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.”
Did an early exit from the Old Firm goldfish bowl help his development?
By Johnny Connelly
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?
New Hibs boss could head hunt his old players in January
By Johnny Connelly
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…
Tel looks bound for the capital, but is it the right move for him?
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.
Does Roy Have the Hart to Pick Forster?
By Johnny Connelly
Manchester City and England’s no.1, Joe Hart, added to his CV of calamity at the weekend by dropping another high profile clanger to gift Chelsea a late winner in the English Premier League.
All the while, Celtic’s man between the sticks continues to cruise through matches at a domestic level, and attract plaudits from all over Europe, most recently for his heroics against AC Milan, Barcelona, and Ajax.
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, for starters, Forster still seems to be about as far away from an England cap as ever.
The question is why? Surely it’s not a simple case of ignorance towards a top athlete because of the league he’s playing in?
Roy Hodgson’s England side have been uninspiring, although admittedly still churning out results in the qualifiers. Lapses in concentration from Joe Hart have historically put England under pressure, and given his current form, is it wise to trust a shaky pair of hands going into Rio 2014?
Who could forget his blunder against Scotland just a few months ago? His fumble against Southampton back in February? His corner flap to give Cardiff their first win over City in August? Or his misjudgement against Bayern Munich earlier in the month?
Any notion of replacing Hart was unthinkable last season, but suddenly the recurring errors have led to more than a few whispers of a less than guaranteed no 1 England jersey and on club form even Manuel Pellegrini is fighting to come up with excuses for Hart in the City goal.
In terms of realistic options for England, they have but three. John Ruddy, Ben Foster, or Fraser Forster. Three top goalkeepers, that much is clear, but for some reason Forster feels furthest away from the no.1 jersey.
There’s only so many times Forster can come up trumps in Champions League games, only to be fed lines like “we’re impressed with Fraser, and are watching his development.” Soon a time will come when the England manager has to come off the fence and make a call on his ability.
To choose Forster above any of the other potential suitors for the England no.1 jersey would be a brave decision. Elements of the English media and support believe their league to be the best in the world, so much so that to opt for a ‘keeper playing in Scotland would seemingly verge on an insult.
Forster has a proven big game mentality, and at just 25 years of age, has a good decade of top level football in him. Neil Lennon backs his goalkeeper to the hilt, and openly admits, “it’ll be impossible to keep the player here when he’s performing like that”.
Spanish star Xavi has also spoken of his admiration for the 6ft 7inch goalkeeper. The Barca talisman said: ‘I can’t say that I watch him every week – but when we have played Celtic he has shown that he is a world-class goalkeeper.
‘From what I have seen he has everything to succeed at a club like Barcelona – and with his Champions League performances for Celtic I am sure there will be more than one big club interested in him.’
All interest now turns to England’s upcoming friendlies with Chilie and Germany in November. The squad will be confirmed in the next few days, and given the non-competitive nature of the fixtures, Hodgson will never have a better chance to call-up or feature Forster, with little or nothing at stake.
Brave decisions by managers can be the difference between success and failure. Will Hodgson be brave enough to rise above the false stigma of the Scottish game to select Forster? We’ll find out soon…
Missed the football yesterday? Catch up with all the action on Peter & Roughie’s Football Show. Peter Martin, Alan Rough, and Gordon Duncan provide live commentary from Celtic’s clash with Dundee United. Live updates also included from every match in the SPFL, including updates from yours truly as Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caley Thistle took on a resurgent Killie in the Highlands…
Strach saves the day, and Fletch could take us above and beyond
by Johnny Connelly
If ever the influence of a single man was to be illustrated in the modern game of football, you’d need to go a fair distance to find a better example than the exhilarating start Gordon Strachan has made to the Scotland national squad.
A matter of months ago, Strachan took over a Scotland side that was unquestionably on the ropes, with an apathetic support and a team verging on the dreaded ‘pot 5’ seeding position. Now, with a modest number of personnel changes, Scotland are resurgent, thanks to that insatiable, nippy belief Strachan has injected into the squad.
In our last four competitive matches, we’ve won three (two of which were against the top seed in the group), and narrowly lost one. Strachan’s injection of belief into an ailing squad has shown just exactly what one man can do. This leads us to wonder, how much farther could we go with a top English Premiership striker firing on all cylinders. Enter, Steven Fletcher.
The big target man is now just days away from making his domestic return for Sunderland, and what a shot in the arm for Strachan’s men he’ll be if he stays injury free, and on top form for the national side.
It’s forever been a complaint of the long suffering Tartan Army that we don’t have a world class striker (with the physical stature of Fletcher at least). The former Hibee’s Scotland career has been stunted due to disagreements with former managers, and long-term injuries, but we’re now ready to forget about all that, and get behind him, as he could be the man to fire us to Euro 2016.
Throughout Fletcher’s career, he’s always been a goalscorer, and since his move to England, his rate has improved gradually, despite playing against increasingly difficult opposition.
Hibs – 156 apps, 43 goals (Goal every 3.6 games)
Burnley – 35 apps, 8 goals (Goal every 4.3 games)
Wolves – 61 apps, 22 goals (Goal every 2.7 games)
Sunderland – 31 apps, 12 goals (Goal every 2.5 games)
Scotland fans will be hoping and praying that this trend continues and transfers over to International level.
