Tim Lovejoy: Football Cretin

By Johnny Connelly

While wading through tedious online football news feeds today in search for some subject matter that differentiated even slightly from the big question, ‘who will Woy take to Bwazil?’, I stumbled across a much needed and brutally honest shot in the arm from the When Saturday Comes archives.

As an avid reader of football books, particularly those recommended by WSC, my eye was drawn to this latest offering, salvaged beautifully from the back catalogue of the popular off-the-wall football magazine’s review section.

My eyebrows raised in disbelief when the book in question for this review was an autobiography (of sorts) from smarmy former Soccer AM host, Tim Lovejoy. 

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Yes, that classic paperback that all football hipsters just couldn’t do without, ‘Lovejoy on football’. My heart sank for a brief moment, had WSC sold its soul to the devil? Endorsing something straight from the quill of a patterless John Terry-lover come cooking show host is tantamount to a golden handshake with Lucifer himself in the eyes of any football fan with even half a brain.

Thankfully, the true nature and purpose of the book review sets in early on. Phew.

Without spoiling the full review, critic Taylor Parkes hits the nail on the head when he describes these bound sheets of drivel as: part witless musing, and one more triumph for the crass stupidity rapidly replacing culture in this country. Hopelessly banal and nauseatingly self-assured, smirkingly unfunny, it’s a £300 T-shirt, a piss-you-off ringtone, a YouTube clip of someone drinking their mate’s vomit.”

I doubt even if Shakespeare had been around today, (and happened to share a fondness for the beautiful game), he’d have found a more encapsulating and accurate few lines of prose to portray the sheer piffle that Lovejoy puts across when discussing football, or anything else for that matter.

The delightfully savage review, in all its glory can be read here.

If you’re looking for the perfect birthday or Christmas present for that thicko football fan you so unfortunately have to endure through family or work commitments on a regular basis, then look no further. 

For The Love of Ledley

Hoops fans should shed no tears over the departed Welshman

By Johnny Connelly

Joe Ledley in his Celtic days

Here today, gone tomorrow. Ledley sought pastures new

In the modern day soap opera that is football in this country, fans have learned the hard way that everything that comes out the mouths of players and managers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

One day a player can be your hero; the next, he’s the enemy. Football by its very nature is a fickle beast. There’s an element of showmanship and bravado from players and managers around transfer window time, that’s a given. When I read Joe Ledley’s parting comments about his ‘beloved’ Celtic, I did begin to wonder if he managed to articulate them with a straight face.

After a tedious potential contract extension saga, Ledley packed his bags, leaving the Champions League behind, opting instead for a relegation dogfight at Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace.

The Welshman was quoted as saying he, “didn’t’ want to leave”, before subsequently doing so. Players come, and players go, but are the supporters in this country perhaps guilty of naivety when it comes to choosing their heroes?

When it comes to the affections of the fans, Ledley was debatably the most popular player in the squad. In years gone by, a hero at a big club was defined by sublime ability and unwavering loyalty. Does Ledley fit this mould?

The likes of Paul McStay and Lubo Moravcik stayed at the Parkhead club until the end of their playing days. Italian giants Fiorentina moved for Artur Boruc, and it took the lure of Barca to prize a tearful Henrik Larsson from Parkhead. Celtic fans seem only too happy when a player moves on for a bigger opportunity; but perhaps some of them should grudgingly admit that to lose a player like Ledley to a smallish English Premiership club like Crystal Palace does leave something of a bad taste in their mouths.

Don’t get me wrong, Ledley was a terrific talent. A dogged, professional midfielder who rarely looked out of place at the highest level; but he was also reportedly the highest paid player in the squad (alongside Scott Brown), so he was well looked after, and enjoyed the adoration of the fans.

The new Palace signing seems to have been a likeable, honest character who wouldn’t say a bad word about Celtic or anyone at the club. That said, it sadly looks as though Ledley’s raison d’être is to make as much money as possible in his career, rather than chase silverware.

It’s clear that Ledley ran down his contract at Cardiff to secure a big wage at Celtic, and ran down his contract at Celtic to better position himself for a move to Crystal Palace.

