Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From Forfar to Transylvania; the remarkable tale of Gregory Tadé

Perhaps his career is a perfect demonstration of how far the right attitude and a great work ethic can take you.

Perhaps his career is a perfect demonstration of how the standards of top level Scottish club football have deteriorated in recent years.

However you choose to view it, the career of Gregory Tadé is remarkable indeed.

The French forward today left Scottish football to join Romanian side CFR Cluj on a three year contract.  That's the same CFR Cluj who you may have seen playing in the Champions League against Manchester United last season.

Not bad for a guy who had to lie on his CV in order to get a trial with Forfar Athletic less than seven years ago; according to an interview with a French newspaper a couple of years back, "I tinkered with my CV, saying I had two caps for the Ivory Coast"!

If you've seen Tadé play, you don't forget him.  Six feet two inches tall and built like a tank, yet blessed with impressive speed for a man of his size, he starts running as soon as the match kicks off and doesn't stop until the final whistle sounds.  He is a phenomenal athlete.  On the other hand, for a modern footballer he has a technique that would be diplomatically described as 'interesting'.  Often he controls the ball further than he passes it.  With the ball at his feet, he willingly runs at opponents, but for every time he waltzes through the defence there are about ten occasions when he ends up in a cul-de-sac, or running the ball out of play.  You'll remember the "run, Forrest, run!" bit from Forrest Gump?  Yup, it's a bit like that. 

He doesn't know when he's beaten, but, to steal a Monty Python line, he doesn't know when he's winning either.  He is the sort of player who might miss a sitter from a yard out, or blast a twenty-five yard screamer in the top corner...in the same game.

In hindsight, it seems he was destined to become a cult hero at the clubs he played for - fans always a love a player that gives everything, and there is never a dull moment with him.

Yet his start in Scottish football was unauspicious.  Forfar, then in the Second Division, gave Tadé a contract, but after the club's relegation to the bottom tier of the Scottish Football League, he wasn't kept on.  It was with another Third Division club, Stranraer, that he started finding success, firing them to promotion in 2007-08, and he impressed enough the following season to attract First Division strugglers Clyde.  Tadé failed to score in his six month spell in Cumbernauld, and was let go along with the rest of the squad at the end of the season, due to the club's financial struggles, but he had attracted plenty of attention.

He spent the next two years at Raith Rovers, under the management of John McGlynn.  Anyone who watched Hearts during the first half of last season would have winced at McGlynn's direct style of play, but it was tailor-made for Tadé.  Sometimes he was used on the wing, where he invariably outmuscled opposing full-backs.  On other occasions he played up front, where, even on a bad day, he offered enough nuisance value to single-handedly occupy two centre-backs.  During Caley Thistle's First Division campaign of 2009-10, there were three forwards the fans feared facing; Michael Gardyne (then of Ross County, now at Dundee United), Leigh Griffiths (who, still a teenager, was playing for Dundee back then) and "that big French guy who runs all day for Raith".  At First Division level, his endeavour and his relentless running, coupled with his physical presence, made him a dangerous foe, even if his first touch - and his second, and his third - remained erratic.  His goal tally was hardly spectacular - 17 goals in 77 games - but he was adored by the support at Starks Park.

It wasn't only ICT fans who took note of him; so too did manager Terry Butcher, who gave Tadé his chance in the SPL in 2011.  Perhaps, as I stated at the beginning of the blog, there was a time where the quality of Scotland's top flight would have been too great for a player like him to make the step up.  But perhaps not.  Tadé brought his energy and enthusiasm to the Highlands.  There was a few dire performances, as you'd expect; there were also some terrific ones.  He contributed nine goals, including a spectacular strike on the turn into the top corner at Motherwell and a brace in a memorable 6-3 win at Rugby Park, one of which saw him gallop 60 yards unchallenged after a corner was cleared and around the keeper.

This writer was particularly impressed on one occasion at Pittodrie, where the Frenchman scored a tap in early on, then had to play up front on his own for the last 40 minutes after ICT's Josh Meekings was sent off.  His nine teammates rarely ventured more than thirty yards from their own goal.  Tadé, alone, chased everything that was punted in his general direction.  His running earned a throw-in here, forced a backpass there, and made it just that little bit more difficult for Aberdeen to build anything.  Caley Thistle hung on for the win.  I remember quite clearly that the striker could barely muster the energy to applaud the away fans at the final whistle.  He looked like he would keel over at any moment.

