Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Comparing Scottish clubs' wages

Many thanks to the chaps at SportingIntelligence.com, who kindly sent me a free copy of their annual report into wages at professional sports teams.  They continue, to my surprise and delight, to consider the Scottish League to be worth reporting with the likes of the top leagues in England, Germany, Spain and Italy.  Curiously, we are in the survey, but the French league isn't!

Can everyone please continue to keep it secret from them that our league is a bit pish, so that they fit us into the report next year too?  Cheers.

How accurate is their data?  I don't have specifics, but this report has been heavily publicized, so I imagine they know what they're talking about.

So here's a crappy little table showing the average first team wage of every SPL club in 2012-13, and how they compare to previous seasons.

Average first team player weekly wage (£)

2012/13 2011/12 2010/11
Celtic 22103 21253 20457
Hearts 3206 5305 6310
Aberdeen 3033 2906 3002
Hibernian 2565 2804 3322
Dundee United 2125 2503 2513
Kilmarnock 1897 2274 2404
St. Johnstone 1533 1920 1960
Motherwell 1523 2296 2319
St. Mirren 1520 2007 2046
Inverness CT 1023 954 1122
Dundee 906

Ross County 748

Here are a few thoughts...

Celtic are falling behind Europe's big hitters
Celtic are now paying less to their average first team player than every single English Premier League side; in fact, they're well behind even mid-table clubs; a Newcastle player will on average make half a million a year more than a Celtic player.  It makes their Champions League run all the more impressive.

The domestic imbalance is staggering
There does appear to be a league even more imbalanced than ours - the Chinese Super League!  In the CSL, the richest club's players make 33 times more than the poorest club's players.  In the Scottish top flight, the ratio was merely 29.7 to 1.  If you want a soundbite, then here it is: Celtic's wage bill is greater than that of every other top flight club put together.

For comparison, in the English Premier League, that ratio is 4.6 to 1, whilst in La Liga, where Barcelona and Real Madrid are miles ahead of the rest, the ratio is 13 to 1.

Who got good value for their buck?
I expected Ross County to be eighth or ninth in the list - it came as a shock that they paid their players less than anyone else.  In fact, their average wage was less than half of that at St. Mirren or Kilmarnock, and less than 30% of Hibernian's.  The Edinburgh clubs come across as the basket cases here - Hearts' bill will of course be a hell of a lot smaller this season.  Don't forget as well that Aberdeen finished in the bottom six last time out, despite paying far more than most of the sides around them.  Maybe, at last, Derek McInnes has them where they should be.

What will have changed in 2013-14?
We know Hearts will have dropped well down the list.  I'd be surprised if Partick Thistle weren't in the bottom three. Celtic apart, I'd imagine that the trend of gradual reduction in wages will have continued.

Where would Rangers be on this list?
They'd definitely be second, but how far behind Celtic and how far ahead of the rest?  From their 2012-13 accounts, and from comparing them to those of other clubs, I would take an educated guess that their average first team player wage was a little more than £7,000/week. Though of course we know Lee McCulloch and Neil Alexander were earning far more than that!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Premiership players fancying a Bosman bonanza

There aren't too many long-term contracts to be had in Scottish football these days, unless you're Celtic (who can afford it) or Rangers (who can't afford it but do it anyway).  So it's increasingly the norm that, as we reached the dying embers of the season, there are a heck of a lot of Premiership players who potentially could be in a dole queue come the start of June.

Many of those players will end up signing a new deal with their current club, especially those at bottom six sides who won't dare offer new deals until their top flight status is guaranteed.  Some, though, will be let go and face an anxious search for a new employer...or two, if they have to join a part-time club.

There are a small, lucky few, however, for whom freedom is an opportunity; a chance to move to a bigger, better team, and to earn a substantially larger wage packet, especially since their new team won't need to pay a transfer fee.

Here are ten men who fit that final category.  Some of them are youngsters dreaming of playing at the highest level.  Some are at the peak of their powers and ready to test themselves against better opposition.  Some are veterans who are on the lookout for a last big contract.  But each of them is likely to have an agent who fields a lot of calls from managers this summer...