Playing for Celtic seems to be something that leaves a lasting effect on players. On his official twitter account, Ledley posted: “Thank you so much to all the fans for being so supportive throughout my time at Celtic. A truly amazing club”, and referred to the Parkhead faithful in a passionate sign off, tweeting: “Best Fans ever, will miss you all!”

Days into his move down south, he delved a little deeper about the move. He said: “It was a good deal for Celtic because they got some money, and it was a good deal for me too.”

Given the phenomenal sums of money that are thrown at top players these days, it’s hard to judge them. These guys are people too, they’re not made of stone, and it takes a lot to turn down an increase of several thousand pounds per week (and a rather juicy signing on fee).

Although players like Ledley shouldn’t be emotionally crucified for chasing money instead of trophies; they shouldn’t be held in the same high regard as the real heroes of yesteryear either. Ledley gave a good account of himself at Celtic, but was paid handsomely for it, and is in no way irreplaceable. His dignified and professional approach to his on the field exerts will ensure his lasting memory at Celtic Park is a positive one, but as far as hero status is concerned, he’ll always be left short.

In every crisis, there is opportunity, and with every big player that’s left a big club in Scotland, scope for an even greater player to fill his boots is created.

Shed no tears Hoops fans. A top earner has left, and the next chapter of your glorious club is ready to be written.

Killie’s Prodigal Son Could Seal Top 6 Finish

By Johnny Connelly

Alexei Eremenko

Alexei Eremenko – The key man?

As the eyes and ears of Scottish football fans turned towards Parkhead in expectance of an injection of excitement to the transfer window in this Scotland; the attention turned to the Ayrshire coast as Finnish international Alexei Eremenko secured an unexpected switch back to Kilmarnock.

Killie’s talisman playmaker of the 2010-2011 season joined Allan Johnstone’s men until the end of the season, and his technical ability has sparked hopes of a top six finish, as well as a bit more excitement in general at Rugby Park.

First time around, it was then manager Mixu Paatelainen who used his homeland contacts to procure Eremenko on loan from Metalist Kharkiv. The midfield dynamo wasted little time in making his mark, scoring the winner on his debut against St Mirren with a tantalising free kick.

After the match, Eremenko said: “ I made some good passes at the start of the game which gave me confidence. It was an okay performance from me, but I can even play much better than this.”

He wasn’t kidding. Eremenko went on to light up what was then the SPL, carving out a place in Scottish football folklore as potentially the most gifted player to grace a Kilmarnock shirt in 20 years.  He scored a handful of goals that season, and transformed Killie’s attacking play with his ability to split defences with precision passes.

His skills drew crowds and plaudits, so much so that both Celtic and Rangers made enquiries about acquiring the player’s services. A big money move to Rubin Kazan ensued, but he failed to hold down a place in the team, presumably as a result of the options available thanks to the club’s vast wealth.

Eremenko’s record for the Finland national team (59 caps and 14 goals) also proves that the silky flair player can perform at the highest level, and now has invaluable experience that would benefit any club in Scotland.

Killie currently sit 8th in the SPFL. They’ve had an inconsistent season so far, and are widely considered as safe from relegation, but with Kris Boyd having netted 15 times so far, the introduction of an attacking playmaker like Eremenko could push him up over the 20 goal mark, and move Killie into the top half of the table.

With any luck Eremenko’s return will bring about an increase in crowds at Rugby Park, but at the very least, his sublime skills will improve the profile of our league overall.

During his last loan spell, Eremenko helped guide the Ayrshire club to a comfortable 5th placed finish in the SPL. There’s a bit of work to do to replicate that feat again, but it’s far from impossible. Allan Johnstone’s men are edging away from the pack at the foot of the table as each week passes, and now find themselves just 9 points behind a wayward Dundee United who haven’t won any of their last 6 matches in the SPFL.

As Eremenko parted ways with Killie last time around, he made a promise to return. He is certainly a man of his word. This week he also said: “I don’t think I played against Kris (Boyd) when he was at Rangers the last time I was here. But I watched Saturday’s game with Inverness and I think I can make him score even more goals.”

Everyone at Kilmarnock will be hoping that he continues to be a man of his word, as this partnership with Boyd could make the difference between them finishing in the top and bottom 6 come May.

