One on One with: Craig Brown (Part 2)

This is the second part of our in depth discussion with former Scotland boss, Craig Brown. Enjoy!

BOTN: Let’s move on to something that has puzzled me for a while. As a Scot, I have fond memories of various qualification campaigns as well as a few major tournaments including Euro ‘96 and France ’98. But the disappointments also linger in my mind and in particular what seemed to be a worrying trend with Scotland losing late goals in crucial matches that would lead to our failure to progress. Poland’s late equalizer in 2015, Italy’s stoppage time winner in 2008 and of course against Serbia recently which luckily didn’t cost Scotland in the end. Tiredness plays a part, but it comes down to a lack of concentration and an awareness of how to see the game out. As a manager, how much can you work with the players to remain fully focused right up until the final whistle?

CB: There has been the suggestion that the Scotland team over the years has been susceptible to losing late goals. I feel that although it happened against Italy in 2008, Poland in 2015, England in 2017 and Serbia 2020, is an unfair allegation if levelled against my time with the national team. Tiredness, lack of concentration, and poor game management have been suggested as reasons for the perceived late in the game failure. My contention is that, when it occurred it has been primarily coincidental. The recent late goal in Belgrade by Serbia in the Euro ‘20 play-off adds fuel to those who are determined to be critical but to surely two decisive wins at the shoot-out stage should put paid to that assertion.

BOTN: Noting Scotland’s recent accomplishment, qualifying for next summer’s European Championships, how pleased are you to see Scotland qualify again and how do you rate the job that Steve Clarke and his team have done there?

CB: Having been involved in 4 successful qualifications, 2 as Assistant to Andy Roxburgh (Italy ‘90 and Sweden ‘92) and 2 as manager in my own right (England ‘96 and France ‘98), I believe that Steve Clarke’s achievement, because of the prevailing negative perception, was even more meritorious. The recent outpouring of emotion is not something I recall. In my 12-year period (86 – 98) to qualify for a major tournament was expected and greeted with quiet satisfaction in the changing room. Failure was deemed a disgrace.    

Recently, at the start of Steve’s tenure, there continued to be negative vibes and extremely pessimistic attitudes. That made it even more difficult to change the mentality, not only of the players but also of the supporters and the media. This he has done marvellously well and that, among other things, is very much to his credit. The ignominy of failure and the heartache of near misses can now be consigned to history. For ever, I trust!

Steve Clarke has steered Scotland to their first major international tournament in 22 years.

BOTN: Do you think that this is the turning point for Scotland now in terms of qualifying regularly for tournaments? Or is there further work needed in creating a succession line for young talent in Scotland?

CB: Without doubt this is a turning point for Scottish football. I’m a believer in the self-fulfilling prophecy so if we feel we’ll succeed we are even more likely to succeed. We have a proliferation now of young talented players and a tremendous work ethic. The excitement of the achievement in Serbia will live long in the memory of all Scotland fans as it signalled the countdown to return to join the elite of International football. The lure of involvement at this level will provide motivation enough to inspire the players to strive for regular participation in European and World Competition Finals.

BOTN: Scotland will play England during Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium much like they did during Euro ’96 when you were on the sidelines as manager. That was really an incredible game despite the result, with Paul Gascoigne producing a moment of genius to break Scottish hearts. Watching that game then and now, I still feel that if Gary McAllister’s penalty had gone in, Scotland would have won that game and we would have qualified for the knock-out round. What are your memories of the games against England?

CB: As a Tartan Army supporter, I had been to many matches between the Auld Enemy as the importance of this fixture cannot be overestimated north of the border. However, my first direct experience as a member of staff was on 5th May 1988 at Wembley. One relatively minor incident in this encounter confirmed just how significant the occasion is for everyone, players included. It happened in the 74th minute when the then manager, Andy Roxburgh asked me to get Tommy Burns warmed up to replace Neil Simpson – an attacking midfield player for a sitting, defensive one as we were a goal behind. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the wonderful attitude of the late Tommy Burns as his grateful attitude not only exemplified his exemplary character but reinforced the impact a game against England always has. 

Before exchanging the mandatory handshake with his replaced colleague Tommy went over to the manager, put his two hands on Andy’s shoulder, looked into his eyes, and said, “Thank you Gaffer. You have given me my lifetime ambition – to play for my country against England at Wembley!” Such gratitude is not always the case as often players are more disposed to complain about non selection, but it did confirm, as if I didn’t know it, the importance attached to the England fixture.

The late Tommy Burns sitting on the Wembley turf pre kick off, 1988.

BOTN: Am I right I saying that you managed Scotland against England on a few occasions?

It was my privilege to be in charge of the Scotland team on three more occasions against ‘Them’ as many Scots rather unkindly refer to when meaning England. I’ve already mentioned the ‘Gazza match’ as I call it, in Euro ‘96. The other two games were the play-off matches for Euro 2000, the first being in Glasgow at Hampden. The desire for tickets was incredible for both matches and the hype was incredible. There is an erroneous perception that players and staff get unlimited supplies of free match tickets. To ensure that our players were happy and in no way were made to feel inferior I asked Colin Hendry to speak to his team colleague, Alan Shearer, at Blackburn Rovers to establish the England ticket allocation. When dealing with the squad request for complimentaries and tickets to buy the SFA thoughtfully acceded to my suggestion that we get a more generous allocation than our opponents. Psychologically I felt this dispelled any suggestion of inferiority. 

Unlike Scotland’s 2020 play-off this was a two-legged affair, with the first game at a packed Hampden Park. Had the Scottish Football League agreed to my request to postpone and reschedule the Rangers v Celtic match the week before because so many of our players were involved, the facial, broken jawbone, injury suffered by Paul Lambert in a strong challenge from Jorg Albertz wouldn’t have ruled out one of our best players, the one in fact who would have been designated to mark Paul Scholes, the scorer of both England goals. Because of his Champions League winning experience with Borussia Dortmund and his familiarity with the 3-5-2 system we employed he would have been invaluable had he been fit.