Look, I'm not just mentioning Anderson because of that ridiculous backheel goal he scored the other day, all right?  10 years into his St. Johnstone career, he has quietly become one of the most reliable central defenders in the league.  'Ando' isn't flashy, but he so rarely makes a mistake that, when he does (such as in the League Cup Semi against Aberdeen), it's picked up on.  Relatively quick and excellent in his positioning, he can form a great tandem with a more physical partner (on the pitch, I mean.  Please don't take that the wrong way!).  He's been granted a testimonial next season, which may result in enough of a guilt trip to keep him in Perth, but, at age 28, he's close to his peak and he may feel he can earn more, and play at a higher standard, elsewhere.  

KRIS BOYD (Kilmarnock)
I admit it, I thought that when Kris Boyd returned to his first club he would put on more stones than he would score goals.  And I was spectacularly wrong.  Whilst not quite as sharp as he was during his peak years at Ibrox, the 30 year old is probably still the deadliest penalty box predator in the country and has mustered a sensational 19 goals already this season.  It's no secret that he was hoping for something better last summer than a further year at Rugby Park, and he was repeatedly linked with a move south in January too.  Boyd will fancy that he has one last payday left, and will probably be hoping for a phone call from a number with a Govan area code.  

This time last season, Davidson was out of contract, and his stock was sky-high.  Yet a big move never materialised and he returned to Perth at the end of July and signed on for another year.  Possibly because of missing pre-season, he was a shadow of his previous self in the early months of the campaign, to the point that he wasn't always a first pick in midfield.  But he gradually got back up to speed...only to tear his patellar tendon against Hearts in January, and we haven't seen him since.  Maybe fitness concerns will put off potential suitors for another year, but Davidson unquestionably has the ability toerform at a higher level - it's less than two years since he was in a Scotland squad - and, at 26, playing in the Scottish Premiership is unlikely to improve his skills further.

GAVIN GUNNING (Dundee United)
United will regret not having offered Gunning a new contract long ago, but his inconsistency during his first two years at the club didn't justify it.  Unfortunately for their prospects of keeping him. the Irishman has come on leaps and bounds this season at the centre of Jackie McNamara's backline.  Not only that, but he offers a goal threat at set pieces as well.  And he takes a mean penalty.  It will be a surprise if he stays in Dundee, especially given his club's recent commitment to cost-cutting.  He's yet another one who has been linked with a move to Castle Greyskull, but a move to England may be more likely - and better for his further development, given that he's still only 23.

The central defender looks certain to leave Fir Park - even Stuart McCall has said so.  And it's probably for the best.  Hutchinson has not been nearly as good this season as he was in 2012-13; he hasn't been terrible either, but this was the year that most expected his performances to step up to the next level.  As the chaps at The Terrace have pointed out, he hasn't been helped by the lack of protection from his midfield or the erratic early season form of veteran partner Steven McManus, but he may be in danger of regressing if he doesn't move.  The Englishman has been linked with a move to Rangers...but hasn't everyone?  He'll surely not be short of offers to return down south, anyway.

Good things come to those who wait, say Guinness...and the Jambos keeper as well, considering that the Tynecastle youth product didn't establish himself as first choice keeper until well into his twenties.  MacDonald has been one of the few shining lights down Gorgie way this season, and some of their worst thumpings would have been decidedly worse but for his goalkeeping.  Whilst still a bit iffy on crosses, he is a better shot-stopper than most in this league.  If Hearts get their house in order, it's quite possible that he will loyally sign a new deal to play in the Championship next season, but there are plenty of other top flight clubs who could do with a keeper of his calibre, and clubs in the English Championship too.  Given that Scott Fox (Scott Fox!) made an international squad this season, MacDonald can't be far away from Gordon Strachan's thoughts, so he may want to play at a level that will keep the Scotland manager's attention.