With just 8 games remaining before the split, the clock is ticking for Killie and Eremenko.

Extending An Olive Branch to Jorge Cadete

Is it time to kick-start a support network for ex-Celts?

by Celtic fan, Kes Devaal

Thanks to the boom & bust world we live in, all too frequently we’re hearing of people from all walks of life falling on financial hard times. At the tail end of last week, we learned that even former Celtic superstars aren’t exempt from this peril.

Jorge Cadete scores for Celtic

He puts the ball in the netty – Jorge Cadete at his peak

When the news broke that Jorge Cadete is now flat broke, moved back in with his parents, and living on benefits, I felt saddened.

As a Celtic fan, I remember Cadete’s playing days fondly, but I was shocked to see an element of the Hoops’ support reacted bitterly towards his misfortune. Comments on blogs and social media sites showed that there is a contingent of Celtic supporters that feel the manner in which Cadete left the club in some way justifies the player’s hardship now.

This is not the Celtic way, and I’m beginning to think that the club (both fans and officials) should look to create a support network for ex-players.

It was the late, great, Tommy Burns who brought Jorge Cadete to Celtic, back in the mid 90’s. Burns inherited a wounded Celtic who were limp competition to a dominant high spending Rangers side. The fans suffered through the disappointment and turbulence of the Brady and Macari years, but Burns injected hope and excitement back into Celtic with a flamboyant style of play, and by attracting players with the boisterous dynamism of Jorge Cadete.

The fact that this period yielded limited silverware seemed almost insignificant at the time, as our beloved Celtic were back, scoring goals, playing lucid, attacking football, and for the first time since the late 80’s, challenging a stellar Rangers side.

Cadete arrived at Celtic with a CV that failed to fill Hoops fans with optimism. The Sporting Lisbon striker was on loan at Brescia, and managed just a single goal for them in a calendar year, before Burns made the move to bring him to Celtic. He hand’t kicked a ball in 5 months, yet his debut against Aberdeen was unforgettable…

The Portuguese international came off the bench to net the fifth in a demolition of Aberdeen at Celtic Park, and went on to net 34 times in 44 appearances the following season. Cadete was easily the most exciting Celtic striker since the days of Brian McClair and Charlie Nicholas. Complete with iconic spaghetti haircut and unmistakeable celebration, and goals-a-plenty, Cadete soon became a hero.

I appreciate that the nature of Cadete’s departure at the time left many Celtic fans feeling a bit raw and generally let down, so it’s understandable that some might want to stay detached from his unfortunate circumstances. I also appreciate that it’s a players responsibility to manage their money responsibly during their career. That said, it has made me ponder about what clubs can do, in particular, Celtic.

Wouldn’t it fit perfectly within the ethos of Celtic to put in place a structured support scheme to guide and support former players who’re in danger of falling on hard times?

By this I don’t mean writing cheques to further line their pockets, but investment advice, emotional support and an ongoing relationship with the club that could mutually benefit Celtic, the fans, and the former player.

The subsequent years since Cadete’s time at the club have been joyous for the most part. The magic of players like Cadete and managers like Burns played a huge part in the evolution of the club, a part that we must never forget.

Without question there have been thousands of Celtic fans down the generations who’ve carried the charitable/goodwill torch for the club with unconditional service. There are too many legitimate examples of this to mention, and that in the main remains intact. My concern is that there is a growing undercurrent of the Celtic support being selective.

In my opinion I sense there is a ‘pick & choose’ mantra amongst the Celtic diaspora of which ex Celts receive our support . Celtic Football Club, and the fans are relentless in broadcasting our proud all inclusive charitable ethos.

The mixed response to Jorge Cadete’s sad news however conflicts with that notion. There is a long list of ex-Celts whose careers at Paradise have maybe ended awkwardly, or where they have been a shade economical in engineering a sharp exit down London Road for more money elsewhere. Yet for reasons that remain unclear, these individuals seem immune to any criticism or hard feelings from the support.

Without sounding like some idealistic moral crusader,  I believe these servants to the club deserve a support mechanism. Making initial support, training, and professional advice available for them would show the football world that we genuinely are what the morally rich club that we say we are.

