Talking Heads – Discussing the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on football

With the world crippled by the COVID 19 pandemic, global football has come to a grinding halt as countries focus on trying to contain the disease. To date, 39,000 people have lost their lives and just over 800,000 have been affected by the virus; with those numbers unfortunately growing by the day. The hope is that with government driven measures being introduced at a country by country level, the spread of the disease can be slowed enough to give the health care workers on the front line enough time to support those who are currently sick and the medical community time to find a viable treatment.

Like most industries, the football world is feeling the effects of the global shutdown. Clubs who have stopped operating for now have had to make drastic cuts to stay afloat with many laying off ground and administrative staff in the process. At some of the larger clubs like Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, players have accepted temporary pay cuts in an attempt to help the club staff not on the pitch. But for other players who play in the lower divisions and operate on a pay check to pay check basis, its a more worrisome time with a very uncertain future ahead of them.

Former Scotland internationals Steven Caldwell, Rhys McCabe and Maurice Ross answered our questions on the pandemic and its effects on football

Former Scotland internationals Steven Caldwell, Maurice Ross and Rhys McCabe answered our questions on the pandemic and its effects on football

To get a better sense of how the situation is affecting the football world, we spoke to Steven Caldwell, Maurice Ross and Rhys McCabe. Caldwell is a former Scotland international defender who is the president of League1 Ontario club Oakville Blue Devils FC, as well as an assistant coach of the Canadian national team. Fellow internationalist Ross is working as first team coach at Motherwell in Scotland whilst former Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Scotland Under 21 midfielder Rhys McCabe currently plays for Brechin City in the Scottish League Two. We spoke to them about the current situation, how it’s affecting football and what the future holds.

BOTN: Let’s go to Rhys first. Tell is about the current situation regarding your existing contract and what the league suspension means for you.

McCabe: My current situation is that my short term contract is meant to finish at the end of May, start of June. But I can’t think about that for now. The (league) suspension I feel is right as 100% of the focus must be on the health and wellbeing of everyone. Until we get this pandemic under control, nothing else matters.

There are a lot of uncertainties at the moment. Are they finishing this season? Will delays mean more games and more into next season? Will there be a new league structure?. There are lots of components which will play a role. Already its been three weeks without sport and people are in a pickle with what to do. Sport is a huge part of our society and without that people feel lost.

BOTN: Maurice, as first team coach at SPL side Motherwell, how are you feeling about the current situation and the suspension of the league?

Ross: Like all football people we like to be outdoors and competing. This of course is not the case due to the virus. I’m so bored. Plenty long walks and lying in bed a bit longer is no substitute for getting up and going to work! I miss that so much! Planning sessions, correcting movements of players and just that feeling of achieving something each day. Sooner this is resolved the better.

BOTN: Is the club concerned about the uncertainty of the suspension and the financial implications?

Ross: The club are doing all the planning possible to forecast what the future looks like depending on when/if we get back to playing. We are lucky we are in a relatively good position financially just now but we know there will be challenges ahead, so we will rely on our fans to help us through joining the Well Society or buying season tickets soon.

What will be the financial implications of the COVID 19 pandemic?

What will be the financial implications of the COVID 19 pandemic?

BOTN: Steven, there are still a lot of unknowns in terms of what will happen to the existing league and cup campaigns in the various different countries. How would you resolve the league situations?

Caldwell: The leagues have to be finished in my opinion. There is no way you can start a new season until the previous one has been concluded. The knock on affect might be a modified 2020/21 season but it’s my belief the previous one has to be brought to a conclusion whenever that may be.

Ross: From our (Motherwell) prospective, we will follow the advice and decisions of government and football authorities. Obviously we are third and in a European position so we would want the season to be played to a completion if there was any way at all possible, but we will accept whatever people say because this is bigger than football – it’s people’s health!

BOTN: What impact do you think this enforced break will have on the players mentally and physically? If the league is to restart at a point in the future, will players be able to pick up from where they left off with ease?

Caldwell: I don’t think they will be able to pick up with ease. There is no doubt it will have an affect. Normally at this time of the season teams are in their peak and rhythm is at its optimal point. I think it may have a pre season feel when it resumes. The players will be affected mentally and physically however I don’t see this being a great problem when the season continues.

McCabe: This pandemic is and will have a huge impact on players as its almost like an off season schedule. To then come back into things fully committed and ready when your body on a normal basis would have a 5 week period to do a pre season and prepare for the demands of a season. The risk of injury will be higher and no matter how much you train and keep fit during this time there is nothing that compares to match sharpness. Nothing in a training format can replicate this . That’s just a fact.

On the mental side, I feel it will have an impact on players but not just players; society as a whole. For over 30+ years there has been a culture of “football Saturday” where people look forward to and live for the weekend of football, wherever that may be home or away or a simple match on the tv. It’s become more social every season with the media and Sky broadcasting live matches.

