Thursday, July 21, 2011

The (far from) definitive 2011-12 SPL preview part 3

Flipping typical - Rangers choose last night to sign Lee Wallace from Hearts, so yesterday's preview was out of date within about four hours.

Anyway, here's the final part of this particular tour de force. My aim was to come up with a season preview which was better than any I've read in the papers in the last week...that was a depressingly easy goal to achieve.


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Gil Blumenshtein, Stuart Duff, Russell Duncan, Stuart Golabek, Chris Hogg, Chris Innes, Alex MacDonald (end of loan), Roy McBain, Grant Munro, Eric Odhiambo, Adam Rooney, Danni Sanchez
FIRST TEAM INS: Tom Aldred, Aaron Doran, Billy McKay, Josh Meekings, Andrew Shinnie, Gregory Tade, Greg Tansey


PROSPECTS: I've no idea, frankly. I'm certain Caley Thistle will bring in at least two or three more players. As described in previous blogs, Terry Butcher appears to have ditched the hardworking veteran backbone of the side in favour of a more swashbuckling approach...but we'll see how well it works. Can Inverness finally make the leap into the Top Six? I say no...but hope I'm wrong as usual.

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Ryan Esson, Jonny Tuffey
Defenders: Tom Aldred*, Kenny Gillet, Josh Meekings*, David Proctor, Graeme Shinnie*, Ross Tokely
Midfielders: Lee Cox*, Aaron Doran*, Jonny Hayes, Gavin Morrison*, Liam Polworth*, Nick Ross*, Andrew Shinnie, Greg Tansey
Forwards: Richie Foran (capt), Billy McKay, Shane Sutherland*, Gregory Tade


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Kieran Agard (end of loan), Willy Aubameyang, Craig Bryson, Alexei Eremenko (end of loan), Jamie Hamill, Benjamin Laurant, Steven Old, Mohammadou Sissoko (end of loan), Mehdi Taouil, Fraizer Wright
FIRST TEAM INS: Patrick Ada, Danny Buijs, Gary Harkins, Paul Heffernan, Ben Hutchinson, Zdenek Kroca, Danny Racchi


PROSPECTS: The jury is out on new boss Kenny Shiels, who failed to win any of his 8 matches as interim boss at the end of last season. His task is all the harder from having lost Bryson, Eremenko, Hamill and Taouil - basically their best four players. The defence particularly looks shaky, while they will rely on Celtic reject Ben Hutchinson and journeyman Paul Heffernan for goals. Expect them to go backwards, possibly into a relegation dogfight.

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Cameron Bell, Anssi Jaakola, Kyle Letheren
Defenders: Patrick Ada, Billy Berntsson, Tim Clancy, Gary Fisher*, Garry Hay, Zdenek Kroca, Ryan O'Leary, Alex Pursehouse*
Midfielders: Danny Buijs, James Dayton, Scott Evans, James Fowler, Gary Harkins, Liam Kelly*, Manuel Pascali (capt), Danny Racchi, David Silva
Forwards: William Gros*, Paul Heffernan, Ben Hutchinson, Rory McKenzie*


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Esteban Casagolda, Angelis Charalambous, Gavin Gunning (end of loan), Francis Jeffers, Steve Jones (end of loan), Steven Meechan, Maurice Ross, John Sutton
FIRST TEAM INS: Nicky Devlin, Michael Higdon, Nicky Law


PROSPECTS: Stuart McCall seems determined to rely on his young players, and needs Michael Higdon to prove an adequate replacement for John Sutton. McCall's knowledge of the English lower leagues has also turned up Nicky Law, while he's held onto Darren Randolph, Jamie Murphy and Chris Humphrey. Another top six finish is certainly possible, though it might be beyond them.