The relationship between the fans and the players we take on as heroes is a true loyal bond that stays with us for the entirety of our existence.

If Celtic truly are up there with Barca to be considered as “Més que un club” (More than a club), then perhaps we should start to prove it with gestures such as this one, showing undeniable and unconditional compassionate support.

Transfer Embargo Breaking Hearts

It’s time to let the Jambos sign players again

By Johnny Connelly

As the crippled Edinburgh club continue to battle against the odds on what feels like oh so many fronts, a glimmer of hope has emerged for their beleaguered fan base, as the SPFL board ponder a plea from Hearts’ administrators to allow them to sign players again.
Gary Locke’s side sit 20 points adrift at the bottom of Scotland’s elite division with just 16 games to go. They are fighting tooth and nail in every match, but when you look at the threadbare and inexperienced shell of a playing squad they have at their disposal, it’s clear that the club (and particularly the fans) have been punished in a draconian manner.

Tynecastle Stadium

A club in crisis – Hearts are amid their toughest fight yet

Unless the SPFL revoke this transfer embargo, Scotland will almost certainly lose one of its biggest clubs via relegation to the Championship. What a sorry state of affairs for this SPFL season if the status quo remains in place. We’re only halfway through January, and you could safely assume Celtic will run away with the title, and Hearts will fall foul of relegation. Unless something outrageous happens, the second half of our currently sponsorless Premiership is in danger of being a damp squib.

Understandably, rules and protocols are there to be followed; but with the evolution of our game, they’re arguably there to be challenged and improved upon too. Barely a season goes past without a handful of proposals at least being discussed. Everything from summer football to disciplinary procedures is up for discussion, and we’ll continue to fashion our game into an improved product over time.

There are always exceptions to any rule, and given the bizarre circumstances surrounding the downfall of Hearts, it’s clear that an exception for their transfer embargo should be considered.

Punishing a club for going into administration is understandable. It promotes financial prudence, and makes an example of clubs who’ve been reckless with things like inflated transfer fees, and bloated wage bills.

Hearts went into administration in June 2013, but the club’s finances have been questionable for years, all thanks to the disastrous tenure of Vladimir Romanov. If administration is supposed to be a punishment for a club, then I’d argue that Hearts (staff, players, and fans) have been receiving something of a punishment of sorts for the most part ever since Romanov seized control of the Gorgie club back in 2004.

Despite a spattering of highlights and a positive start in the early days, the Romanov era will long be remembered as one of the most catastrophic and farcical saga’s that any club in Scotland has ever had to endure.

Since going into administration, Hearts have had to unceremoniously part with the lion’s share of their first team squad. The fans have been asked to put their hands in their pockets time after time to keep the club’s hand to mouth existence going, and they’ve done so without question.

They continue to be called upon financially, turning up in good numbers and in strong voice to support their club its hour of need. Gary Locke is currently struggling to get enough bodies together to fill his starting 11 and subs bench. Just a few free transfers in January (perhaps  the likes of Rudi Skacel or Andrew Driver) could make all the difference, and could give the Jambos a sporting chance of surviving in the Premiership.

Yes, the fans have been punished by way of administration, but they’ve been suffering all along since 2004. Sporting integrity and common sense in this case show that the rules need looked at again, as Hearts’ punishment doesn’t befit their crimes.

Celts in Europe – Was it really so awful?

by Johnny Connelly

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As a dejected Celtic side trudged off after a 6-1 skelping against the majestic Barcelona, Hoops fans voiced their anger and frustration at what many of them judged to be an inferior and lacklustre performance by their heroes.

Now that the dust has settled, was it really so awful? Both in terms of the performance on the night, and the effort given in the Champions League overall?

True enough, Barcelona demolished Celtic. Not since 1965 have Celtic conceded six goals in a single match; but on the night, what could have been done to stop the rampant Catalan side?

Twitter, Facebook, and football phone-in frequenters were aghast at Neil Lennon’s team selection, (after the match of course). What a fine thing hindsight is. The most frequent questions asked circulated around the omission of Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, and Anthony Stokes.