This all has a knock on effect as people will be lost with nothing to do or look forward to. Trying to fill that void will be very hard but the priority 100% is the health and safety and trying to get this under control.

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Footballer like Lionel Messi and Marcelo have been keeping themselves busy in home isolation by juggling toilet rolls

BOTN: The financial implications of this pandemic will be felt throughout all levels of football with several reports suggesting clubs could go bust as a result. Do you think this will happen or is it up to FIFA or local governing bodies to stop this?

Caldwell: There is an enormous money in the game of football. Now it’s up to those that have to provide that assistance to make sure all forms of the game are protected. I sincerely hope that this happens and this unprecedented crisis creates an understanding of what truly makes this game beautiful.

BOTN: Let’s focus on the players for a moment. There will be a lot of players who are looking towards this summer with much trepidation due to the need to move clubs or indeed find a new one if their contracts run out. Do you anticipate that players will be expected to make personal sacrifices as football gets back on its feet following this pandemic?

Caldwell: Yes I think players will make personal sacrifices. They will have to. The intricacies and knock on effect of this is wide reaching and it will certainly have an impact on those who are becoming a free agent in the summer. It’s hard to tell at this moment however I think it will have a detrimental impact financially for such players.

BOTN: Rhys, your contract is up at the end of the season. How concerned are you about this summer when your contract concludes especially as it’s still unknown when the football season will resume?

McCabe: Concerned may be the word for a lot of people out of contract with Bill’s to pay and no job to do so, but for me it’s more about the love for it and when it will actually commence and what exactly the structure and format is going to be?

ContractLaw

With many players out of contract, the fast approaching summer brings further uncertainty.

BOTN: Has your club (Brechin City) been one touch with you about renewing your contract or given you any reassurances?

McCabe: With what’s going on, it hasn’t been spoken about as I would imagine the list of to dos at the club are through the roof. I’m only contracted until the end of May regardless so I will see what my options are then.

BOTN: Maurice, Are Motherwell making contingency plans for the various different scenarios and what will happen to players and staff out of contract in the summer?

Ross: I can’t comment on the final question as I am not privy to the ins and outs of all contracts. However this football club always behaves in an ethical and professional manner so I’m sure whatever happens Motherwell will act accordingly.

BOTN: There is clearly a lot of unknowns about what will happen and what decisions will come as a result. This leads us to the question around communications. Let’s start with you Rhys. Have you had any communications from the PFA Scotland about what’s happening long term?

McCabe: The PFA Scotland have been updating the players on a regular basis with knowledge, advice, help and updates they hear through the governing body. Again it’s hard at the moment because there is no definite answer on how to treat this and until the government have a plan in place we have to wait. But they have been great with regular updates and support.

BOTN: Finally Steven do you think FIFA and UEFA have been vocal enough during this pandemic or do you think they are leaving the decisions primarily to the local federations?

Caldwell: I think there is so much uncertainty that Uefa and FIFA don’t know what to say at the moment. I think they are concerned about giving definitive details and then having to go back on them. By mid to late April we will have a better understanding of how long this realistically is going to take and that’s when both organizations have to step up and be decisive with their actions.

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One On One with: Maurice Ross

The opinions of Maurice Ross are split between Glasgow Rangers fans. The majority view him as a product of the club’s youth development team who broke into the first team and gave his all for the shirt. Others peg him as a player who was out of his depth in a team full of stars. The player himself admits that he knew he didn’t have the same level of talent that some of his teammates had, but he still approached the challenge much like he has approached his entire career – with a will and determination to succeed. Being catapulted into that team at such an early age was both beneficial and detrimental to the player’s career prospects.  He learned from the best, day in day out, but in doing so he set the benchmark so high that it was almost impossible to replicate or reach as his career progressed. Wishing his career had happened in reverse is a strong indication of that high benchmark. Regardless of your opinion, his career stats say a lot. Ross played for Rangers over 80 times, winning several domestic honours in the process, which rightly earned him 12 international caps for Scotland. He also played in several countries across the world as he developed both as a player and as a person. Now as a manager with a growing reputation, Ross is using his experiences as a player to his own benefit and to the benefit of those who play for him. We sat down with him recently to find out more.

BackOfTheNet: Let’s start at the beginning with Glasgow Rangers. You signed for the club as a trainee before eventually breaking into the first team, partly under Dick Advocaat, but more when Alex McLeish took over. As a younger player coming into that squad, how did you cope with the pressure of playing in front of 50,000 people at Ibrox each week?

