Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Looking ahead to the January window

Trying to predict what will happen in the January window is a bit of a mugs game - there will be left-field signings, loan moves from England, players we've never heard of up here. About the only certainty is that Rangers will be linked with big money moves for players (or for their own - £6m for Barrie McKay!!!) which come to nothing.

But still, let's look ahead anyway...

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Derek McInnes wants to 'freshen up' the squad, according to his chairman, and apparently will be given money to do so. Despite the emergence of Scott McKenna and the improved play of Kari Arnason, I bet a commanding centre-back would be welcomed. They could also do with a sitting midfield player, having not properly replaced Ryan Jack.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Aberdeen actually have just about the smallest squad in the Premiership so there's unlikely to be many exits. Perhaps Nicky Maynard, third in the centre-forward queue, will be allowed to return south. Craig Storie has been out of the first team picture after injuries and might benefit from a loan move.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Centre-back is an obvious weakness, and 32 year old German Marvin Compper is set to arrive from RB Leipzig for £1m. Time will tell if he upgrades the position sufficiently to allow a Europa League run. There has been talk of other signings, but they are more likely to be youngsters brought in with the future in mind. Lewis Morgan, set to arrive from St Mirren and immediately return to Paisley on loan, is one example.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Erik Sviatchenko is out of favour and seems certain to depart, possibly for the English Championship. Given the potential for fixture congestion in the spring, Brendan Rodgers will be loathe to let too many others leave, but several of the youngsters would surely benefit from loan spells and Liam Henderson, out of contract in the summer, surely has no future at Parkhead.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Another keeper to compete with or provide cover for Elliot Parish. The squad is already bloated but more quality in midfield and attack would be extremely welcome...especially in the shape of a proven goalscorer.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Neil McCann is likely to try and shift as much dead wood as possible. Danny Williams was let go last month'. Scott Bain, who has been binned after a row with McCann, has been linked to Hearts. Randy Wolters has also apparently fallen out with the manager. It's not clear if Jon Aurtenetxe's contract or AJ Leitch-Smith's loan will be extended past January. Other candidates to be 'mutually consented' include Julen Etxabeguren, Kostadin Gadzhalov, Nicky Low and James Vincent.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Martin Canning doesn't have a great January window record (Kemy Agustien! Oumar Diaby!). He'll be surely up for bringing in anyone who can improve his defence or midfield.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Botti Biabi's loan from Swansea ends during the window and it seems unlikely to be extended. Steven Boyd has already been loaned to Livingston.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Gabriel Somi of Ostersunds seems set to be the next proposed solution to the never-ending problem at left-back. Though Jon McLaughlin has been solid enough in goal, Hearts have been linked with Dundee's Scott Bain. Craig Levein has suggested he wants more new faces, but that would depend on getting players out.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Viktor Noring and Malaury Martin clearly have no future at Tynecastle. Perenially injured Ashley Smith-Brown probably doesn't either, but its unclear whether his loan from Manchester City can be terminated in January or if he is stuck till the summer. If a new keeper does come in then surely Jack Hamilton will be loaned out.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? An upgrade in the full-back positions would be useful, especially as Steven Whittaker has been a bit of a disappointment. Neil Lennon criticized Ofir Marciano recently, so it wouldn't be surprising if they made a move for a new keeper.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Deivydas Matulevicius is only a quarter of the way into a two year deal but the Lithuanian striker is well down the pecking order. The main worry is that someone makes an offer for John McGinn that the club can't refuse.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Steve Clarke has worked wonders with the squad he inherited, and this is his first big chance to put a stamp on it. Having already brought in Youssouf Mulumbu, they have ex-Spurs and Norwich centre-back Sebastien Bassong on trial. Another striker would be tempting, despite the recent good form of Kris Boyd and Eamonn Brophy.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Brad Spencer and Alex Samizadeh are obvious candidates to be binned, with neither Lee McCulloch signing anywhere near the first team. Steven Smith has been injured but doesn't look like he has a future at the club.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? A replacement for Louis Moult is the overwhelming priority.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Moult's £450,000 move to Preston will go through as soon as the window opens. Keeper Gennadio Xenadochov is only on a short-term deal. There are so many midfield options that loan moves away for Shea Gordon, Ross MacLean and Liam Brown are possible.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? To improve the defence, either through getting players back from injury or new signings. The question is whether to bank on the likes of Callum Booth and Abdul Osman providing sufficient reinforcement, or whether new faces need to be brought in regardless.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Thistle's back line has been rank for much of the year, yet Milan Nitriansky still can't get a game. If they don't need him for depth purposes, he'll be away.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? The situation is complicated by the lack of a permanent manager at this point - if they appoint one then he'll want to bring in his own players; if not, then any new signings will be presumably controlled by the Director Of Football, Mark Allen. They have been linked with Brighton attacker Jamie Murphy.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? How many Caixinha signings will want to leg it from Glasgow? Eduardo Herrera and Fabio Cardoso may not be happy with spending the rest of the year on the bench. Dalcio and Aaron Nemane will surely go if their loan spells can be terminated in January.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? One suspects Roy MacGregor will have another busy January bringing in the reinforcements required to maintain County's top flight status. Another centre-back would be helpful, and a regular goalscorer is a priority too (yes, I know that's the case for everyone).