I’m sorry, but does anyone really believe that  the inclusion of any of these players would have reigned-in the likes of Xavi and hat-trick-hero Neymar? Celtic were played off the park, in every area of the park. Surely there’s no permutation of Neil Lennon’s current Celtic squad that could’ve changed the outcome of the game? The fact is, when Barca set the heather alight, the best teams in the world struggle restrain them.

If we’re truly honest, Celtic have rode their luck against Barcelona pretty much every time they’ve come up against them in modern history, even when they’ve managed to beat them. Particularly in the last handful of fixtures between the clubs, Barca have had the lion’s share of chances and territorial possession.  Brave, resilient performances from Celtic have helped keep these matches tight, with any defeats being inflicted by the odd goal, but given the gulf between the sides and the control held by the Spanish giants, a heavy drubbing was always a possibility.

The expectation of Celtic fans is for their team to play well, contest every game, and win in style when it’s humanly possible. To achieve what they have in recent times in the Champions League is formidable. As much as this season’s Champions League campaign could be viewed as disappointing, Celtic have in no way been humiliated, when compared with the other  teams that finished bottom of their group in the competition.

Marseille, Copenhagen, Anderlecht, CSKA Moscow, and Real Sociedad for example all finished 4th. Nobody would dispute that these sides are major European entities, so there’s no shame in suffering a similar fate to them.

Although Celtic have previously reached the knockout stages, to do so this year seems to require major financial clout. When we compare Celtic’s first team wage budget to some of the sides that topped their groups, we begin to understand the David v Goliath nature of the task they face.

Celtic pay just over £300,000 every week on wages to their squad. This is by no means miserly, but Borussia Dortmund (top of Group F), pay almost three times as much. Chelsea pay more than six times more than Celtic in terms of wages, and Barcelona pay an astonishing, 11 times more than Celtic.

Perhaps a shift in mentality from the fans is required. Sadly, Celtic can’t be the world-beaters they were in the 60’s and 70’s. Since then it’s been a rollercoaster ride. For every triumph against Man Utd, Juventus, and Barcelona; there’s been an implosion against Neuchatel Xamax, Wacker Innsbruck, or Artmedia Bratislava.

Celtic are operating well on and off the field at the moment. A few key signings could give them the edge and excitement they long for. Ok, they won’t win the Champions League anytime soon, but 99% of clubs in Europe are in that same boat.

Crack a smile Hoops fans; your team are cruising to another league title, competing in Europe every year, and living within their means. There’ll be ups and downs; good times and bad. Sit back, and enjoy the ride.

A matter of faith for Neil Lennon

Do Pukki and Balde just need games?
 
By Johnny Connelly

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As Celtic crashed out of European football this week, much was made of their sloppy defending on the night; but the real issue throughout the campaign has been the lack of firepower in the final third.
 
Just two goals in their five group games is a worrying stat. That worrying stat becomes an alarming stat when you then remember that one of those goals was a penalty, and the other was a deflection. Whichever way you look at it, Celtic’s attacking presence has been sub-par for the Champions League.
 
After losing Gary Hooper in the summer, Neil Lennon knew he needed to sign at least one striker. He secured two, Teemu Pukki, and Amido Balde. 
 
Neither player has had a great run of games. They’ve both looked off the pace, and bereft of a killer instinct in the penalty box. This is undeniable, but would a significant run of games in the first team have changed things? 
 
The pressure to succeed at big clubs is huge, and Celtic are no different, but players are only human. It must be difficult coming in from a foreign league and being expected to start rattling in the goals. Admittedly, some players can do it, but others struggle. 
 
One example of a Celt that took a bit of time to settle rolls of the tongue, John Hartson. The big Welshman came to Celtic with a top pedigree, but he too looked out of sorts at the beginning of his Celtic career. Remarkably, it took Hartson 11 games in a Celtic jersey before he found the back of the neck. He then went on to become a legend and a hero for the Parkhead club.
 
Hartson started each of these 11 games, and his then manager, Martin O’Neill, put faith in the signing he made in order to succeed. 
 
To directly compare Pukki & Balde to a class act like Hartson verges on unfair, but perhaps the issue of faith in your signings does ring true. 
 