Maurice Ross: It’s sounds really strange but because I had been traveling to Glasgow three times a week playing and training with Rangers since I was 13 years old you are somewhat indoctrinated. I remember guys like Alex Hosie and John Chalmers preaching to us with the all familiar ‘no one likes us we don’t care’ on a daily basis. We were bred to believe we were better than everyone else, even Celtic. I was never one blessed with masses of talent but I was very quick and a brilliant reader of the game. When we trained at the Astro turf we had around 3,000 people watching us, so even at 13, you’re being put into situations that have you perform under pressure and great numbers of folks watching. So, when it came to the stadium being full in a competitive game, it was actually ‘normal’. It’s a sensational feeling running out to 50,000 Rangers fans. Nothing can ever replace that. I miss it.

BOTN: Were there times when you had doubts about your ability to perform at that level?

MR: I doubted my ability on a daily basis, to be honest, but John Brown, who I give much credit in my mental development, encouraged me to suppress any doubt and show no weakness, which at times would be hidden behind a cloak of bravado. How could I not have doubted myself in a backdrop of Murray Park playing with Ronald De Boer, Barry Ferguson and Claudio Cannigia? I was not even close to these guys but I had to somehow compartmentalize my negative thoughts and focus on what I was good at! Which was giving it to the good players, running all day, fighting like hell and delivering crosses from wide areas. Long passing, dribbling etc. were not my thing so I focused on the strengths I had.

BOTN: In past interviews, you talked about receiving your football education from the Rangers training session you took part in and working daily as you mentioned with the likes of De Boer, Caniggia, Ferguson, Jorg Albertz and Lorenzo Amoruso, to name a few. Is there one player in particular who took you under his wing and helped you develop as a player?

MR: There isn’t one individual that I can say I learned more from or took me under their wing, but I do hold Craig Moore in high esteem because of his manner and how he conducted himself as a man. He also had limited talent set but he was class. I was close with Ronald De Boer and Shota Arveladze whom I still have contact with today. These guys, along with Jan Wouters, altered my typical Scottish way of thinking, and I believe these guys, along with the other top internationalists, taught me “proper football”.

BOTN: How important was it for you as a younger player to be exposed to these guys on a daily basis?

MR: My way of thinking is simple. You train with these boys 280 days a year, yet you only play 40 games. Where is it most probable you will learn the most? Of course, it’s in training. I loved training with these guys. It was a pleasure. An education. I will never forget the chance Dick Advocaat and Alex McLeish gave me. Alex and I had a somewhat tempestuous relationship which is mostly down to my immaturity and lack of self-belief, but he still played me in four cup finals, which I’m eternally grateful. He has given me the greatest gift ever. I can proudly say I am a treble winner for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I say that with a smile on my face.

Ross gives his all in an Old Firm match against Celtic (image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Eventually it was time to move on from Rangers, and despite a failed move to West Ham that you were keen on, you eventually did move to England in 2005, first with Sheffield Wednesday, then Wolves and Millwall. It’s fair to say your time down there didn’t go quite to plan. Looking back now, were there reasons why it didn’t work out?

MR: The West Ham move fell through because Chris Burke got injured in a session when I was in the training park just about to sign for West Ham. Martin Bain pulled me back up the road and Alan Pardew didn’t take too kindly to it and pulled out of the deal. Boom. Football can be that cruel at times. Then my agent called me that summer and asked me if I was ready to travel to Wolves, as I was second choice right back behind Jackie McNamara, but “they would never get the Celtic captain”. Celtic stalled on the deal and he signed a three-year deal there that could have easily been mine and it would have altered my career. Sod’s law, Jackie injured his crucial ligament and two months later Wolves are on the phone again asking me to come in for a season. Once he was back fit they also had two young lads coming through, so there was no justification for Glenn Hoddle to sign me when he has his main guy back fit and two backups. Again circumstantial!

BOTN: Would you have done anything differently?

MR: At Millwall, I just couldn’t settle. It was just not what I was brought up with and I couldn’t leave quick enough.

BOTN: Before you left Rangers, you made your international debut for Scotland against South Korea during the Berti Vogts era. Vogts was heavily criticized for his approach while he was Scotland’s manager, but he did manage to blood a lot of players who would play pivotal roles for Scotland in the future, including James McFadden, Darren Fletcher and Craig Gordon. Do you think he was treated badly during his stint in charge? And how did it feel making your debut in that dark blue shirt?

MR: I felt it was terrible how the press treated Berti Vogts. This is a man that won the World Cup. Incredibly poor taste if you ask me. Can I tell you, Paul Daniels couldn’t conjure up wins with the squad we had. It’s was very much a transitional time in the national team and I feel that he was made a scape goat. Ok, maybe he didn’t help himself with handing out caps to so many people in such a short period of time. He is a gentleman and a man I am very fond of because he allowed me to represent my country in many big European qualifiers. I can sympathize with him now because I too have coached abroad for six years now and it’s easy to be misunderstood when you don’t speak in your mother tongue.