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Lee Hollis, Darren Randolph
Defenders: Stephen Craigan (capt), Nicky Devlin*, Steven Hammell, Shaun Hutchinson*, Jonathan Page*, Steven Saunders*
Midfielders: Stuart Carswell*, Ross Forbes, Tom Hateley, Chris Humphrey, Stephen Jennings, Keith Lasley, Nicky Law
Forwards: Michael Higdon, Robert McHugh*, Jamie Murphy, Jamie Pollock*, Gary Smith*


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Kyle Bartley (end of loan), El Hadji Diouf (end of loan), Ricky Foster (end of loan), Vladimir Weiss (end of loan), Andrew Shinnie
FIRST TEAM INS: Juanma Ortiz, Lee Wallace


PROSPECTS: As I said about Celtic, you might as well toss a coin to decide who will finish first at the moment. Ally McCoist has been expertly groomed for the manager's job at Ibrox, but he's bound to make a mistake or two along the way. Rangers still need reinforcements, but there's a feeling of 'jam tomorrow' about new owner Craig Whyte. One or two good signings might change that viewpoint, though,

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Neil Alexander, Allan McGregor
Defenders: Madjid Bougherra, Kirk Broadfoot, Darren Cole*, Jordan McMillan, Sasa Papac, Lee Wallace, David Weir (capt), Steven Whittaker
Midfielders: Steven Davis, Maurice Edu, Kyle Hutton*, Salim Kerkar, Lee McCulloch, Jamie Ness*, Juanma Ortiz, Gregg Wylde*
Forwards: John Fleck*, David Healy, Nikica Jelavic, Kyle Lafferty, Andrew Little, Steven Naismith


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Scott Dobie, Michael Duberry, Danny Grainger, Danny Invincibile, Andy Jackson, Peter MacDonald, Arvydas Novikovas (end of loan), Jordan Robertson, Collin Samuel, Graeme Smith, Cleveland Taylor
FIRST TEAM INS: Callum Davidson, Carl Finnigan, Sean Higgins, Alan Mannus, David McCracken, David Robertson, Fraizer Wright


PROSPECTS: Can Derek McInnes take Saints any further? He had a huge clearout this summer to try and freshen the side up - though the possible departure of Murray Davidson would be a disaster. If McInnes stays for the season, St J should be fine, though they will fall short of the top half. If he is tempted away, the club will find it hard to find a coach of his calibre,

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Peter Enckelman, Alan Mannus
Defenders: Steven Anderson, Callum Davidson, Graham Gartland, Dave Mackay, Alan Maybury, David McCracken, Fraser Wright
Midfielders: Jamie Adams, Liam Caddis*, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson, Chris Millar, Kevin Moon, Jody Morris (capt), David Robertson
Forwards: Carl Finnigan, Stevie May*, Sam Parkin


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Garry Brady, Patrick Cregg, Craig Dargo, Paul Gallacher, Michael Higdon, Ally Love, Sean Lynch, Jamie McCluskey, Mark McLennan, John Potter, Conor Ramsay, Jure Travner, Gareth Wardlaw
FIRST TEAM INS: Graham Carey, Nigel Hasselbaink, Paul McGowan, Graeme Smith, Gary Teale, Jeroen Tesselaar, Steven Thompson


PROSPECTS: Manager Danny Lennon has a year's more experience behind him, but he's taken a big risk that veterans Gary Teale and Steven Thompson still have what it takes. Ex-Celtic midfielder Graham Carey has a sweet left foot and is a shrewd acquisition. But the Buddies looked a shambles for much of last season and it doesn't take a leap of imagination to see them as strugglers this time round. Might this be the year they go down?

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Craig Samson, Graeme Smith
Defenders: David Barron, Jim Goodwin (capt), Lee Mair, Marc McAusland, Darren McGregor, Jeroen Tesselaar, David Van Zanten
Midfielders: Graham Carey, Mark Lamont*, Jamie McKernon*, Kenny McLean*, Aaron Mooy*, Hugh Murray, Gary Teale, Steven Thomson
Forwards: Nigel Hasselbaink, Paul McGowan, Paul McQuade, Steven Thompson


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The (far from) definitive 2011-12 SPL preview part 2

Here we go, into the nitty-gritty of it all. There's enough data and information here to choke a donkey, I reckon. It also gave me an excuse to muck about with the smashing tools at The other six teams will come up tomorrow, I hope.