BOTN: I remember that Old firm game but i think it was more the other way. around with Lambert sliding in on Albertz and giving away the penalty. Irregardless perhaps if Lambert was playing, he would have been able to nullify the threat of Scholes like you said.

CB: Adhering to my old adage well known to the players that if you’re fighting the Indians you kill their chief, I asked Paul Ritchie to do ‘a close attention job’ on David Beckham. This he did very well but we were less successful with Scholes!  Unsurprisingly, after a defeat there are calls for the manager’s head. I recall that this was the case when Kevin Keegan resigned between double-header matches. I respect Kevin greatly and know he must have had his own reasons, but the thought of resigning never crossed my mind because I am a fighter and, particularly in adversity, gain strength to do what I think is right.

There was one particularly resourceful, but hurtful, piece of journalism and it came from Sky TV’s Pete Barraclough. Our team was staying overnight in the Marine Hotel, Troon and he asked me if I’d oblige with a one-to-one outside to give a different environment for the interview.  I declined and said that it would create a precedent and that he would have to speak to me during the allotted time in the hotel where I’d be seated in front of the sponsors’ backdrop.     

It was not often that I got the opportunity to see the result of my interviews in the evening but on this occasion, I saw Pete introduce his piece from the street just outside our hotel. He finished by saying, “And if Scotland don’t do much better at Wembley on Wednesday, it will be the end of the road for Craig.” At this juncture the camera left his head and shoulders shot and panned down to reveal that the name of the street was CRAIGEND ROAD. I must say I’m glad I didn’t accept the offer to conduct the interview in the street.

BOTN: You did get some redemption in the return leg though, winning it 1-0 thanks to Don Hutchison’s header.

We flew to London the next day and checked into our hotel on St Albans not far from the Arsenal Training Ground where, courtesy of Arsene Wenger, we were welcomed with open arms for our light training sessions. Manager Kevin, 2 goals up, announced his team in advance, something I never did because I always felt that “knowledge is power” and the least information available to the opponents the better. Kevin Gallacher’s injury and an earlier helpful piece of information from a manager colleague in Scotland prompted me to make a surprise selection up front.

Don Hutchison’s header gave Scotland victory in the second leg. (Goal build up begins at 0.40)

The late, great, Tommy Burns, was that man. I had asked Tommy, then manager of Kilmarnock, to take charge of Scotland ‘B’ team for a friendly game against Wales and afterwards requested advice on any player whom I should consider.  That’s why I played midfielder Don up front and, as he had done earlier in Germany where he scored the winning goal. The youngest player afield, Barry Ferguson, was outstanding in midfield and only a wonderful David Seaman save prevented Christian Dailly’s header taking us to extra time. Nevertheless, I have to admit that to beat both Germany (84m population) in Bremen and England (56m) at Wembley I consider my two best results in 50 unbeaten games of the 70 I was in charge of Scotland (5.5m).

BOTN: You have had spells as both a club manager as well as a national manager. It is often said that managing a national team is harder due to the limited time you have to work with the players in the run up to games. I would also assume that as a club manager you are constantly busy day in day out but as an international manager you will have periods of solitude between international games. Do you agree with this notion?

CB: Few would disagree that to manage one’s country is the pinnacle of any footballing career.  I’m honoured to be the longest serving Scotland manager with the national team and also have taken charge of more U21 matches than anyone else. In addition, I assisted Sir Alex Ferguson at the Mexico ‘86 World Cup and Andy Roxburgh in his 61 matches in charge of the senior national team. My 15-year stint with the Scottish FA also saw me take youth teams on occasion, the highlights being the FIFA World Cup Final in 1989 with the U16 team and the 1/4 Final of the FIFA U20 World Championship in 1987 in Chile and the semi-finals of the European Championship in 1992.

To have managed four excellent senior clubs has also been a great privilege……two league Championships in nine years with Clyde F C, two mid table Championship finishes with Preston North End F C, UEFA play-off round with Motherwell FC and relegation staved off, three cup semi-finals and two 13 game unbeaten runs with Aberdeen FC. In addition, I’ve served Fulham FC as International Representative and Derby County FC as football consultant.

Clyde manager Craig Brown with the Second Division trophy

BOTN: After leaving Scotland, as you just said you had spells at Preston North End, Motherwell and Aberdeen before retiring from management in 2013 and becoming a non-executive Director at Aberdeen. That spell at Motherwell in particular was interesting as it was a return for you having been assistant there in the 70’s. You won back-to-back manager of the month awards and steered Motherwell to a top six finish yet only stayed a year before joining Aberdeen. What happened there and was there extra factors that persuaded you to leave and join Aberdeen?

CB: I have always had a great affection for neighbouring Lanarkshire Clubs, Hamilton and Motherwell but the fact that I was brought up in Hamilton meant that my early allegiance was to the Accies. However twice Motherwell have asked me to work for them in a coaching/ managerial capacity and on each occasion, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. On the first occasion in the mid ‘70s the league structure changed, and Willie McLean was the manager who offered me the job as assistant. From bottom of the 18-team league at Christmas we went on a fine run and got into the new top SPL in tenth position. Thereafter the Steelmen have consistently been a fine top team Club.

It was with considerable reluctance that the first time I left Motherwell where I was Number 2 was to become Manager at Clyde FC. The part-time role was more suitable there with part-time players, but I left the ‘Well with a heavy heart.

There came the surprise, emergency call 32 years later by which time I had finally, I thought, retired after my spell as Football Consultant at Derby County FC. The request to help out temporarily at Fir Park was irresistible and my colleague, Archie Knox, was equally pleased to join the club languishing a little in the lower echelons of the SPL.  We reintroduced some of the deposed senior players and propelled the team into Europe where, the following season, we reached the play-off stage.   