Ross represented Scotland on twelve occasions (Image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Over your career, you have played in a variety of different countries including Norway, Turkey, & even China. A vast majority of British players choose to stay in Scotland or England because it’s comfortable for them, but you decided to try something new and see how the game is played elsewhere. What was the driving force behind you doing that? What did you learn from those experiences?

MR: Initially my move abroad to Norway was a chance to come away from Millwall. Once abroad you learn to understand different cultures and different training regimes, different attitudes to drawing a game or losing a game (something I never got used to). It’s like anytime you go abroad, you see something different. I also learned by evaluating what not to do. In Scotland we tend to believe the foreign way is the best etc. – far from it. We have many fantastic traits and beliefs in our Scottish game and I would hope I never lose those. I believe it’s important to see and learn from as many different facets of your life as possible. Ignore what you don’t believe in and grow as a coach and as a person. I wholeheartedly believe I am a better person now since I embraced other cultures.

BOTN: Let’s talk a little more about your move to China. China has a lofty goal of winning the World Cup by 2050. To do this they are spending large amounts of money on youth development as well as bringing in top players to improve the CSL. Having played out there, do you think that is going to be possible for them to achieve (to win the WC)?

MR: Do I believe China will win the World Cup? Maybe, who knows? Anyone can win it, right? From a numbers point of view, they statistically could achieve it if enough people are exposed to the right footballing understanding. Throwing up pitches right left and center doesn’t cut it for me. Education liberates people! Football is no different. Putting in place UEFA licensed coaches at the low levels is key to any development. To put it into perspective, I was coached twice a week from the age of 9 by the likes of Paul Sturrock, Maurice Malpas, and Jim McLean…….I firmly believe those days were a fundamental part in how I became a pro footballer. If China can first and foremost educate the majority of their young population, then integrate football into the education system, then set up footballing academies, then I believe they will have a chance to succeed.

BOTN: After retiring at 31, you moved into management firstly in Norway and now in the Faroe Islands. Was management always something you wanted to do? How did that transition come about?

MR: I was always talking as a player, always organizing, always pushing and pulling players into positions. I don’t know if it came natural to me but I believe coaching is in my blood. I will not be remembered as a player, but I think I will be remembered as a coach/manager. When I quit at 31, I enlisted on an open university course for engineering which took me into the oil industry quite rapidly. I then took over a recently relegated team in Norway. I convinced these players who were only paid petrol money to train four times a week plus the game. This dedication to the cause allowed us to complete a back to back double promotion and finish 5th in the league – one of the Norwegian ‘top football’ pyramid, which was the club’s highest ever ranking. Then I was hooked. So, I have taken my badges and am now a qualified A license coach and will seek to take the pro license ASAP.

Winning ways – Ross has tasted success as a manager (Image from Maurice Ross Instagram)

BOTN: What would you say is your managerial style, and how does that compare to the managers you have played under?

MR: My style is a mixture between Glenn Hoddle’s pedagogical approach and Uwe Rosler; the great Man city striker who had a fantastic passion for the game. Learning day to day is essential for players and partnering that with controlled passion is a recipe for success in my book.

BOTN: What is next for Maurice Ross? Do you have ambitions to manage back in Scotland or do you see your future abroad?

MR: Coaching is my life, whether that be a Glasgow Rangers or Texas Rangers. Under the watchful eye of my advisor Raymond Sparkes we will evaluate all options. For us, the only criteria is environment. I will not make a career move based on finance. The main thing for me is that I become a better coach and the players in my care feel that they learn every single day. When I can achieve those two things then I am a happy man.

Older but wiser – With his playing days behind him, Ross is forging ahead with his managerial career (image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Finally, some quick one or two-word answers please – toughest opponent you played against?

MR: Mark Overmars – standing on your shoulder all the time, waiting to pounce in behind you with that electric pace. If you dropped too deep to combat that pace he popped into the hole and received it to feet, then you were in trouble! Great talent.

BOTN: Best player you played with?

MR: Pound for pound Barry Ferguson

BOTN: Will Steve Gerrard be a success at Rangers?

MR: First and foremost, I hope he can succeed, the club needs it! Will he? With the contacts and scouting network, I’m sure he will have the best chance of recent managers to succeed. There are no guarantees in football but he certainly has a back bone and he’s very much his own man. So, with that belief, the massive network will give him a solid chance to succeed. With 48,000 season tickets sold already, it shows the public also believe in it. Let’s get fully behind him and close the chasm that is between us and Celtic. Good luck to Steven and Gary Mac.

BOTN: And who do you think will win the World Cup?

MR: Germany.

Thanks again to Maurice Ross for taking the time to speak with us!

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