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Sone Aluko, Myles Anderson, Nick Blackman (end of loan), Zander Diamond, Domenico Gibson, Hallur Hansson, Paul Hartley, Mark Howard, Dean Jarvis, Chris Maguire, David McNamee, Steven Smith (end of loan), Nikola Vujadinovic (end of loan), Derek Young
FIRST TEAM INS: Kari Arnason, Jason Brown, Chris Clark, David Gonzalez (loan), Youl Mawene, Isaac Osbourne


PROSPECTS: My predo is based less on the quality of the squad and more on the quality of the coach - if anyone can pull the Dons back into the top six, it's Craig Brown. He stretched his goodwill with the fans a bit by making Ricky Foster captain after the defender returned from a year at Rangers, and the Aberdeen squad still has a few holes in it, especially with the absence of an obvious wide midfielder. If it all goes sour, will Brown be given more leeway than Mark McGhee was?

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 outfield player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Jason Brown, David Gonzalez, Jamie Langfield
Defenders: Andrew Considine, Ricky Foster (capt), Youl Mawene, Rory McArdle, Clark Robertson*, Joe Shaughnessy*
Midfielders: Kari Arnason, Chris Clark, Yoann Folly, Ryan Fraser*, Fraser Fyvie*, Jack Grimmer*, Ryan Jack*, Nicky Low*, Robert Milson, Isaac Osbourne, Peter Pawlett*
Forwards: Darren Mackie, Josh Magennis*, Mitch Megginson*, Michael Paton, Scott Vernon


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Graham Carey, Ryan Conroy, Fraser Forster (end of loan), Andreas Hinkel, Ben Hutchinson, Freddie Ljungberg, Paul McGowan, Niall McGinn (loan)
FIRST TEAM INS: Adam Matthews, Kelvin Wilson, Victor Wanyama


PROSPECTS: There's no doubt in my mind that the Old Firm will come first and second; the question is, in which order? Celtic simply seem to have more depth than their rivals, though it's hard to say if any of their new signings will improve the starting lineup. They still need a goalie, and to hope their top players don't have their heads turned by EPL teams by the end of August.

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Domenico Cervi, Lukasz Zaluska
Defenders: Cha Du-Ri, Jos Hooiveld, Emilio Izaguirre, Glenn Loovens, Daniel Majstorovic, Adam Matthews*, Charlie Mulgrew, Thomas Rogne*, Lewis Toshney*, Richie Towell*, Kelvin Wilson, Mark Wilson
Midfielders: Scott Brown (capt), Kris Commons, Efrain Juarez, Beram Kayal, Ki Sung-Yong, Joe Ledley, Shaun Maloney, Paddy McCourt, Victor Wanyama
Forwards: James Forrest*, Gary Hooper, Daryl Murphy, Georgios Samaras, Paul Slane*, Anthony Stokes


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Prince Buaben, Craig Conway, Darren Dods, Morgaro Gomis, Mihael Kovacevic, David Robertson, Andis Shala, Timothy Van Der Meulen
FIRST TEAM INS: Willo Flood, Gary Mackay-Steven, John Rankin


PROSPECTS: Expect another slow start from United, until the distraction of the Europa League is out of the way. They still have plenty of business to do, especially to replace the Gomis-Buaben engine room in midfield, and their top six aspirations may depend on whether David Goodwillie stays for another season.

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Steve Banks, Dusan Pernis
Defenders: Sean Dillon, Paul Dixon, Barry Douglas, Garry Kenneth, Ross Smith*, Keith Watson
Midfielders: Scott Allan*, Stuart Armstrong*, Willo Flood, Gary Mackay-Steven*, John Rankin, Scott Robertson, Scott Severin, Danny Swanson
Forwards: Jon Daly (capt), Ryan Dow*, David Goodwillie, Johnny Russell*


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Kyle Allison, Graham Bayne, Alex Burke, Chris Higgins, Jake Hyde, Neil McGregor, Greg Paterson, Calum Woods
FIRST TEAM INS: Andrew Barrowman, Patrick Boyle, Paul Burns, Paul Gallacher, John Potter, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Jason Thomson (loan)


PROSPECTS: As I often trumpet, only one newly promoted team has been relegated from the SPL in a decade, and that was the loathsome Gretna. Dunfermline's problem is that their squad is based around several players who have SPL experience...but were simply not good enough last time round. They will be solid and well organised, but do they have the firepower? I think they will struggle, but survive...just.