Knox (left) and Brown in the Aberdeen technical area

When we went to Pittodrie and comfortably won 3-0 an Aberdeen Director, Hugh Little, with whom I was friendly, asked in conversation, if I had signed a contract at Motherwell. I said that we had been offered a contract but had declined to commit and, in all honesty, it was absolutely nothing to do with the salary. There was a reference in the arrangement which clearly stated that I was to be in charge of the football operation with the exception of the U20 team, which was the sole responsibility of the youth coach, admittedly a superb exponent, Gordon Young. Anyone in the game would agree that my reluctance to agree to that was fully understandable. No revised document was forthcoming. Had there been one with the desired minor alteration, my loyalty is such that I’d never have considered an Aberdeen approach.

BOTN: What convinced you to make the switch?

My initial, impulsive, response to Aberdeen was to decline their approach but a ‘phone call from Sir Alex and another from Stewart Milne convinced me to meet the Aberdeen representatives, including Willie Miller, Director of Football, whom I knew. Archie Knox, too, extolled the virtues of AFC and my gut feeling, later to be confirmed, was that Stewart Milne was a great Chairman. I hadn’t too much of a decision to make because there was no renewed Motherwell attempt to make the minor alteration which would have made my contract offer suitably acceptable. So, having initially refused the invitation to meet, I soon had all the necessary arrangements made to accept the privilege of joining such a reputable Club with a tremendous support.      

The remit at Pittodrie was to save the Dons from relegation because they were anchored at the bottom of the league with 10 points from 16 games including a 0-9 defeat at Celtic Park and a 0-5 at Tynecastle. This was accomplished and consolidation achieved but in spite of having impressive unbeaten runs and three semi-final appearances further progress proved difficult with the departure of five players to provide much needed income. The sale of Aluko, Maguire, Fyvie, Foster and Fraser and long-term injuries to Considine, Jack and Robertson didn’t help the cause but still in November of my second season we were one point behind league leaders, Celtic. I’m afraid that without income to enhance the playing staff mediocrity ensued, although when Archie and I retired we left a much-improved squad for the excellent incoming management team of Derek McInnes and Tony Docherty.

BOTN: Finally, some fan questions. What game that you were involved in stands out in your mind as a player and as a manager?

CB: The highest profile game in Scotland’s football history was generally acknowledged to be the opening game of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in Paris against the world champions, Brazil. I’ve already confirmed that my involvement as manager then was arguably the highlight of my protracted career. Incidentally, I feel that the eligibility rules for staff should be the same as that for players and that ‘foreigners’ shouldn’t be permitted in a back-room capacity. Having said that I contend that my successor with the Scotland team, Berti Vogts, was an inspired appointment. Any man who has won the World Cup as a player and the European Championship as a manager surely has an impeccable CV. It didn’t quite work out for Berti but the players at his disposal were, in my opinion, less good than their predecessors. Two other games in the memorable category are the victories in Germany and a England which I’ve already described.

Scotland line up to face Brazil in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup in France.

As a youth player my standard was very good but at the top level, following a succession of knee injuries, the word indifferent would be appropriate. The season when Dundee FC were champions of Scotland, I had a few ‘not bad’ performances. One of my better ones was in March 1962 at Celtic Park in Bobby Lennox’s first game when Billy McNeill was Celtic FC Man of the Match and I got the same accolade for Dundee FC. In the same game I made the mistake of talking to a fan who was berating me and complaining that it was a terrible game. When I said to him, “You’re the mug. You paid to get in.”  Quick as a flash he retorted, “But you’ll be payin’ next season!” The guy was nearly a prophet!!

BOTN: Which player gave you the most trouble as a manager?

CB: I’m fortunate I never had any serious problems with players. I that regard it’s easier with the international team as if there’s a disciplinary problem you leave the offending player out of the squad. At club level if he’s on contract you have to operate differently. I can’t remember fining a player for other than lateness and the fine income was halved between local charity and the Christmas night out.

Another interesting fact is that the big-name player is easier to control. Over the years people have said to me these millionaires must be hard to handle. My experience is the opposite. The bigger the star, the easier he is to deal with and there is no way you can please everyone so set, and insist on, the standards you want. I always remember the old Chinese proverb ……

If everyone thinks we’ll of you

It surely would be wise

To examine each facet of your life

And weed out compromise!

BOTN: If you could manage any team from the past, which team would it be and why?

CB: Without doubt the team I think any Scotsman would love to have managed is the first British team to win the European Cup. In 1967 Celtic beat Inter Milan in the final in Portugal resulting in the team affectionately being called the Lisbon Lions.  I played in that era, so I knew every one of the winning team – Simpson, Craig & Gemmill; Murdoch, McNeill & Clark; Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld Lennox. Four extra players were in the squad – Gallagher, Hughes, McBride & O’Neill.  There was only a goalkeeping substitute permitted so John Fallon was on the bench.

Why the desire to manage that group?  Not only was every individual a player of quality who would have fitted into any ‘game plan’, each of the Lions was a really good person.  A look at the ability of each player would confirm that they could be moulded into any desired tactical formation, indeed into a variety if required within the same game. There were no prima donnas, and everyone knows that the legendary Manager, Jock Stein, wouldn’t have tolerated anyone who was inclined to get above his station.  Each and every one of that illustrious group had an unassuming manner and an inbuilt humility.

The European Cup winning Glasgow Celtic, also known as the Lisbon Lions.

An interesting fact is that all but one of the team, played in a grade of football in Scotland called Junior Football. This was a tough environment containing many men who had been reinstated from the senior level. Indeed, the man who scored the winning goal in the European final, Steve Chalmers, was aged 23 when he was signed by Celtic from Ashfield Juniors.