Inverness would have kept Tadé, if they could.  It's intriguing to think how he might have fitted into their attack this season - would his physical presence have given us just that little bit extra, or would his limitations prevented the forward line from working together as well?  Regardless, he moved to another SPL club, St. Johnstone.  We were a bit offended - the Perth side have smaller crowds than Inverness.  But the Perth Saints had finished well above Caley Thistle in 2011-12 - so far above that they were in the Europa League.  Less than six years since after he turned up at Station Park with a dodgy resumé, Tadé scored in a Europa League qualifier in Perth against Turkish side Eskisehirspor.

He only scored five more goals last season (one of which was a superb winner against Celtic), and wasn't always a regular in Steve Lomas' side, but Tadé must have done something right; St. Johnstone qualified for the Europa League once more, after finishing third in the SPL, and he was offered a new contract.  To the horror of St. Johnstone, he's ditched Perth for Transylvania.  Cluj finished only in mid-table last season in the Romanian Liga 1, but they have been Champions in three of the last six seasons.  They've given him a three year deal as well.  A bit more graft, and a bit of luck, and we might yet see Gregory Tadé playing in a future Champions League group.

Not too shabby for a guy who once couldn't convince Forfar Athletic to keep him on for a Scottish Third Division campaign.  And, whether you rate him or not, you can't deny that his seven seasons in our leagues have been pretty interesting.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SPL wages too high?

You want to know why so many Scottish Premier League clubs have debts the size of a small country's GDP?

Sportingintelligence have published their annual survey of first-team player pay in the world's major sporting leagues.  Thankfully for us, no-one's told them that football in Scotland hasn't been 'major' for rather a while, which means the report includes the likes of Dunfermline and Inverness (at the bottom) along with the likes of Manchester City and the Los Angeles Dodgers (at the top).

The figures for the 12 clubs who were in the SPL in 2011-12 make for curious reading - as stated above, this is the average wage for a first-team squad member.  For simplicity, I've stated the weekly wage here, rather than the annual salary.  I've also put, in brackets, that club's figure in Sportingintelligence's survey from a year ago.
  1. Celtic £21,253 (£20.487)
  2. Rangers £11,501* (£15,798)
  3. Hearts £5,305 (£6,310)
  4. Aberdeen £2,906 (£3,002)
  5. Hibernian £2,804 (£3,322)
  6. Dundee United £2,503 (£2,513)
  7. Motherwell £2,296 (£2,319)
  8. Kilmarnock £2,274 (£2,404)
  9. St. Mirren £2,007 (£2,046)
  10. St. Johnstone £1,920 (£1,960)
  11. Dunfermline £989
  12. Inverness £954 (£1,222)
* (note the report states "Rangers were melting down financially and the sums they were due to pay in wages and actually paid in 2012 were quite different")

What can we take away from this?

No wonder there is so little competition
The average wage of a Celtic player was greater than the average wage of the 10 non-Old Firm SPL clubs combined.  It's reasonable to extrapolate that, with Ross County and Dundee having replaced Rangers and Dunfermline for 2012-13, the average wage of a Celtic player in the season just finished will have been greater than the average wage of all the other 11 SPL clubs combined.  How can any sort of contest be possible with this discrepancy?

No wonder Hearts are in such a mess
For the last couple of seasons, the Tynecastle side have been offering wages that have been double, or nearly double, those of the other sides that have been competing for the 'best of the rest' tag.  And that's even though costs had already been cut drastically compared to the reckless spending of the Romanov years.

Wages higher than expected?
I'm amazed to see only two clubs averaging less than £1,000 a week to first team players.  Given there will be plenty of young players earning less than that, it must mean that clubs like Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and St. Mirren had some players on bumper contracts.  How many of them have been worth it?  I wouldn't be surprised if the figures for 2012-13 show a significant drop in average wage at most of the clubs.

ICT deserve more plaudits
It's very unlikely that Inverness paid bigger salaries in 2012-13, and so they almost certainly had one of the lowest - if not the lowest - wage budgets in the SPL again.  If you weren't already impressed by their fourth place league finish, you should be now.