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Paul Gallacher, Chris Smith
Defenders: Patrick Boyle, Andy Dowie, Lee Graham*, Alex Keddie, Austin McCann (capt), John Potter, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Jason Thomson
Midfielders: Steven Bell, Paul Burns, Joe Cardle, Martin Hardie, Gary Mason, Nick Phinn, Ryan Thomson*, Paul Willis*
Forwards: Andy Barrowman, Liam Buchanan, Pat Clarke, David Graham, Andy Kirk, Steven McDougall


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Ismael Bouzid, Dawid Kucharski, Jamie Mole, Paul Mulrooney, Ruben Palazuelos, Craig Thomson, Jason Thomson (loan)
FIRST TEAM INS: Danny Grainger, Jamie Hamill, John Sutton, Mehdi Taouil


PROSPECTS: Hearts still appear to be much stronger than everyone else, yet miles away from bridging the gap to the gruesome twosome. If they get Andrew Driver and Kevin Kyle fit, they might be able to challenge at the top, but the least we expect is goals from John Sutton and more exciting wingplay from David Templeton. Oh, and more pointless meddling from Vladimir Romanov. At least the distraction Thomson-gate appears to be over and done with.

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Janos Balogh, Marian Kello, Jamie MacDonald
Defenders: Darren Barr, Danny Grainger, Jamie Hamill, Eggert Jonsson, Lee Wallace, Andy Webster, Marius Zaliukas (capt)
Midfielders: Ian Black, Andrew Driver, Jason Holt*, Ryan McGowan, Adrian Mrowiec, Arvydas Novikovas*, David Obua, Rudi Skacel, Ryan Stevenson, Johnny Stewart*, Suso, Mehdi Taouil
Forwards: Calum Elliot, Stephen Elliott, Gary Glen*, Kevin Kyle, Scott Robinson*, David Smith*, John Sutton, David Templeton


FIRST TEAM OUTS: Kurtis Byrne, Francis Dickoh, Jakub Divis (end of loan), Darryl Duffy (end of loan), Kevin McBride, Kevin McCann, Liam Miller, Colin Nish, John Rankin, Derek Riordan, Graeme Smith, Steven Thicot, Richie Towell (end of loan), Valdas Trakys, Ricardo Vaz Te
FIRST TEAM INS: Garry O'Connor, Sean O'Hanlon, Ivan Sproule


PROSPECTS: Huge uncertainty remains regarding the future of boss Colin Calderwood, and that seems to have paralyzed the rebuilding programme at Easter Road; I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that Garry O'Connor should bring quality and goals to the front line. But there's as much chance of them being at the bottom as there is of them making top six - but would you expect anything else from Hibs?

football formations

Squad (* denotes U-21 player - each team must have 3 in their matchday squad)
Goalkeepers: Mark Brown, Graham Stack
Defenders: Callum Booth*, Paul Hanlon*, Michael Hart, Ian Murray, Sean O'Hanlon, David Stephens*, Scott Taggart*
Midfielders: Edwin De Graaf, Danny Galbraith*, Lewis Horner*, Victor Palsson*, Martin Scott, Matt Thornhill, David Wotherspoon*
Forwards: Daniel Handling*, Garry O'Connor, Akpo Sodje, Ivan Sproule

Hope your brains haven't exploded. I know mine has.


The (far from) definitive 2011-12 SPL preview part 1

One overwhelming thought comes to mind as I sit down to hammer out a blogpost previewing the SPL season...

What on earth am I doing trying to write a preview in July?!

The weather gods have not been kind to Scottish football the last couple of seasons - in fact, the only way they could have been crueller would have been to tie it up, soak it in petrol and lop off it's ear to the sound of Stealer's Wheel. Partly because of this, partly because the European Championship follows the climax of the 2011-12 campaign (yeah, right, as if Scotland will be in it, and as if any non-Scottish SPL players will be good enough to play in it), and partly as a chance to get our footie on the telly before the proper football...sorry, the English Premier League...starts, the season starts on 23 July this year.

Kind of. We have a full round of fixtures on opening weekend. But Celtic and Rangers whinged about missing out on glamour friendlies which are worth a fair bit of cash to them, so the league has, as usual, pandered to them, and agreed that any team could defer a fixture in the early stages of the season if they wished. Depressingly, Hibernian also took up this offer, so the second and third weeks of the season will be disrupted while Celtic go play in the Dublin Super Cup (it might have Inter Milan in it, but having the 'tic and a League of Ireland XI hardly makes it even a little bit super), Hibs play a 'glamour' friendly against Sunderland - since when has Sunderland ever been described as glamourous? - and Rangers take on Chelsea.