Another big attraction for me would be the lack of foreign players with their cultural and temperamental nuances. The entire Celtic team then, all on the same wage, incidentally, was from a 30-mile radius of Glasgow thus eliminating any translation issues and ensuring that the local humour was appropriate. Socially the players were friendly, and it’s well known that if that is the case they play better together as a team.  In short, knowing the favourable attitude of the receptive and modest group it would have been a privilege to work with the legendary Lisbon Lions.

BOTN: And which team currently?

CB: At the risk of being accused of contradicting myself I’ll admit that, hypothetically, the current team I’d love to manage is in complete contrast to the Lisbon Lions. It is full of expensive foreign signings. In the past Liverpool’s foreigners were from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Not now! Yes, there is Scotland Captain, Andy Robertson, a throwback to the Steve Nicol era, but almost the entire remainder of the squad comes from out with the UK. I confess, though, that such is the talent available, it would be a dream job to be in the shoes of Herr Jürgen Klopp!

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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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Calls For Restructure Of SPL Grow As Fixture Chaos Sparks Protests

Bad month for Doncaster (Image from SNS)Neil Doncaster is having a bad month. The chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football Leagues has faced some fierce criticism after his proposed scheduling of this season final league matches and playoff games earned him an angry reaction from the clubs. Having suggested that the final day fixtures be played at different times, the idea was widely shot down as it presented an unfair advantage to the teams playing later in the day. He has since backed down in his decision and returned games to the same time but has now been caught up in a second row which has added to his problems. Doncaster proposed that the current league playoff fixtures be moved to the start of June in an effort to extend the existing season but his proposal has sparked further protest. Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough was the loudest of the protests claiming that his side would seek compensation from the league if forced to play in June. His reasoning was that a majority of his player’s contracts finish on May 31st so in order to play this important fixture the club would have to extend their contracts for an additional month, something that Motherwell had not budgeted for. No retort has been issued by Doncaster or the SPFL but it is yet another baffling call by the leagues governing body which already had several headaches when it comes to fixture planning in the various divisions.

Ian Baraclough faces a fight with the SPL over playoff scheduling  (Image from Getty)

Ian Baraclough faces a fight with the SPL over playoff scheduling
(Image from Getty)

The set up for the Scottish leagues was designed to be simple but is anything but that. With a top tier of 12 teams and three lower leagues of 10, the format is similar to various continental counterparts. But slight alterations made in a desperate attempt to maximize television revenues have turned the leagues into a baffling mess. Firstly in the SPL every team plays each of their opponents three times during the regular season before the league splits into a top six and a bottom six for the final five games. This split is meant to determine European and relegation places however it has various problems attached to it. Firstly the split can often result in teams playing an uneven number of games against others in the league. The SPFL has tried to mitigate this risk by predicting at the start of the season where each team will finish (known as seeding) and aligns the fixture list as such. Based on previous seasons final placing, this model can predict fairly accurately, with the exception of when a team who has generally finished in the top six has a poor season like Motherwell had this year, finishing in the bottom half. Due to this, their fixtures were heavily weight at the beginning of the campaign against the teams expected to finish in the bottom six. They will now face one extra game against these teams instead of the expected fixtures against the top six teams. This in a sense gives Motherwell a slight unfair advantage over its rivals in the bottom six. The other issue which is somewhat ignored by Doncaster is that often the team in sixth can finish the season on less points than the team in seventh. How this is permitted to happen is unknown but Doncaster just sees it merely as a slight hiccup in the split system. The split is seen by the SPFL as essential to avoid the teams having to play a 44 game season (each team home and away twice). But now there are fresh calls to review the format and scrap the split system all together.

Jackie McNamara is calling for a restructuring of the current league format (Image from PA)

Jackie McNamara is calling for a restructuring of the current league format (Image from PA)

Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara has spoken out at the failures of the current league structure and points to leagues across the world which operate on better models. His suggestion is that the SPL be expanded to a 16 or 18 team league which would effectively ditch the split model in favour of a straight league structure. He argues that there are no other leagues in the world operating this bizarre structure and he is almost correct (Malta operates a similar system). But McNamara’s point is valid given that his side has had to face champions elect Celtic six times this year so far (three in the cup) with a seventh game set for April 26th. A move to a larger top league and condensed lower league structure would simplify the fixture chaos that currently reigns over the leagues each season. McNamara is not alone in his thinking with other bosses in the various leagues echoing his thoughts. At present Neil Doncaster has refused to entertain a change to the format that has been in place since 2001 but as the pressure grows on him he may be forced to listen to the clubs and finally signal an end to the fixture chaos.

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What Next For Rangers As McCoist Resigns

More turmoil at Ibrox (Image from Wikipedia)The resignation of Rangers manager Ally McCoist has been formally acknowledged by the club on the stock exchange leading fans and shareholders to wonder what next for the troubled boss. McCoist letter of resignation was in direct response to the dismissal of key long standing non playing personnel at the club despite reassurances weeks earlier that this would not happen. It was the straw that broke the camels back for the manager who has steered the club through some of its darkest hours including administration and relegation to Scotland’s lowest professional footballing tier.

What next for McCoist?  (Image from Getty)

What next for McCoist?
(Image from Getty)

His formal notice is 12 months in length leaving the club and its owners with a difficult decision to make – pay off McCoist now or let him run out his contract. Normally the obvious resolution would be to cut ties and end the association quickly so that both parties could move on but for cash strapped Rangers paying off McCoist may not be possible. With a severance payment due of around £400,000 it will ultimately come down to chairman Sandy Easdale and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, who now controls 9% of the club to put up the cash to pay off McCoist. The board is set to meet with McCoist tomorrow to discuss next steps with the likely outcome that the manager will be allowed to leave sooner rather than later in order to protect the clubs chances of getting back into the Premiership.  In recent weeks in the lead up to him handing in his notice, several members of the board have been vocally opposed to McCoist remaining in charge. Results on the pitch have not been good enough considering the talent at the manager’s disposal and the club is at risk of going backwards once more. A change now may stop this rot and hand Rangers back the emphasis needed to get them back on track and challenging for promotion once more.