Like Murray Davidson, McGowan looked likely to move on last summer, but chose to stay with the Buddies for another year "for family reasons".  How much of that was down to having to deal with his subsequent trial for assaulting two police officers is unclear.  That particular off-field issue may have contributed to McGowan's mediocre season, along with being played out of position early in the season to fit in the lacklustre and lazy Gary Harkins.  But he's a talent, and one who could thrive in a better team if allowed to play in his favoured role between midfield and attack.  Maybe the time is right for him and his family to move on now?

The BBC gossip column claimed this week that Everton and Tottenham were after McLean.  I call 'bollocks' on that rumour - no way is it true.  Mind you, it's fairly surprising that he has stayed in Paisley this long - since his debut in September 2010, it seems like he's always been linked with moves away.  I thought he might leave last January, but he broke his collarbone at the start of the month and that probably cooled any interest.  If anything, McLean's not been quite as good this year, probably because his manager keeps chopping and changing the team and formation every week.  But he remains an accomplished midfield player who, at 22, has time on his side.  A few Championship sides will sniff around him.  And, surprise surprise, he's been linked with a move to Ibrox too...

MARK O'HARA (Kilmarnock)
Still only 18, and with less than forty senior appearances under his belt, you'd have thought it might be in the young defender's interests to stay at Rugby Park for a wee bit longer.  But scouts from some very good teams have been keeping an eye on him, and I wonder if he's already got something decent lined up, given that there has been no talk of a new deal with Killie.  Maybe he should look at the example of former teammate Matthew Kennedy, who signed for Everton nearly two years ago at a similar age but who isn't anywhere near their first team.  On the other hand, maybe he's sick of spending as much time in unfamiliar right back and midfield roles as in his preferred spot at the heart of the defence.  He certainly will be a hot commodity if he chooses to leave.

The pick of the bunch, really.  Yup, after six and a half years, the departure of Gorgeous Georgios (yes, he really has starred in a Greek shampoo advert) seems inevitable, given that no new deal is in sight and, apart from a great goal against Dundee United last weekend, he has shown very little stomach for the battle for several months now.  Ideally, Celtic would have got a fee for him in January, a la Joe Ledley, and it is odd that Neil Lennon has continued to play him rather than giving game time to players more likely to be at the club next season.  While previous links with Barcelona were surely just bunkum, there will be plenty of clubs who will have noted his barnstorming Champions League performances last season and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up in one of the big leagues - though not necessarily at a big team.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ICT have made a Hughes mistake

John Hughes' interview with Radio Scotland after the 2-1 home defeat by Motherwell was quite remarkable.

The cliches weren't remarkable, of course.  Soundbites such as "we have to regroup" and "test of character" are par for the course, and somewhat frustrating for a support who were spoilt for a few years by the eloquence and humour of his predecessor - though at least there was nothing as cringeworthy as last week's infamous "too much water kills the plant" speech after a loss to Dundee United (please, just don't ask).

The jollity, and the jokes about the playing ability of people who were interviewing him were less palatable, given that, in 90 minutes of action, Caley Thistle had failed to create any chances other than shots from distance, and that the only reason to be positive was a spectacular goal from youngster Ryan Christie.  But this writer literally spat out his coffee when the manager responded to criticism of the style of play with the comment "it takes time, you need to give them time and educate them".

Educate them how, exactly?  Caley Thistle were second in the league when he was appointed, and are now fifth.  They have won only 1 out of 9 home league matches under his tenure.  A few months ago, they were a side which scored goals in abundance, were exciting to watch and who defended as if their lives depended on it; now they can't score, can't stop other teams scoring, and their play is so boring that the NHS are thinking of marketing their games as a miracle cure for insomnia.

I can only assume that Hughes teaches the specialist subject "how to make a good football team into a rubbish one".

Against Motherwell, Caley Thistle lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.  The first choice left-back, Graeme Shinnie, was in central midfield.  On the left side of the midfield was James Vincent, a central midfielder.  On the opposite flank was Greg Tansey...also a central midfielder.  Similar tactics were employed against St. Mirren on the weekend, and in the first half of the previous home match against Partick Thistle.  They didn't work in those games and they didn't work this time either.