Forgive this writer for having a little bit of schadenfreude if these sides are hit by a nasty bout of fixture congestion in six months time.

But the early start makes writing a preview mightily difficult, because the transfer window is open for a full 39 days after the first SPL game. Thus, barely anyone - only perhaps Kilmarnock, St. Mirren and the newly promoted Dunfermline - has done all their business. The Old Firm have spent only £1.5 million between them, bringing in a total of four players. They, and everyone else, are biding their time, waiting for free agent players to lower their wage demands, and their aspirations, as the end of August comes closer and the need to find a club and a paycheck becomes more desperate.

I was caught out in impressive style because of this last season, even when the season started in mid-August; having tipped Kilmarnock for the drop, they promptly went and signed Alexei Eremenko and made me look like even more of a plonker than usual. I think they call this complete and utter ineptness with predictions 'Murray Walker syndrome'. Obviously the Old Firm will take the top two places, and Hearts look good value for third, but there's very little to choose between the other nine teams just now, I reckon.

So anything I write in the upcoming two part preview, which I aim to have done before the season starts on Saturday (of course, I can't really call it a preview if I finish it after that, can I?) needs to be taken with not so much a pinch of salt, but a full shaker's worth, with a pepper pot and spice rack alongside. Capiche?

Anyway, for tasters, here's how I think the table will look...

1. Celtic
2. Rangers
3. Hearts
4. Dundee Utd
5. Aberdeen
6. Hibernian
7. Motherwell
8. Inverness
9. St. Johnstone
10. Kilmarnock
11. Dunfermline
12. St Mirren



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Doran leads new Caley philosophy

Joining up with Inverness Caledonian Thistle's pre-season tour in the south of England hasn't been all plain sailing for winger Aaron Doran; he tweeted his frustration at the difficulty of buying a train ticket to Bath because no-one could understand his Irish accent.

The season before last, Doran was considered enough of a prospect at Blackburn Rovers that he made three first team appearances off the bench for the English Premier League side. But opportunities were scarce last year, and in January 2011 he took the chance to join Caley Thistle on loan for the rest of the season. As a right-footed player cutting in from the left flank - the mirror image of fellow Irishman Jonny Hayes on the opposite side - Doran scored three SPL goals, including an exquisite curling effort at St Johnstone, and showed that, even at the age of 20, he is already more than good enough for the SPL.

So it was a particular delight that, when it became clear there was no future at Blackburn, Doran agreed to make a permanent move to the Highlands, despite the fact that the likes of Aberdeen, Motherwell and St. Johnstone were also interested.

Caley Thistle's transfer policy has been very distinct this summer. Traditionally it has been difficult to attract players to the north of the country, presumably because most folk in the central belt still assume that we done kilts, wear woad on our faces, drink from streams and have only a vague idea of what electricity is. (Depressingly, I'm being only slightly tongue-in-cheek) But those who have been persuaded to give it a go have often stayed; as a consequence the backbone of the side that first won SPL promotion in 2004 under John Robertson (and had been constructed by his predecessor, Steve Paterson) made up most of the squad for the subsequent years.

This summer, with the departures of Russell Duncan, Grant Munro, Stuart Golabek, and Roy McBain, that backbone has but one vertebra left, defender Ross Tokely. The departures of Munro and Duncan, servants for more than a decade and who are still only 30, came as a particular shock. But boss Terry Butcher has made his intentions clear - he wants to bring young players north, from England's lower divisions. Whilst Inverness cannot offer better wages than League One and League Two clubs, Butcher is selling the club as a chance to gain more exposure, especially when playing the Old Firm.

The ultimate advertisement for this claim is Adam Rooney, who after more than 20 goals last season earned himself a deal at Birmingham City reportedly worth up to £10,000 a week. That's five-fold what Caley had offered him to stay. Whether Rooney is good enough to score goals regularly in The Championship is open to debate, but he's earned himself the opportunity, and a huge paypacket, after only one high-scoring SPL season.

Butcher's argument has swayed the likes of Stockport's Greg Tansey and Northampton's Billy McKay. Expect more players from this level to join us over the next few weeks.