Since signing back in August, Pukki has started 9 from 16 games, and Balde has started just 2 from 18 games. From that you could assume that Balde has some way to go before he’s a first team regular, but even Pukki, with significantly more appearances, didn’t get a run of games longer than 4 games, and most of the games he missed have come in the Champions League (the very place he was signed to make a difference in).
 
Instead, Lennon has opted for the likes of Georgios Samaras, who despite his tenacious attitude, is a left-winger rather than a striker; and Anthony Stokes, who struggles at the highest level. 
 
The Celtic boss seems frustrated with his options, and he’s clearly unimpressed by his summer signings in that department. 

After the 3-0 home defeat to AC Milan, he said: “We’ve competed again tonight but just that quality at the top end of the pitch has caught up with us.”

 
“When the squad’s not as big as some other squads it does tend to bite you.
 
“If we’re going to look to the future and continue to play in the Champions League, we have to improve with the squad we have now and we have to improve on recruitment as well for next year.”
 
Celtic can’t go and sign a £10m-£15m, it would make no financial sense, so to try and make the most of a £2m-£3m player is the trick. 
There are alternatives. Putting faith in youth, or in domestic signings (would the likes of Billy McKay or Nadir Ciftci really do any worse for Neil Lennon than any of his current crop?) are always options. 
Only Lennon will know how he truly feels about the likes of Pukki and Balde. Only he will know in his mind whether he feels any merit in giving them a run of games to prove themselves, or whether they’ll be consigned to the room 101 of Celtic signings.

The Rise and Rise of David Marshall

Did an early exit from the Old Firm goldfish bowl help his development?

By Johnny Connelly

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Result apart, there were few positives to be taken from Scotland’s 1-0 away win against Norway earlier this week, but few could dispute the plaudits received by David Marshall for his heroics between the sticks. 

A string of terrific saves, and an overall competent performance secured a clean sheet for Strachan’s resurgent Scotland side, and has further cemented the general opinion that Marshall has become a top goalkeeper.

It’s a far cry from the shaky teenager that emerged in a Celtic jersey in 2004 in the most bizarre of circumstances in the Nou Camp. That night against Barcelona, presumably running on adrenaline, the young ‘keeper gave the performance of his life, and replicated the feat in the home leg to help Celtic knock-out the Catalan giants. 

Things at Celtic quickly went sour for Marshall. Conceding 5 against Artmedia Bratislava, and 4 against Motherwell in quick succession left then Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, of the opinion that Marshall was surplus to requirements. 

How ironic now that Strachan is the man to thrust Marshall back into the limelight on the international scene. Marshall has now secured two consecutive clean sheets for Scotland, and has been at the heart of a robust Cardiff unit in the English Premiership.

The development in the keeper, who’s still just 28, is remarkable by comparison to his Celtic days.

I’m sure many football fans back in 2005 would’ve written Marshall off as a sub-standard keeper, but is that a failing of the pressures attached to being thrown into the Old Firm goldfish bowl at a young age? The pressure to perform without any modicum of weakness or nervousness for Celtic has proven to be the undoing of many players over the years. 

When Marshall was cast off to Norwich to carve out a career in England, few expected him to re-emerge as a contender for the Scotland jersey. 

Years of developing his game in the English Championship in his early 20’s was arguably the best thing for him. Playing for Norwich, in such a competitive league, where there was no expectation of a clean sheet every week, perhaps allowed Marshall to develop naturally, at his own pace, and fulfil the potential that Celtic identified in him as a lad. 

He’s now approaching 150 appearances for Cardiff, through the good times and the bad. He’d never have been allowed that development time at Celtic, so should Celtic be factoring in long term outbound loan deals when developing youngsters? The Marshall case backs this theory, and perhaps there are other examples too.

Charlie Mulgrew’s story echoes this idea. Mulgrew left Celtic as a rough-around the edges 20 year old who wasn’t good enough to hold down a first-team slot. To keep him in the squad for 4/5 years beyond this in the hope that he comes good would be folly, but look at how things have panned out. Mulgrew spent a handful of years playing first team football at Dundee United, Wolves, Southend and Aberdeen, before returning to Celtic as a completely different player. 