Einstein once said that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  Someone should tell Hughes that.  In fact, forget Einstein; there was perfectly good tactical advice from behind his dugout, from two particularly astute spectators that sat near me.  One was a ten year old girl, who, less than a quarter of an hour into the game, said quite loudly "there's much too much passing".  The other was my own fiancee, who can't stand football and who was cajoled into coming on the premise of getting a free ticket.  She turned to me at half-time and said "they keep trying to play down the middle."

For the team has about as much width as Kate Moss.  Fellow fan Andrew Sutherland memorably quipped on Twitter afterwards that "you could plant flowers down the sides of the park and no-one would trample them".  With the team chasing an equalizer, Hughes turned to the bench and, to general relief, summoned a winger, Marley Watkins...who he then told to play up front.  Tansey got switched to right-back, where Hughes claimed he showed more energy than David Raven did.  From my viewpoint, Tansey's energy was mostly used in gestures of frustration about being stuck at right-back.

The attempts to play a passing game are so painful to watch that, according to my other half, I spent about half the game pulling at my own hair.

The obvious limiting factor is the ability of the players, none of whom are capable of doing what Hughes wants them to do at a speed quick enough that it opens up the opposition.  There are two inevitable outcomes - either they do it at the pace that they are capable of, in which case the build-up is slower than a week in jail and there is no attacking threat, or they do it faster , in which case the ball is lost.  When our central defenders have the ball, it takes about fifteen passes before we reach the halfway line; more often that not, we have lost possession, and in a dangerous area too.  On the rare occasions that we reach the final third, the typical outcome is that, after another fifteen passes, we have either given the ball away, or it is back with the central defenders again...and the cycle begins once more.

I racked my brains trying to think of teams who have succeeded playing like this, with tons of central midfielders and no width.  Spain, maybe?  Of course, they have Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Thiago, Alonso, Silva...the list goes on.  Caley Thistle have Tansey, Draper, Foran, Vincent, Polworth...the list really doesn't go on.

Certainly my instinct is that, Celtic apart, Scottish Premiership footballers are simply not talented enough to succeed with the tippy-tappy stuff that is being imposed on ICT.

Of course, this squad is not Hughes' squad.  It is Terry Butcher's squad, with the exception of Greg Tansey (back for his second spell in the Highlands, but who was first brought to the club by Butcher).  It is a squad built very much with Butcher's 4-2-3-1 system in mind, based around pace and width in the final third, and with its main (if not sole) objective being to maximize the strengths of striker Billy Mckay.  The success enjoyed during the last 18 months of Butcher's reign in Inverness confirms that this system works, and that there are some talented players at the club.  I'd say they have a damn good attitude as well, as no-one could fault their workrate last night even though the frustration was unmissable.  In the sole home league win against Partick Thistle, Hughes restored the 4-2-3-1 at the break after an utterly woeful first half, with spectacular results.

And, following that experience he has...gone back to his own way of playing.  With the same consequences as before.  How can that be justified?  Is it simply incompetence?  Or is it related to ego?  Does he feels he has to make changes so that he can claim credit for results?  For whatever reason, Hughes would rather fail with his own methods than succeed with someone else's.

But the players are not in the slightest bit suited to the way their boss wants them to play.  Nearly all of them never will be - these are mostly players well into their twenties at least, who are hardly going to improve their technique much more.  Yet, incredibly, the manager made it a priority to get the entire squad under contract for next season.  They will all be here in 2014-15.  There is no scope for new signings at all.  He is utterly determined to play his way with someone else's players, players who clearly cannot do it.

It's like trying to put two pieces from different jigsaws together.

Given how poor results have become, god knows where we'll be when the players stop trying...which is certain to happen if they keep being forced to go out and play like that.

The Motherwell defeat saw the first significant dissent from the supporters since Hughes' appointment.  The fans still believe in the players - given what they've achieved in recent times, we owe them that.  But belief, and patience, in John Hughes is wearing very thin indeed - almost as narrow, in fact, as the starting eleven that he keeps sending out.  In the event of defeat in the local derby on Friday night, expect the natives to get very restless indeed.