It also means a tactical switch, now light years away from the physical, hard-working side which established itself in the SPL in the middle of the last decade; now with Doran, McKay, Hayes and French forward Gregory Tade, Inverness have pace to burn. In fact, the lack of height and physical presence in the squad makes this writer a little nervous - though a big centre-back and a big centre-forward would allay those fears, and could potentially make Caley a team to beat.

The likes of Doran are unlikely to remain here for more than a couple of years - if they are good someone better and wealthier will sign them, and if they aren't then we'll chuck them. So it means an inevitably high turnover of players. But that's likely to be the way of things for Scotland's provincial clubs in the near future. The trick is consistently recognising and signing players who are going to a job.

Let's hope Terry Butcher can pull it off.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Calderwood jilts Hibs for his ex Hughton

By the time you read this, Hibernian manager Colin Calderwood may no longer be Hibernian manager.

Most likely he will have completed a return south to become assistant to Chris Hughton at Birmingham City, with Hibs potentially netting £400,000 in compensation.

But, even if that deal falls through, it's hard to see Calderwood staying at Easter Road. Some would accuse him of having burned his bridges with the club; at the very least, he has poured the petrol and provided the Zippo lighter for the task.

Whatever happens, it will be a long time before he manages a club again, one suspects. A former Spurs and Scotland international defender, Calderwood looked like quite the up and coming coach after winning League Two with unfashionable Northampton Town, and seemed like the perfect choice to take Nottingham Forest out of the lower league doldrums when he moved to the City Ground in May 2006. But his spell at Forest never quite lived up to the high expectations of the club and it's fans, even when his second season in charge resulted in promotion to The Championship; a lousy start to the following campaign led to his dismissal.

The Hibs job was his first managerial post since then; just a month after leaving Forest he became part of the coaching staff at Newcastle, working under Hughton, and was the logical choice to be assistant manager when Hughton took over the top job at St. James' Park. It appeared he still had hunger and ambition to succeed on his own when he left that role to move to Edinburgh last October, but it seems not; having given up an assistant's job in the Premier League for the SPL, he now wants to unceremoniously ditch his homeland for an assistant's job in The Championship. After only nine months at Hibs.

Granted, the phrase "poisoned chalice" does not quite seem to do justice to the post of Hibernian manager. In a decade since Alex McLeish left to take over at Rangers, only Tony Mowbray has enjoyed sustained success, and he was lucky enough to inherit future internationals Ian Murray, Derek Riordan, Scott Brown, Gary O'Connor, Kevin Thomson and Steven Whittaker from the club's youth setup. Mowbray's successors have each had their struggles - John Collins won the league cup but never won over the dressing room, allegedly after criticising player fitness and stripping off in order to prove he was fitter than the players (in which sense of the word, one wonders). Results declined a bit further under Mixu Paatelainen, who was shown the door after 18 months despite two top six finishes. The big Finn's subsequent spell at Kilmarnock has proven that his Easter Road experience left him far wiser, if also a bit balder. Calderwood's immediate predecessor was Paatelainen's replacement, former Hibs player and Falkirk manager John Hughes, who enjoyed an initial bounce in results which disguised more dressing room problems (recurring theme here), but things deteriorated to the point where some players supposedly just ignored orders to, for example, warm down after matches.

Curiously, Calderwood's number two was Derek Adams, who left his manager's job at Ross County to become Calderwood's number two, despite Calderwood admitting that they had never met. Ironically given current circumstances, Adams returned to his former job in Dingwall at the end of the season.

There is no doubt that the team was at a low ebb when Calderwood took over, and his abysmal start - 2 wins in his first 15 league games and a cup exit to second division Ayr United - can at least partly be blamed on the shambles he inherited. He recognised the need for a total overhaul, moving on well over a dozen first team players, and had at least some reasonable backing from the board - chairman Rod Petrie has funded the return of striker O'Connor to the club, and also provided a six figure transfer budget in January which, bizarrely was spent on Ross County midfielder Martin Scott, presumably on the recommendation of his erstwhile assistant Adams. He hadn't won over the fans yet, but he hadn't completely lost them either. But, less than two weeks before the start of the season, he appears poised to dump them.