Decision maker Mike Ashley  (Image from Getty)

Decision maker Mike Ashley
(Image from Getty)

Once McCoist has formally left, the task of hiring a new manager will be undertaken. The good news for Rangers fans is that the early front runners being considered for the job are all former Rangers players. Stuart McCall played for the club during its most successful era, quickly becoming a fan favourite at the heart of the midfield. The tough tackling no nonsense McCall would be seen as an ideal replacement given how he performed in the manager’s role at Motherwell in recent years.  With limited funds and resources, McCall turned Motherwell into title contenders and the hope would be that under similar circumstances he could do the same at Rangers.

McCall could replace McCoist in the Rangers hotseat  (Image from Rob Casey Photography)

McCall could replace McCoist in the Rangers hotseat
(Image from Rob Casey Photography)

Terry Butcher was also part of that team as part of a defensive rearguard alongside Richard Gough. During his time with the club, Butcher gave no less than 100% in every appearance he made earning himself a slot in the clubs illustrious history. As a manager, Englishman Butcher has chalked up over 24 years of experience at clubs across the UK including stints at Inverness, Hibernian and Motherwell in Scotland as well as spells in England with Sunderland, Brentford and Coventry. He also had short stays with Sydney FC in Australia and as assistant manager for Scotland under the ill fated George Burley reign.

Butcher is a front runner for the job  (Image from Getty)

Butcher is a front runner for the job
(Image from Getty)

Whilst his stay at Ibrox was limited to only 13 games over seven years at the very beginning of his playing career , Billy Davies still holds a special place in his heart for Rangers. The former Motherwell, Derby and Nottingham Forest boss has thrown his hat into the ring and has been spotted at Ibrox recently watching some games. All three candidates present different managerial styles but all have at least one thing in common – a shared passion for the club.

Billy Davies is keen on the role  (Image from PA)

Billy Davies is keen on the role
(Image from PA)

Whoever lands the role will not be in for an easy ride. Turmoil off the pitch continues with power squabbles now on a daily basis and with the SFA launching yet another investigation into its ownership. On the pitch, the players lack belief that promotion is possible. The squad is more than capable of doing so but until they regain it, they will likely continue to languish in the Championship.

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A Changing Of The Guard In Scottish Football?

Between them, Rangers and Celtic have won every title  since 1986 (Image from Getty)There was a time in Scottish football where two Glasgow teams dominated the country’s top league. The Old Firm, better known as Rangers and Celtic have for the last 30 years had a stranglehold on the title, with one of the two winning every championship since 1986. The last team outside of the Old Firm to win the title was Aberdeen who managed to do so thanks in part to the managerial skills of one Alex Ferguson.  When Fergie left the Granite City in 1986 for Manchester United, Rangers and Celtic took back control and have since conquered Scottish football. However after Rangers found themselves spectacularly relegated to the country’s lowest league follow administration proceedings in 2011, it has been left to Celtic to maintain control of the league and continue the Old Firms dominance. Under previous coach Neil Lennon, Celtic blitzed the league with ease but since his departure in the summer and the subsequent hiring of the fairly unknown Ronny Deila, Celtic have stuttered and now find themselves sitting 6th in the league and in trouble of losing their grip on the league.

Aberdeen were the last team outside the Old Firm to win the title  (Image from STV)

Aberdeen were the last team outside the Old Firm to win the title
(Image from STV)

Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Hamilton was Celtic’ second defeat of the season but now means that Celtic have dropped ten points in their first eight games. Hardly a reason to panic since Celtic still have a game in hand but it may be an early indicator of a longer term problem. Last season Celtic romped to the title with a massive 25 point gap between themselves and Aberdeen in second place. On route to the title, Celtic lost only one game and drew four meaning that they dropped a total of eleven points all season, one more than they have dropped this season so far.  Granted they lost some key figures during the summer but they should have enough in their squad to cope with this. Added into that, the Premiership was seen as a weaker league this year after the relegation of Edinburgh duo Hearts and Hibernian to the Championship. Understandably the media is focusing on the differences between Lennon and Delia, blaming the new coaches’ inexperience for the clubs poor results to date. But in fact what we may be witnessing is something more – a changing of the guard and a chance for someone else to claim the title. Celtic are no longer feared in the league with others like Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and Hamilton smelling blood in the water.  Celtic remains strong but are vulnerable now and without Rangers in the league, the title could slip from their grasp.

Hamilton's Ali Crawford scores against Celtic to hand his team the three points  (Image from PA)

Hamilton’s Ali Crawford scores against Celtic to hand his team the three points
(Image from PA)

The cavalry in the form of a revitalized Rangers was expected to arrive back in the Premiership next season after rising back up the leagues to the Championship but things in Scotland’s second tier are not going as smoothly as expected. Ally McCoist’s men have been anything but convincing this season and find themselves second in the league behind Hearts who have raced into a six point lead. Four wins out of four at the start of the season appeared to mask smaller problems that exist within the first team at Ibrox but the problems have since grow so it’s hardly surprising to see McCoist’s side starting to struggle. The lack of goals from returning strike duo Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller has been underplayed with others like Nicky Clark and David Templeton picking up the slack. Added into this defensive frailties both in goal and at centre back have caused more headaches for the now bewildered Rangers boss.  McCoist himself is coming under fire from the fans for the first time in his reign, with many believing that the coach has overstretched himself and doubt his decision making abilities. McCoist’s failures to address goalkeeping issues in the summer have hurt him badly this season and he is paying for it now. Current number one Cammy Bell has never really impressed the Rangers fans, whilst his deputy Steve Simonsen looks well past his best. Hope was lifted in July with the arrival of Craig Gordon on trial with many seeing him as the long term answer but McCoist’s failure to secure the free agent on a contract due to unknown reasons has come back to haunt him. Since leaving Rangers, Gordon has since joined arch rivals Celtic and become a revelation for them, demonstrating the form he showed in the past that persuaded Sunderland to spend £9 million on him.