Where would Ross County and Dundee rank?
That's hard to predict, but it's certainly possible that the Staggies paid their players more than their local rivals in 2012-13, especially after they made several signings in January.  Dundee will certainly have been at the lower end.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hearts on the brink?

Hearts released this rather remarkable statement this morning:
"Due to recent unexpected circumstances away from Tynecastle, the club is now experiencing a shortfall in funding. This shortfall, due to recent uncertainty, has created a significant noticeable blockage in projected revenue streams for the club.

“While this hesitation is understandable it is unwittingly damaging the club’s current efforts to improve its financial situation including current payments to HMRC and raising doubts over future payments to players and staff.

"It is now crucial to the football club that we find a solution to bring in enough finance to allow us to trade into the new season when normal trading can resume with the benefit of SPL and game-related income streams. The payments to HMRC and players/staff salaries are the most important issues in our focus these days where very limited time remains available to the club.

"However given that the revenues for season tickets has dried up and no other realistic income is available quickly enough, the club will consider offers for the players of the current squad, including the most promising talent in order for the most necessary and important payments to be made. The board had planned to bring income in through the sale of players while considering the financial forecast for next season but now this will need to happen much earlier in order to preserve the business. We understand that this will lead to significant on-field pressure but at all times we must consider the health of the club and preserve it for future generations.
"We will adjust our expectations for the new season accordingly but will still be focused on the playing side of the business. Our financial deficit can, in part, be attributed to our worst league finish in over 30 years last season. This had a significant direct impact on the business. Other factors that hit revenues include the absence of Rangers Football Club from the SPL and significantly increased stadium costs particularly in relation to the Main Stand.

"The biggest threat to the club at present however is hesitation and inaction. We hope that those supporters who have purposely held off will reconsider and make the decision to back the club in the best way possible in order that we can meet our targets.

“Provided we can achieve security for the club, it is the view of the board that there is a viable strategy for the change of ownership to a willing buyer or investor.

“The most difficult part in this is finding an agreement with the creditors, however we know that there is goodwill with Ukio Bankas, as demonstrated by the statement from the Ukio Bankas administrator yesterday. We also believe that UBIG remains supportive of Hearts.

“The biggest threat to the club at present however is hesitation and inaction. We hope that those supporters who have purposely held off will reconsider and make the decision to back the club in the best way possible in order that we can meet our targets."
That is grim reading.  In fact, it is Three Of The Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Have Turned Up Ready For Action And The Fourth One Is Just About Visible On The Horizon-type grim reading.

I think it is now safe to say that the club's insistence in recent months that they are "self-sufficient" was complete and utter rubbish.

We already know that Hearts have failed to completely pay a £100,000 tax bill this week - though it is unclear how much of that is still due.  Bear in mind that it was only November when they put out a desperate plea for cash to get them through to the end of the season; supporters came up with £750,000 for the club through a 'share issue' that reminds me of the title of a famous Dire Straits song (no, not Sultans of Swing).

Having been bailed out by the fans only seven months ago, this statement appears to criticize them for not buying more season tickets.  It also blames the financial struggles on a disappointing league campaign and on the absence of Rangers (which, as a few will recall, Vladimir Romanov showed zero sympathy towards during last summer's debacle).  Using Doublethink that the protagonists of Ninteen Eighty Four would be proud of, Hearts have pointed out exactly why fans aren't buying season tickets - the poor quality of the product on the field and the huge uncertainty off it - yet seem to lack any insight into their own role in this, instead demanding that the supporters continue to pour their cash into Tynecastle's black hole.

The implication that the sale of the club is dependent on the current crisis being averted is a proper attempt to tug the heartstrings (excuse the pun) - a squeal of "if the club go under, it's because the fans didn't do enough to save it".  It should invite plenty of scepticism.  Remembering the events at Ibrox a year ago, it's fair to suspect that this is an attempt to get as much money in the kitty as possible ahead of an administration process.