Just under 5 years of first-team football, cutting his teeth, has helped Mulgrew become an accomplished professional, worthy of being a Celtic and Scotland regular. 

There are so many examples of promising young former Old Firm players who disappeared off the radar, that a longer, or more complicated development period is surely something worth considering. 

Sometimes throwing a youngster in and expecting a hero to emerge is asking too much, even in the idealistic world of the Old Firm fan. As football grows and develops, we can expect approaches to player development to grow and develop too. Surely it’s worth reviewing this process to maximise the potential of players, both for the good of our game on the domestic, and international front?

Will Terry, Butcher Inverness To Rescue Hibs?

New Hibs boss could head hunt his old players in January

By Johnny Connelly

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After two weeks of poker-faces and media speculation, the cat’s out the bag, and Terry Butcher has been confirmed as the new manager of Hibernian Football Club. The ferociously passionate Englishman has left Inverness (albeit with a heavy heart), and taken on a new challenge and adventure with a huge club in the capital.

Butcher has proven himself to be a capable manager in recent years, most recently propelling a club of reasonably small stature like Inverness Caledonian Thistle to 2nd in Scotland’s top flight, with very little resource at his disposal.

The lure of the being invited to manage a club that has the history, fanbase, stature and potential resources to become a force in Scotland proved too much to refuse for Butcher, but many suspect that the measure of his success will be based on the players he brings in, rather than what he can do with the current squad. 

When we take a look at the Inverness starting XI that faced Hibs last week, we see that Butcher signed 9 of them, and brought the other two through as youth players. That apart, the remarkable thing about Butcher’s Inverness team is that he didn’t spend a penny in transfer fees. 

This shows us that Butcher has the ability to identify top players on a shoe-string budget, and motivate them to compete with and often defeat the best the league has to offer.  Given the success he’s had with the core unit at Inverness, all eyes will be on his transfer dealings in January to see if he attempts to bring any of his Caley Thistle players down the road to Edinburgh. 

Given that HIbs are the lowest scoring side in the SPFL, perhaps a goalscorer will be top of Terry Butcher’s wish list at his new club? If so, there can be fewer hotter properties than Inverness and indeed the SPFL’s top scorer, Billy McKay. The nippy striker has found the net 10 times so far this season, and is contracted to the Highland club until 2015, so any move would require a substantial transfer fee (as Butcher admitted only a few months ago: http://www1.skysports.com/football/news/11795/8972286/)

 Perhaps the attacking prowess of young Aaron Doran will be at the forefront of Butcher’s transfer plans? The 22-year old Irishman has been a hit since his move from Blackburn Rovers, more so this season than ever before. His pace, energy, and ability to use the ball well at both ends of the field has made him an invaluable asset for Caley Thistle, but he too is tied up in a contract there until 2016. Again, a transfer fee would be required to seal the deal, assuming of course the player wanted to make the switch. 

Leaking goals has been an issue for Hibs this season, with vulnerability on the wings clearly visible. Will Butcher opt to bolster his squad by hunting down an old full back of his? If so, would he consider going after either Graeme Shinnie or Carl Tremarco? Shinnie has rarely been displaced since coming through as a youth player, and Tremarco’s tough tackling style has helped him hold down a regular spot in the Caley Thistle team. Shinnie is tied up until the summer of 2015, but Tremarco’s contract is set to expire in the summer so he’d appear to be the more easily obtainable player. 

Terry Butcher will know in his mind exactly how he plans to go about galvanising his Hibs squad. The limits of his transfer budget in January, and indeed the summer could have an effect on who he buys, but history has taught us to treat his signing policy with respect. 

The well respected Englishman is relishing his new challenge, if what he said to the press the other day is to be believed:  “It was a simple decision really. I wanted to be at a bigger club and that is no disrespect to Inverness. 

“The training facilities, the stadium, the fan base and the potential was just too much for me to say no to.”

“I’m excited about the future and what we can achieve at Hibernian,” concluded Butcher.

Perhaps shrewdly tying up his prized Caley Thistle assets up on longer deals could come back to haunt him? Or could the wily manager surprise us all again by unearthing more gems from the English lower divisions? 