Steve Simonsen has struggled this season  (Image from AFP)

Steve Simonsen has struggled this season
(Image from AFP)

With Bell now out injured, Simonsen has been drafted in and has struggled to show why McCoist decided to retain him for this season.  With off field troubles continuing to spiral out of control and on field performances stuttering to a stop, it may be a while before Rangers can climb that final rung of the ladder back up to the Premiership. By then however the Old Firm’s dominance may be well and truly over with a new king sitting on the throne. Only Celtic can stop that from happening this season but if they continue to play like they did against Hamilton, it may be a long and hard season for Deila and his team.

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Celtic Defeat Heaps Early Pressure On Deila

Celtic failure to beat Warsaw sends them out of the CL (Image from Getty)To be fair it was always going to be an uphill struggle to claw back a 4-1 first leg deficit but Celtic fans believed that their side could. Unfortunately what they saw in the return leg last night was a team who didn’t believe they could. Celtic crashed to a 2-0 defeat sending them spiraling out of Europe’s top club tournament and heaping early pressure on new boss Ronny Deila. The nature of their performance will startle the Norwegian boss who was hoping more for a rampant show but instead witnessed a half hearted effort as if defeat was inevitable.

Pressure is on for Deila (Image from AP)

Pressure is on for Deila (Image from AP)

His opposite number, former Rangers defender Henning Berg organized his team well but they look relaxed knowing the damage had already been done in the first leg. In the end the two strikes – one in the 36th minute from Michal Zyro and one on the 61st minute mark from Michal Kucharczyk merely put the icing on the cake for Legia Warsaw. The Polish side will face tougher opposition in the group stage but it’s unlikely that they will face one weaker than Celtic were. In the post match interview, Deila spoke of his disappointment but remained optimistic for the future:

“It was not good enough. They got two easy goals, again, and that’s worrying me. We just have to say we lost to the better team. The boys want to play better. We are very disappointed. We’re going to rise up and we’re going to perform much better, win the league again, and next year in this situation we’re going to go through”

 

All smiles for Berg as his side dumps Celtic out of the Champions League  (Image from Getty)

All smiles for Berg as his side dumps Celtic out of the Champions League
(Image from Getty)

For the current Scottish champions, the effects of the defeat will be felt in the weeks and months ahead. Starved of the £15million reward they would have earned by reaching the Champions’ League group stage, Celtic may have to adjust its future transfer plans. The likelihood of star players Frazer Forster and Virgil Van Dijk sticking around is fading fast with both expected to depart before the transfer window shuts. They might not be the only ones to leave as failure to reach Europe’s top table will cause others to question their own futures.

Forster's last game -  Could this be the end to Frazer's Celtic stay? (Image from Getty)

Forster’s last game – Could this be the end to Frazer’s Celtic stay? (Image from Getty)

Rightly or wrongly questions are being raised about Deila and his abilities to deliver on the other club targets this season. With Rangers still dwelling in the lower divisions and now joined by both Edinburgh sides, Hearts and Hibernian following their relegations, few would have picked anyone but Celtic to win next seasons Scottish Premiership title. But given the nature of Celtics collapse against a beatable Warsaw side, perhaps the title race isn’t as cut and dry as once though. Aberdeen has strengthened well over the summer with the arrival of David Goodwillie and could challenge whilst Dundee United and Motherwell both have the capabilities to surprise. Failure to win the league is not an option for Deila who is now under the microscope once again.

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Lennon Departs Celtic To Chase Premiership Dream

Neil Lennon has resigned as Celtic Manager (Image from AFP)

The resignation of Neil Lennon as Celtic manager comes at an interesting time for Scottish football, where next season’s Premier League race will likely be the dullest in its history. Sources close to the club suggest that the former club captain has been considering his position for some while now and has decided that he has done all that can be done for the club, taking them as far as he could both domestically and in Europe. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a disagreement over the clubs likely summer investment strategy which failed to meet Lennon’s lofty ambitions. The club believes it will stroll to its fourth title next season with ease given that Rangers are still out of the picture and Hearts having dropped into the Championship. This means that the only clubs capable of challenging Celtic’s potential fourth title would be either Motherwell or Aberdeen, neither of which will be investing heavily when the transfer window reopens. Lennon wanted funds to be made available to allow him to attack the Champions League but the clubs realistic view is that it’s a tournament that Celtic cannot win given the teams contesting it. With the threat of losing Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk a real possibility, Lennon has cut his ties with the club and is looking for his next opportunity.

