him instead of booing him.

3) JOSE-KARL PIERRE-FANFAN (free transfer from Paris St. Germain, July 2005)
Rangers' dealings with Paris St. Germain have not been particularly good, have they? At least they didn't have to pay a fee for Fanfan, who scored on his debut but fell out with McLeish and played only nine games, none after November. Yet he hung around for another nine months, leeching wages until his release in August 2006.

2) FILIP SEBO (£1.8 million from Austria Vienna, August 2006)
If we chuckled at Capucho, we sniggered at Sebo. a clown of a striker from Slovakia, who displayed plenty of energy - but generally just ran around the park in a manner more befitting of a headless chicken. Austria Vienna's chairman mischievously admitted, 6 months after his transfer, that he would have accepted a third of what Rangers paid for him. He made only four league starts (I saw one of those in Inverness, where he was so bad the home fans started chanting his name) and was generally used as an "impact sub", though it is hard to say what impact was ever made. Sebo scored two goals for Rangers before leaving for the French league; believe it or not, he was recalled to his national team this year.

1) TORE ANDRE FLO (£12 million from Chelsea, November 2000)I actually feel a little sick in the stomach at the thought of a Scottish team paying this sort of fee, especially for a good, but hardly world-class player like Flo - the Norwegian's reputation was destroyed by the fact that he simply couldn't match Henrik Larsson's scoring rate. His 38 goals in 72 games for Rangers is not that bad, but £12 million? Dear god. Rangers at least got £6.75 million back when they sold him to Sunderland in 2002.

Any others you can think of? Certainly I nearly put Bert Konterman on this list as well.

Ah, the memories...


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Welcome to rant city

Rant one: the world cup.

I would love to go to a World Cup - in fact I would happily exchange one of my upper limbs for this privilege. However, the destination would need to fit certain criteria; firstly, it would need to be relatively straightforward to get to the country, and to travel throughout that country. Secondly, I'm not going anywhere where my own safety is at significant risk.

The 2010 World Cup was in South Africa - expensive to travel to, with a poor infrastructure for travelling around the country, where the risks of carjacking and violence are very high. Chances of me going - half the chance a snowball has of surviving in hell

The 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil - expensive to travel to, with unmaintained roads, a railway network that has seen barely any investment in years, and concerns over the safety of its air travel. And as the esteemed Tim Vickery pointed out for the BBC this week, it is also a place where muggings etc happen a lot. And it will be bloody hot. Chances of me going - half the chance a snowball has of surviving in hell

The 2018 World Cup will be in Russia - expensive to travel to, though it might have a decent infrastructure in eight years (none of it has been built yet - nor have most of the stadia). Personal safety is a huge issue, though I'm protected a bit by the fact I'm not black, gay or a journalist representing a free press. Chances of me going - half the chance a snowball has of...well you get the picture.

The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar - expensive to travel to, whilst the infrastructure doesn't exist right now either. In fact, the stadium for the final will be built in a city that...doesn't exist yet. Seems safer than the other countries - though the foreign office lists it as being at significant
risk from terrorism. The main worry is the 40-plus degree heat in the summer months. Chances of me going - half the chance a snowball has of surviving

At least Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Holland are affordable, straightforward destinations for the majority of supporters - let's not beat around the bush here, the vast majority of football fans who can afford to go to World Cups are European. And whilst I enjoy the irony of David Cameron moaning about people making him promises and turning out to be lying, it's quite sickening to see what the World Cup has become - you have to beg to get it, not bid, and it's all about who can provide FIFA with the most cash whilst asking the fewest questions. The only solace - hell hath no fury like the British press scorned. Sepp Blatter and co think Panorama and the Sunday Times were the worst of it? This could become very interesting over the next few months.

Rant two: Undersoil heating

I emailed a complaint to the BBC this week after an article that suggested that Inverness, St. Johnstone and Aberdeen were all likely to have their games called off because "of the weather in the North East".

Inverness - North East? Perth - North East? Obviously the writer has never ventured beyond the Forth Road Bridge in his life - and he assumed somewhat erroneously that the weather in the Highlands was bound to be exactly the same as in Aberdeen and Tayside.

Well, it's not. We've had barely any more snow since the original fall at the end of last week. The temperature is still low, but the roads are generally okay (except for my street, which apparently doesn't appear on the maps of any council snow plough drivers). So I was massively hacked off to hear that all the SPL games were called off this weekend - on Wednesday afternoon. Caley had quite proudly been telling everyone that our pitch would be playable - but
apparently it is too unsafe for spectators and stuff.

If the roads are too unsafe to go to the football, doesn't that make them too unsafe to, well, do anything? I don't see the police closing all the shopping centres so that people aren't encouraged to make non-essential purchases. Besides, the A9 was worse last weekend...when the SPL showed no interest in postponing Caley's away game at Celtic whatsoever. The team bus barely arrived at the ground in time.

And to cap it all, Inverness' undersoil heating (installed at a six-figure cost) was switched on the first two days this week (at a cost of about £3,000 a day) because SPL rules dictate all clubs must have it and use it. Yet it appears that now, whenever the weather is bad enough to require USH, the police will demand the game be called off anyway. So what the heck is the point? And how do these central-belt wusses intend to pay us back for the money wasted trying to get the game on? When the game should have been on anyway?

Rant no.3 - why bother selling hot food on the shelves at supermarkets when the queues are so long that its cold by the time you pay for...oh, wait, thats not about football. I'll just have to rant about that to someone else then.