Whichever tactics he deploys to reverse the fate of the club will have full backing from the fans, but he’ll have to move swiftly to get off to a positive start, and he’ll no doubt do everything in his power to avoid becoming the 8th head to roll at Easter Road in as many years. 

Your move Terry…

Decision time for Butcher

Tel looks bound for the capital, but is it the right move for him?

By Johnny Connelly
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In stark contrast to the sentiments expressed by the man last week, Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Terry Butcher looks set to become the next manager of Hibernian.

Those of you who listened in to The Football Show on PLZSoccer.com last Saturday will have heard Butcher describe the rumours connecting him to the vacant post at the much maligned Edinburgh club as “pure speculation”. He continued on, saying that the only people talking about him leaving his current position were “you boys (journalists present)”, and concluded by saying “I’ve brought these players here, I’m staying here.”

It appears the old cliché, “a week is a long time in politics”, also rings true for the beautiful game. Widespread reports have connected Butcher with the Hibs job, and the media juggernaut appears to be gathering momentum on this matter.

Given the troubles and inconsistencies that Hibs have faced in recent years, it’s widely agreed that a manager who’s as capable as Terry Butcher would have a positive effect, and could steady the ship at the Easter Road.

The reasoning for the approach by Hibernian is clear, but the appeal of the job to Terry Butcher, for me, is less apparent.

Terry Butcher’s Caley Thistle side are flying high. They finished 3rd in the SPL last year, and are challenging for 2nd place this year. If Butcher could guide Inverness to a 2nd place finish, he’d be engraved into Highland folklore for generations to come. Given the lack of funds he’s had at his disposal, his achievements are nothing short of remarkable.

Surely Butcher can do no wrong if he stays where he is? Even if Caley Thistle slipped to mid-table mediocrity, he’d be unlikely to come under any major scrutiny, and would still be regarded as a top candidate for future roles thanks to his past achievements.

The charismatic Englishman would be unlikely to be given as much leeway if he makes the switch to the capital. The expectations at Hibs are high, given the stature of the club. For some reason or other, they’ve consistently underachieved, and the Easter Road hotseat has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent years.

Hibs have gone through 6 managers in 8 years. Butcher would seriously have his work cut out for him to buck the trend and deliver success there. Perhaps that’s the lure for him, to take a club on its knees, and transform them into a tenacious outfit, capable of challenging for honours.

Perhaps he wants to prove that his success at Inverness Caledonian Thistle hasn’t been a fluke? The money Butcher would get to spend at Hibs will be only fractionally greater (presumably) than his budget at Caley Thistle, with almost instant results demanded of him, and the overbearing character of Rod Petrie looming over him, potentially encroaching on his decision-making power at the club. Any success at Hibs would be as remarkable as anything he’s done at Caley Thistle, yet he could possibly receive less praise there, given the expectations of the club.

What’s the end game for Butcher? What’s his overall goal as a manager in Scotland’s top flight? It’s a fair assumption to make that it won’t be to win the title, given the current gulf between Celtic and the rest of the pack, so is his ultimate goal to guide a club to 2nd place? If so, then surely staying at Inverness, a team he’s spent years fashioning into an effective unit capable of challenging for such a position, would be a better bet.

Does he eventually want to make the leap to the English Championship? Again, if so, why not stay with Inverness Caledonian Thistle? Surely guiding a smaller club to 2nd or 3rd in the league would be perceived as a greater achievement than securing those positions for a bigger club like Hibs?

Barnsley came knocking for Butcher last year and he decided against it. If England is where he sees his future, then perhaps he sees it at a higher level than that of Barnsley.  Given what we know of Terry Butcher’s character, money would be unlikely to be the catalyst for any move in his management career, so the lure of a bigger challenge, at a bigger club, is widely regarded as what’ll see him make the switch to Hibernian.

The big Englishman have everyone on the edge of their seats as we await his decision on where his future lies. As chance would have it, Butcher’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle side will take on Hibs on Saturday.

Rod Petrie and the Easter Road faithful could experience first-hand, the strength and organisation that Terry Butcher brings to a team, and the Highland club could be taking one last look at the greatest manager they’ve had in their brief history so far.

Where will Butcher be managing this time next week? Only time will Tel.