As for the squad, there's now a sale on in Gorgie that would make DFS blush.  All the players are potentially up for grabs for 'reasonable offers' - except no-one in their right mind will offer generous transfer fees now they know that Hearts are desperate for income.  And which players do they expect to attract decent offers?  The senior players, such as John Sutton and Jamie Hamill, might be able to arrange free transfers to other clubs, but that will only get them off the wage bill.  Young players such as Jason Holt and Jamie Walker might have some value, but how much?  For comparison, last August Kilmarnock's highly rated youngster Matthew Kennedy left for Everton, who paid only £300,000 for him.  I'd be surprised if Hearts could get half of that for either Holt or Walker.

Remember too that it is only a few weeks since Danny Wilson, the former Rangers and Liverpool defender, made his loan move to Edinburgh permanent - I bet for wages that are rather more than peanuts.  Maybe it was all part of a cunning plan to see if they could sell him on.  I doubt it.  Recent history suggests that any cunning plans emitting from Tynecastle have been dreamt up by Baldrick.

And we haven't even mentioned how the club owe a bankrupt Lithuanian bank £15 million, or how their Lithuanian parent company appear to be on the verge of insolvency...
I seem to recall that, when blogging on the club's crisis at the end of 2012, I expressed huge sympathy for Hearts fans, but none for those in charge of the club.  Their arrogance beggars belief.  It is they who have dragged this club to its knees with their bizarre decision-making.  Last week's report from Sporting Intelligence claims the average first team player at Hearts was on more than £5,000 a week last season - is it any wonder they are in a mess?!

Sadly I expect a few loyal, yet deluded Jambos will get out their pocket books once more, in the vain hope that their pennies will keep their beloved club alive.  But surely, this time around, they can't come up with a figure anywhere near what they managed in November.  The proposed sale to The Foundation of Hearts group appears to be going nowhere.  There is no sugar daddy in sight.

For Hearts fans, there is now light at the end of the tunnel.  The trouble is, it's because the end of the tunnel is on fire.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Kenny Shiels: a muppet, or just misunderstood?

A manager's post-match interview is always a recipe for potential disaster, especially if their team have been beaten, and even more so if there was any perceived injustice involved.  After all, pretty much every fan, in the immediate aftermath of a poor result, has on occasion ranted and raved about a poor refereeing decision, or a cheating opponent, or goodness knows what else, only to have a moment of clarity half an hour or so later where we realize that we got beaten, it happens, just deal with it.

Thankfully, no-one sticks a microphone under our noses and records these tirades.  Some managers are better at keeping their composure than others.  Craig Brown, for example, was actually critical of officials quite often, but made his complaints in such a reasonable voice and manner that no-one could take offence.  Terry Butcher has charisma and a complete understanding of how the media machine works - by throwing in some vaguely amusing soundbites and deliberately exaggerating for comic effect, he tends to largely the avoid the ire of the SFA.  If you are frequently going to risk landing in hot water, make sure you have the full support of your chairman and your fans - like, for example, Neil Lennon and Derek Adams.

Kenny Shiels has just discovered that he doesn't really have the support of his chairman.

There is a lot about Kilmarnock's Northern Irish coach to admire.  He is well known to put a lot of time into community work.  He's unafraid to give young players their chance - no fewer than 14 players under the age of 21 played for Killie in the SPL this season.  And, in theory at least, he sends his team out to play what most of us class loosely under the cliché 'good football' - that is, a style based on keeping possession, allowing creative players to express themselves, and with more emphasis on attacking than defending.  And he deserved all the credit he got for guiding the club to their 2012 League Cup triumph.

But his credit level appears to be exhausted.

Shiels hasn't been sunk by results, though 2012-13 was ultimately a disappointment for Kilmarnock; they struggled to put any sort of run of good form together, and their record at Rugby Park was a disgrace.  Despite all that, they should have made the top six, but collapsed spectacularly in the last three months of the season, finishing ninth in the table (for comparison, they were seventh last season, and fifth, under Mixu Paatelainen, in 2010-11).  But that was hardly the end of the world.  And he could point to the January departure of his best player, Liam Kelly, as a mitigating circumstance, along with the ill-advised (in hindsight) decision to change the team's style of play to accommodate Kris Boyd.

To put it bluntly, Shiels' problem is that he can't keep his mouth shut.