Celtic compete against Barcelona in the Champions League  (Image from UEFA)

Celtic compete against Barcelona in the Champions League
(Image from UEFA)

The former Northern Irish international midfielder has been vocal about his ambitions to manage in the Premiership for some time now and England is his likely destination although no offers have been made just yet. Norwich look strong favourites to offer him their vacant manager’s position, with a sizable budget and a challenge to get them back into the Premiership after being relegated this season. But Lennon may hold out for West Bromwich Albion and an immediate shot at England’s top division, now that they too are on the hunt for a new manager having dismissed Spanish flop Pepe Mel. Leaving Celtic removes the need for any club to seek approval to approach Lennon; something that Celtic has been reluctant to do so in the past. Under Lennon, Celtic won three back to back titles as well two Scottish cups and several good showings in Europe but many point to Rangers relegation to the lowest division in Scotland in 2011 for falling into administration, as a key reason why Celtic have been so dominant in the Premier League. Life in Scotland has not been easy for Lennon who has endured a tough stay in Glasgow since his appointment as boss in 2010. Never far away from conflict, Lennon has been the subject of various attempts by fans to harm him including having a parcel bomb sent to his house and a Hearts fan jumping from the crowd to attack him during a league match in 2011. In addition living under the intense microscope of the Scottish media has taken its toll on Lennon who has spoken in the past about his fight against depression that has stretched back over a decade back to his playing days. His fiery nature and out spoken comments about rival teams and managers do little to help him in his pursuit for an easier life with the media ready to jump on every word and exploit it for their benefit. His resignation from Celtic will remove him from this cauldron and will breathe life back into a manager who has become more and more reclusive each year.

Managerial return for Henrik Larsson?  (Image from Getty)

Managerial return for Henrik Larsson?
(Image from Getty)

The job of replacing Lennon will fall to Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell with several names already being touted as potential candidates. Former players Jackie McNamara, Morten Weighorst and Malky MacKay are all in the running as is long shots David Moyes and Steve Clarke. The fans will be hoping that Lawwell also considers Celtic icon Henrik Larsson who has been cutting his managerial teeth in his native Sweden with Falkenbergs. Lawwell needs to act quickly with the Champions League qualifying rounds set for early July but he will not be rushed into making a decision. Lawwell will need to decide on whether he appoints an established, more expensive manager for immediate results or whether he turns to an up and coming coach who can babysit the job next year and build a team for the 2015/2016 season, preparing for the possible return of rivals Rangers.

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Icon Returns For Motherwell’s Champions League Push

James McFaddenWith Rangers now languishing in the lowest league in Scotland, the door has been thrown wide open for the rest of the Premier League teams to challenge Celtic for the title. The current Scottish champions are already running away with the league after opening up a sizable 18 point gap between themselves and the chasing pack. Closest to them in second place is Motherwell, who strengthened their squad yesterday with the return of the iconic James McFadden. The Scotland striker has been without a club since leaving Sunderland early last month and has signed a deal with the North Lanarkshire club until the end of this season. In a deal that never looked likely to happen, due to McFadden’s legacy wage demands, it would appear as though the player has backed down in order to secure consistent first team football. Its a win win situation for both parties as Motherwell push to cement their current position and McFadden attempts to get his career back on track.

Up and Coming - McFadden during his first spell at Motherwell (Image from STV)

Up and Coming – McFadden during his first spell at Motherwell
(Image from STV)

At only 29 years old, McFadden shouldn’t be back at his first club, but instead terrorising defenders in the English premiership or a league of similar stature, as he did during the early part of his twenties. Unfortunately, like Scottish compatriot Craig Gordon, this talented player’s career has been ruined by long term injuries that has limited his playing time. Without regular on field exposure, clubs have had little faith that McFadden is still the player he was and has resulted in him being released by Birmingham, then Everton and most recently Sunderland. Its a vicious cycle that many a professional has had to face and is hard to correct without the player demonstrating that he is beyond the injury problems that have hindered him. Some take to more innovative methods to prove they are worth a contract. Owen Hargreaves, a free agent after leaving Manchester United in the summer of 2011,  posted YouTube videos in a bid to convince potential suitors of his fitness, which was enough to convince Manchester City to sign the player on a short term deal. McFadden’s move to Motherwell shows a sign of faith from the club that McFadden’s injury worries are behind him.

Hargreaves took to YouTube to show his Fitness (Image from Youtube)

Hargreaves took to YouTube to show his Fitness
(Image from Youtube)

McFadden will be hoping that his injury troubles are behind him as well, as he looks to kick-start his career again. Once the first name on the Scotland team sheet and seen as a legend in the dark blue by the fans, McFadden will be hoping he can regain the form he once had and force his way into new boss Gordon Strachan’s long term plans. The new Scotland boss would love to have the old McFadden back to his best and will be monitoring the players progress at Motherwell with interest as he looks to potentially call up the player who last starred for his country in February 2012. Criticised by former boss Craig Levein in that game for his poor attitude and performance, McFadden will want to wipe the slate clean and show the Scottish faithful that he can still be a match winner for them as he had done in the past. But first he needs to play regularly for Motherwell and put in the type of displays that the club grew to expect during his first stint at the club.

McFadden scores a wonder goal against France (Image from PA)

McFadden scores a wonder goal against France
(Image from PA)

It was in the summer of 2000 that a young 17 year old James McFadden burst onto the Scottish football season, in stunning fashion. Not since Davie Cooper had the Motherwell fans been so excited by a player in the claret jersey. The combination of high octane pace, close control and undeniable brashness made McFadden an instant favourite with the home support. Within a season, McFadden was picking up the countries Young Player of the Year award and gaining a reputation as the most exciting prospect to come out of Scotland in a decade. Before long, McFadden was moving to England’s top flight with a move to Everton, where he stayed for five years, making himself into a useful component in manager David Moyes plans. A £5 million move to Birmingham followed but unfortunately for McFadden, it was at St Andrews that the problems with his right knee started. His troublesome right knee has dogged the player ever since and failed moves to Everton and Sunderland, have eventually led the player back home to Scotland.