If it doesn't work out at St. Andrews', I can't help feeling that few chairman would take a chance on offering him another manager's job. He appears willing to ditch Hibs, having not even come close to fulfilling his mandate, for a job with far less prestige and standing (but presumably a few more zeroes on the paycheque), and at the time which harms his former employer most. If he has put the word "loyal" on his CV, he should probably delete it, along with "humble" and "dedicated" as well.

It appeared impossible that Colin Calderwood could leave Hibernian in an even worse state than when he arrived. But he appears to have managed it. For when the going got tough, Calderwood didn't get going. He left.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The horrors of a football-free summer

It's got so bad that I missed my usual Monday night seven-a-side to go to Caley Thistle's first pre-season game against local Highland League side Clachnacuddin, played at their Grant Street Park, a ground which makes prisoner-of-war camps seem homely and welcoming.

It's got so bad that I've started recording the Copa America and watching the games in the morning using the fast forward button.

It's got so bad that I'm checking the Sky Sports Transfer Centre ticker multiple times a day, looking for any nugget of transfer news that isn't about Alexis Sanchez or bloody Cesc Fabregas.

Ladies and gentlemen, these summers without World Cups and European Championships are hell.

All right, I exaggerate. They are not hell. Hell would be an eternity spent listening to a neverending duet between Kate Bush and Celine Dion, whilst sitting on a spike, and in the company of a rather unpleasant, and frankly psychotic, girl called Louise who was in my class at University. It's where I'm going if it turns out I was wrong to agree with Richard Dawkins' views on the world.

But they are not pleasant. I try to use other sports to compensate; Super Rugby, Wimbledon tennis, the Tour de France. But it's not the same, nor is it remotely close.

I might be coping better if there was some vaguely interesting happenings north of the border. All the news so far has surrounded either decent players leaving the SPL, or transfer dealings which haven't happened.

Examples of the former: Scotland internationals Chris Maguire (Aberdeen to Derby), Craig Conway (Dundee Utd to Cardiff) and Derek Riordan (left Hibs, with no new club yet); Kilmarnock's best players Craig Bryson (to Derby) and Aleksei Eremenko (end of loan), and Inverness' star striker Adam Rooney (to Birmingham).

Examples of the latter? Well, pretty much every deal involving Rangers, whose new owner Craig Whyte has, so far, completely and utterly failed to put his money where his mouth is. It would be one thing if Rangers were missing out on big name, world class players...but in the last few weeks they have been rejected by the aforementioned Conway, who was offered better wages by Cardiff, Crystal Palace midfielder Neil Danns, who was offered better wages (are you seeing a theme here?) by Leicester, and by relatively unknown Israeli forward Tomer Hemed, who chose Real Mallorca instead; in his case I have no idea of the disparity in wages, but I can think of some reasons why Majorca might be preferable to Glasgow, in particular the presence of the sun and the absence of Buckfast.

These are the Bosman signings new manager Ally McCoist has looked to make. When he has offered transfer fees...Rangers' frugality is again holding them back. A £300,000 offer for Hearts' Scotland international full back Lee Wallace could reasonably be described as derisory; protests out of Ibrox that Dundee Utd's £2million valuation of David Goodwillie was excessive and unrealistic were quickly silenced when it became clear that a few English Championship clubs were willing to meet that fee.

And that's the problem this summer. Rangers, certainly, can't (or won't) compete financially with top-half English Championship teams, and the lure of Champions League football doesn't seem to be making up for that. Celtic have, in contrast, managed to get hold of a couple of young players from that division, though I'm unclear as to just how good Kelvin Wilson (signed from Nottingham Forest) and Adam Matthews (from Cardiff) are. But their transfer policy looks, once again, focused on looking for cheap players from unfashionable leagues, to try and emulate the success that they had last year with Izaguirre and Kayal.

And as for the rest? Well, while Rangers are struggling to lure Championship players, the other sides are trying to tempt guys from League One and League Two with the prospect of playing Rangers and Celtic, and getting to play on TV (Motherwell signing Nicky Law from Rotherham, Inverness signing Greg Tansey from Stockport), and there is of course the traditional return of numerous veterans from years in the English leagues – Steven Thompson and Callum Davidson the obvious examples.

But it's just been sooooooooo boring up till now. And I've got to find some way to survive the last three weeks before the action starts on July 23.

Anyone got any bright ideas? And those of you who are tempted to tell me to get a life, please don't. You won't be helping.