The thing is, most of the time he doesn't have anything particularly interesting or clever to say.  Have you ever listened to one of his post-match interviews on the radio?  He has a voice like 'The Most Boring Priest In Ireland' from the Father Ted Christmas Special.  The vast majority of the time, he waffles for the whole five minutes without making a single point of note, yet he seems to think that he's enriching the lives of his listeners.  If he wasn't a football coach, he'd be a Pub Bore.  But the media still keep grabbing him for comments, because, if they catch him at the right time - or the wrong time, depending on the way you look at it - he'll say something that is controversial, or ridiculous, or both.

The 'ridiculous' includes comments such as "It's not fair for Kilmarnock to make a long round trip to play the Highland clubs four times a year" - tell us about it, Kenny, ICT and Ross County have to make that journey in the opposite direction every second weekend - or "The government should subsidize cheaper tickets for fans" - because it's far more useful to give the money to football than, say, schools, or hospitals - or announcing that Gary Harkins "isn't going anywhere because he's one of the best players in the SPL" a few days before letting him move to Dundee.  Maybe he doesn't believe any of these things, and he's just trolling us.  But, more likely, he's just saying whatever comes into his head without thinking it through, because he's more self-important than he is bright.

The latter theory is backed up by his constant run-ins with the SFA this season.  First, he got into a spat with referee Euan Norris after a home defeat to Inverness, where he accused the official of saracastic comments to him at the final whistle.  When asked what Norris had said, the best Shiels could come up with was "I don't know what he said but it was something flippant".  It transpired that Shiels, trying to make a point about how he couldn't verbally criticize a referee without getting into trouble, had gone out to Norris at the final whistle shaking his head and wagging his finger so dramatically that the Rugby Park fans could see his displeasure; Norris responded by saying "So you're not happy with my performance then?"

Then came the saga of the match against St. Johnstone, where Manuel Pascali was harshly sent off after only a few minutes.  On the advice of fourth official Andrew Dallas, Shiels was sent to the stand.  After being cited by the SFA, he told the press "If we are being malpracticed (sic) against, and I'm not saying we are, but if we were, it's important that I fight that corner.  I've been told they are going to get us by people...I don't know how they are going to manufacture this to get me because I've contested two refereeing decisions without abusive language, without any form of disrespect."

He got a three match touchline ban.  As you can imagine, he didn't take it on the chin, describing it as "morally wrong...my freedom of speech has been taken away".  You certainly can't accuse the man of hyperbole.  Incredibly, he wasn't finished, announcing that Dallas had lied to the referee in order to get him sent to the stand - and that Shiels had evidence to prove there was a conspiracy against him!  "I brought in evidence to disprove the fourth official, who fabricated stuff to try and incriminate me. I don't like that.   I'm not going to lie down to these people. The fabrication was outrageous - at least four different things that were said about me - but he wasn't aware I had visual evidence on my laptop. I think it was to get me into trouble. I'm sure it was to get me into trouble. There is no maybes about it and I would like some answers...He had to substantiate a really good story to back that up. He tried but he wasn't aware I had evidence on camera."

The SFA gave him another four match ban for this.  Perhaps the Scottish footballing authorities, despite being incapable of organizing a piss-up in a brewery, are successfully orchestrating a campaign to discredit and destroy the Kilmarnock manager.  Or, perhaps Shiels was talking out of his bottom.  I know which of these scenarios I would put my money on.  Not that he saw himself as a martyr, though - "I've got a clear conscience. When you're sinned against like I have been then you don't regret anything...My behaviour's been impeccable. The problem is I've been truthful and it's not good to be truthful in this industry.

He'd barely got back to the dugout before he was sent away from it again, at the end of a match at Inverness in February.  His explanation?  "In my frustration I turned round to kick at nothing.  There was a bottle lying on its belly and I stroked it - a beautiful piece of skill.  Neil Lennon kicked a bottle up here and he got off but I'm not Neil Lennon."  After being ejected from the touchline, Shiels decided to stand on top of the dugout instead.  As you do.

Whilst his antics have at least been amusing to us, it can hardly have pleased his employers to him have to appear at Hampden Park so often, and his absence from the touchline during so many games can hardly have been of help to his players.  His latest touchline ban appears to be straw that broke Michael Johnston's back.  Not only was Shiels banned for a further four matches (two of which are suspended) last week for an April interview in which he questioned the impartiality of the SFA's judicial panel and the integrity of Celtic after claiming the Parkhead club have "massive influence" over disciplinary hearings, and are "the monster of Scottish football", but Kilmarnock were censured as well for failing to prevent these repeat offences.