McFadden's time at Birmingham was blighted with injury (Image from Action)

McFadden’s time at Birmingham was blighted with injury
(Image from Action)

Motherwell don’t necessarily need McFadden but the player will be welcomed into the squad regardless. Manager Stuart McCall has built an impressive team on an extremely tight budget but still lacks that x factor needed to win the title. Motherwell sit in second place on merit and whilst they have scored regularly in games, their over reliance on striker Michael Higdon has not gone unnoticed. His 17 goals this year have secured more points for the club than any other player, with only three others in the squad scoring more than one goal all season. McFadden in his first spell with the club averaged a goal every second game so McCall will be hoping that he can pick up where he left off and help push Motherwell closer to that lucrative second place finish and a shot at the Champions league. If McFadden regains his form and fitness, it is unlikely that Motherwell will be able to hold on to him beyond the summer as the player still has a good four to five years left to play. It’s a big if at this stage as McFadden hasn’t played competitively for some time now and will need to step up if he is get back to his best. McFadden knows his career is not over yet and now is his chance to get it back on track and once again become a player who sends fear down the spine of opposition defenders the world over.

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All I Want For Christmas Is….

Dear SantaIt’s that special time of year when good boys and girls wait anxiously for Santa, desperate to get their hands on the latest toy, stuff animal or gizmo on the market. But what do football managers across the globe want this Christmas season? BackofTheNet speculates what’s on everyone’s wish list this year.

Arsene Wenger: Theo Walcott to sign a new contract.

It’s not been an easy year for the veteran French coach. Still reeling from the departure of Robin Van Persie in the summer to rivals Manchester United, Arsene is trying to hold on to the talented members of his squad as well as his job. He has managed to sign up 5 younger members to long-term contracts – Gibbs, Wilshire, Jenkinson, Ramsay and Oxlade-Chamberlain but the one he wants the most is Theo Walcott. The electric England international winger is holding out for more cash in his weekly wage and so far Arsenal have been unable to meet his expectations. Negotiations are being handled by Arsenal’s US-based lawyer so perhaps something is being lost in the currency conversion but with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all watching closely, Wenger will be praying that a deal can be reached sooner rather than later.

Just sign the contract please Theo!

Just sign the contract please Theo!

Marco Kurz – Three points

The newly appointed Hoffenheim manager will be desperate to stop the rot at the Rhein-Neckar Arena, as Hoffenheim slide further down the able towards relegation. No wins in their last 6 leaves the German side third from bottom with only 12 points from their first 17 games. Oh how times have changed for the club who shocked Germany with its meteoric rise from fifth division obscurity in 2000 to Bundesliga challengers in 2008, thanks to the heavy investment by billionaire software mogul Dietmar Hopp. Kurz now has the comfort of a mid-season break to come in, assess and turn around the ship that Markus Babbel left on a collision course with an iceberg. With a talented squad boasting internationalist from Spain, Switzerland, Denmark and Germany, surely its only a matter of time before they start to climb back up the league. Kurz will be praying that Santa can bring him the good fortune the club needs to get back on track.

Just three points. All Marco Kurz wants

Just three points. All Marco Kurz wants

Manuel Pellegrini – A cash injection

The Malaga boss must be wondering what he has done to deserve such bad luck this season. Malaga who were celebrating in 2010 the arrival of Qatari investor Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, his sizable wealth and good fortune, are now in the pits of despair after UEFA banned them from competing in Europe for one year from next season on. The charges laid against Malaga by UEFA relate to unpaid player wages and late fees owed to other clubs and are the first hammer blow of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. Sitting 4th in La Liga and in the latter stages of the Champions League, everything appeared to be back to normal for Malaga after a turbulent summer which saw a host of star players such as Santi Cazorla and Joris Mathijsen sold for cut price fees to cover the lack of funding at the club by their supposedly über rich owners. Pellegrini has worked miracles to get his team to where they are now but without European football next season and with the high likeliness of further drama unfolding at the club, he will be hoping that Santa brings him the cash the club needs to fix the mess it finds itself in once again.

Not again! More worries for Manuel Pellegrini

Not again! More worries for Manuel Pellegrini

Neil Lennon – Some domestic competition

It’s a little too easy for Celtic in the league right now. With arch rivals Rangers demoted to the third division in Scotland for entering administration, Celtic were looking forward to this season to see which of the nearly runners of previous years would step up to challenge for the title. Former champions Aberdeen and Dundee United had strong squads so could pose a threat, the Edinburgh based duo of Hearts and Hibs always had the ability to stir things up and Motherwell had gone through a resurgence of late under the management of former Rangers and Scotland midfielder Stuart McCall. Unfortunately none have really turned up and Celtic find themselves on top of the league with a 5 point lead and a game in hand. Neil Lennon’s team haven’t even played that well this season in the Premier League, losing at home to Inverness and Kilmarnock whilst scrapping points against Dundee United and St Johnstone so the opportunity was there for a fresh challenge but none arrived. Lennon, with a tasty Champions League double-header against Juventus coming up to focus on, will be praying that either Ally McCoist’s Rangers can gain three automatic promotions back to back or that the SFA/SPL/SFL conglomerate can roll out their new aligned league structure soon, so that his team can once again be pushed for the title.

One Horse Race - Too Easy for Lennon

One Horse Race – Too Easy for Lennon

Brendan Rodgers: A striker, just not Andy Carroll.

Goals win games and Rodgers knows this. So the fact that his team have only hit the next 23 times in the first half of the season makes Rodgers letter to Santa an easy one. All he wants is a striker, someone capable of partnering Luis Suarez and hopefully chipping in an extra 10-15 goal in the second half of the campaign. With Borini struggling to come back from injury and Suso the only other viable option, Liverpool need a target man, even though they seem reluctant to recall their £35million man, Andy Carroll back from loan. Despite comments to the press before the loan was agreed suggesting Carroll was still in Rodgers plans, the fact that he hasn’t been recalled suggest this has now changed and the former Newcastle hit man will be sold off like a bad Christmas tree to anyone who is willing to take him. Newcastle may renew their interest but it will need to be nearer the £10million mark than the £35million one.

Anyone but you. Sorry Andy, you are just not my type

Anyone but you. Sorry Andy, you’re just not my type