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? There are already four centre-forwards but none have scored frequently; Thomas Mikkelsen and Billy Mckay haven't done enough to justify even a run in the team and could be moved on. Tim Chow is also on the fringes.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? After the win over Rangers, Tommy Wright talked of his intention to bring in a few new faces, and how this week he would find out if he was shopping for "new cars or used cars" (not the greatest analogy, but you know what he means). A deal has already been done for Dundalk forward David McMillan.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES? Not Chris Millar, who seems to be back in favour. It's unclear if Michael O'Halloran's loan deal will be extended, while Chris Kane may stay out on loan at Queen Of The South. Graham Cummins has been linked with a return to Ireland.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

Friday, December 8, 2017

McInnes fiasco is just a symptom of Rangers' bigger problems

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a football club without a manager must be in want of a manager.

Six weeks down the line from the 'mutual consenting' of Pedro Caixinha, Rangers will still have Graeme Murty in the dugout for this weekend's game against Ross County...and, according to yesterday's statement, till the end of December. This means he'll be in charge for another five games after that till the winter break, taking him to a total of twelve at least. Some clubs keep permanent managers in their posts for less time than that.

Given that Caixinha's jacket had been on a shoogly peg since the failure to Progres (sic) in Europe back in July, it seems quite remarkable that the club hadn't already started quietly sounding out alternatives in advance of his inevitable exit. Delaying the start of that process till he left the building was either incredibly honourable or incredibly incompetent; I'll leave you to decide which of those descriptions to delete as applicable.

The Rangers board contains a number of successful business folk, and there is also a managing director heavily experienced in the ways of football (Stewart Robertson) and a Director Of Football too. And yet a thousand monkeys attending a thousand board meetings would have been more effective than this.

There has been a lot of conspiracy talk about Rangers trying to use the media to tap up McInnes and destabilise Aberdeen.  And we know there are a depressingly high number of Scottish football journalists who would happily report that "the sky is green and grass is blue" if Jim Traynor sent that to them in an email titled 'Today's Rangers Press Release'.

But forty days passed between Caixinha leaving and an approach being made to Aberdeen for McInnes, and another two before he actually turned them down. The club's claim that "there was no outstanding candidate among those who applied for the position" is almost certainly true, but it seems crazy to have waited several weeks to confirm that is the case. If McInnes was earmarked early on as the leading candidate, the suggestion that Rangers wanted to wait until the double-header against the Dons was out of the way is laughable; five weeks passed between Caixinha going and that first game at Ibrox, plenty of time to sort things out.

It seems more likely that the board's strategy was as detailed and well thought out as David Davis' Brexit impact assessment files, and so the media simply filled the information vacuum as well as they could. And with little to go on other than a link to McInnes which certainly seemed plausible, they regurgitated it again and again like Roman nobles at a 1st century AD banquet. The speculation probably did unsettle McInnes and Aberdeen, but to suggest it was all part of a cunning plan gives the impression that Rangers operate with more nous than Baldrick.

One thing it has accomplished, however, is to distract supporters - and, either wilfully or otherwise, the media - from two far more significant issues surrounding Rangers. The first was their recent accounts which stated that £4m was required for working capital by the end of November - November! That's less than halfway through the season before they basically ran out of money. In fact, it's possible that the long delay in moving for McInnes is because Rangers couldn't meet Aberdeen's compensation demands until that cash injection.

That £4m, plus another £3.5m next year, will apparently come in loans from a company called NOAL the holders of the shares bought by Dave King's family trust, which leads me onto the second issue - the ongoing battle between King and the Takeover Panel. King has bascially admitted he can't actually afford to bid for Rangers (his lawyer's claims that he is "penniless" and that he hasn't got any sort of control over the actions of NOAL seem interesting in the context of the loans that have gone the club's way). Just being in conflict with the Takeover Panel is unheard of (this is the first time someone has fought a ruling from them); losing would put King in a very precarious position indeed.

Those are probably the reasons why McInnes felt staying in the North-East was a better career move than going to Ibrox. And this embarrassing affair may well bring that into the conscience of even those with the bluest-tinted spectacles.

In the meantime, Murty will plug on. By the end of December he will have, in two spells, managed Rangers for eighteen matches. Caixinha was in charge for only twenty-six. Murty is clearly not a viable long-term option; whilst his tactical changes for the games against Aberdeen were impressive they came on the back of embarrassing losses to Hamilton and Dundee. If Rangers choose to stick with him into the new year, they will not finish second. But by confirming him in the role till the winter break they have conceded that they are yet to devise a plan B, after seemingly taking a month to come up with a Plan A that was so simple that even Kris Boyd had thought of it.

On the bright side, they do apparently have Alex McLeish's phone number...

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.