Johnston subsequently announced this weekend that Shiels' position was under review, due to a combination of poor results, his constant run-ins with the SFA and unspecified issues with his conduct at the club.  The Daily Record claimed he'd been sacked, but that doesn't appear to be the case...yet.  However, the phrase 'shoogly peg' comes to mind.

It'd be a shame if he got sacked.  He clearly has the ability to be a good SPL manager, and he's shown he can get Kilmarnock punching above their weight (insert your own Kris Boyd joke here).  But as time passes, he accumulates more and more baggage.  Kilmarnock have reached, or are reaching the point where the benefits of having Kenny Shiels as manager are outweighed by the hassles.

Sorry, Kenny, but you should have just stuck to the Dictionary of Football clichés.  Or, alternatively, you could have found something interesting to say from time to time.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The secret journal of A. McCoist

Dear journal,

Thank goodness it's the summer-time, I could do with a holiday!

I don't think that it is an exaggeration to say that I've had the hardest season that any Rangers manager has ever had.  It was a hell of a ride, but, against all the odds, we managed to win the Scottish Third Division!  I know, I'm still pinching myself too!  It's a really tough league - nearly all the players are so good that they even manage to work at another job all week instead of training - but somehow we managed to come top, even though I couldn't spend more than £800,000 on a single player.  I even won the prestigious Third Division Manager of the Year award, which is such a high accolade that no Celtic manager has ever managed to win it.

I'm particularly proud of the campaign because of the disadvantages my players have had to overcome.  They've come in for a lot of unfair criticism from idiots who claim that they weren't trying hard enough, or that they were lazy.  Listen, I make my squad come in bright and early at 10am each day, and some days they work so hard that they don't get home until midday.  I can't think of many other professions where people have to work as hard as that.  I can't think for the life of me why Fran Sandaza claimed he was unhappy here.  It's not as if I asked him to do anything unreasonable, like breaking a sweat.

Ian Black, in particular, has come in for a really rough time of it, but people don't understand what he's been up against.  When he played in the SPL, he could go out onto the pitch, instantly recognise the best player on the other team, and kick him.  But in the third division, it takes him a while to work out who the other team's best player is, and, by the time he's realized, an opposing player has kicked him instead.  I kept telling referees all year that it wasn't fair on Blackie, but they wouldn't listen.

I had to work with really scant resources this season, and the Second Division will be a million times harder, so I've drafted in lots of reinforcements.  Obviously, the trick to winning the Third Division is having a Brazilian central defender, but that won't be enough on it's own for us to succeed at a higher level.  To do that, we'll have to bring in a Honduran central midfielder as well.  This boy Peralta is just what we need - he can go and kick whoever looks like they are going to kick Blackie.  Then Blackie will have more time to work out which opposition player needs hacked.  It's a foolproof plan. 

I completely agree with everyone who says our defence was our achilles heel last season, so I've solved the problem by bringing in another striker and another attacking midfield player.  You see, our defence can't be bad if we don't play any defenders!  Big Lee McCulloch keeps telling me that the team need to be more organized - in fact, the way he tells it, you'd think it was my job to tell the players how they should play, rather than just picking them.  At this rate, next he'll be claiming I should be coaching them as well!  But, in order to keep him happy, I've already sorted out the formation for the year ahead:

football formations

My tic-tacs by A. McCoist

Things are looking up for us, I think, especially now that Walter is chairman.  I gave him a call and asked what his clever plan for running the club was, and he told me "We'll pass it to Laudrup or punt it to Hateley, and if that doesn't work we'll play 5-4-1 and try either to nick an away goal or take it to a penalty shootout".  I don't know anything about how to run a football club, but that all sounds like clever business-speak to me.

Besides, Walter has promised me one more new signing - apparently he's pulled some strings and managed to get a club legend to return!  I can't wait to see Daniel Cousin pull on the blue shirt again!

Here's to another great season.


(as imagined by Narey's Toepoker, before anyone gets litiginous...)