His physical prowess and intelligence to read the game in that position will fill a void for Scotland that’s been there for over a generation. The introduction of that type of player gives us a threat in the air from set pieces, someone who can hold the ball up well, and someone who can bring other players into the game.
The absence of that type of player has forced us to play pacey players as lone strikers, without any real physical dimension to our attacking play in the last third. Even against Croatia on Tuesday night, Strachan played a 5ft 10in Steven Naismith as something of a target man. Naismith, to give him his due, did incredibly well (as you’d expect with such a tenacious attitude to his play), but his talents in the side would ideally be utilised elsewhere.
With Fletcher as the target man striker, players like Naismith, Jordan Rhodes and Shaun Maloney would ultimately feel the benefit. His ability to hold the ball up, and feed into a smaller, pacey striker/winger, could be the key to forging a successful striking partnership (something else we’ve lacked for a significant number of years).
At only 26, Fletcher’s best years are ahead of him. He’ll hopefully be coming to the peak of his powers for the next qualification campaign. He’s looking better all the time scoring more and more goals, and learning from experience in one of the best leagues in the world. He could be the key to our qualification hopes.
There’s much in the way of patience and hard work to follow for Scotland. It’ll be almost a year before we play another competitive match, but we all know, for Gordon Strachan, there’s no such thing as a Friendly.
The fiery Scot will have his players pumped up to play USA in November, and whoever comes along before the Euro 2016 campaign kicks off. The Tartan Army will be in strong voice, the enthusiasm is brewing once more, and we could have a star striker to make all the difference.
Over to you Fletch.
Why Saints Were Right To Have Faith In Danny Lennon
by Johnny Connelly
(as seen on PLZSoccer.com) – 09/10/13
You could almost hear a faint knelling of a funeral bell, as the Grim Reaper sharpened his scythe and turned his damning gaze towards the managerial career of one, Danny Lennon at St Mirren just a few weeks ago.
The buzzards were circling; such is the intense nature of football in this country. A run of half a dozen poor results at the start of the season ensured that Danny Lennon was the red hot candidate to be the first manager in the SPFL to be sacked this season.
It was unanimous, there was no debate to be had. St Mirren were playing poorly, in rut you could say, and with Lennon at the helm, they were on the brink of being pulled into a relegation battle with crisis-stricken Hearts.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the Buddies picked up a spirited draw against Aberdeen, and a huge victory in a must-win fixture against Hearts. All of a sudden, the clouds from above St Mirren Park, and the football world begins to remember that (all things considered), Danny Lennon has done an excellent job as manager of the Paisley club.
St Mirren in recent years has been a club that budgets to finish 11th in the Scottish top flight. Under Lennon, the club have invested in a new stadium, achieved their highest league finish, and won their first major trophy in 26 years when they got their hands on the League Cup this year.
By all accounts, that’s about as good as Danny Lennon could be expected to do, given the resources available to him.
Prior to the Hearts game, if Lennon had been relieved of his duties, it’d have been far from the biggest shock in our game over the last few years. It would have been a foolish decision, as just a handful of matches can change everything.
St Mirren may well get relegated this season, and on the other hand, they may well finish in the top six. It’s just too early to make any kind of concrete prediction of that magnitude. We’re just 9 games into a league season, and unless there’s a readymade Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho willing to take over, it makes little or no sense to light the blue-touch paper and instigate the uproar that ensues when a club sacks their manager.
When Lennon was flying below the radar of scrutiny way back in August, Pat Fenlon was the man that bore the brunt of the sacking speculation. Yes, Hibs had a shocking start to the season, and yes, yet another Easter Road sacking wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of imagination, but just look at what can happen with a bit of time and support.
Fenlon’s men imploded to record a 9-0 aggregate defeat to Malmo, but now look at them. They are the form side in the SPFL, sitting in 5th place, just five points behind Inverness Caley Thistle in 2nd place, and they’ve lost just one of their last seven matches.
The real scrutiny in football nowadays should be happening at the appointment stage, not after a club has committed to a long term deal with a new manager. The gaffer who currently finds his head nearest the guillotine is Kilmarnock’s Allan Johnstone, and perhaps rightly so. Killie haven’t won a competitive match since 11th May, so the pressure on the management is understandable, and the patience placed in them won’t be inexhaustible.
As much as there can be a right time to part company with a manager in some circumstances, the virtue of patience has historically been proven to pay more dividends than any knee-jerk sackings.
Can you imagine what would currently stand for the global institution that is Manchester United if they’d given Fergie the bullet after 6 months? The biggest club in the world may never have reached their potential!
Conversely, the perils of knee-jerk sackings are all too apparent, especially in English football. The recent Paolo Di Canio debacle highlights this perfectly. Sunderland have hired and fired managers all too eagerly in recent times. Di Canio’s appointment came but a day after Martin O’Neill was relieved of his duties. The Sunderland board withstood criticism from all corners of their fan base for the original appointment, only to fire the manager after just 13 matches in charge.
St Mirren have done the right thing in backing Danny Lennon for the time being, and I sincerely hope the correct level of patience and faith is extended to all SPFL managers this season. Hibs, Hearts, and Killie (amongst others) have experienced a turbulent few years, purely because they’ve gone through a drove of managers in that time. Hibs have had 4 managers in 5 years, Hearts have had 4 in 3 years, and Killie have had 3 in 3 years.
Now, more than ever, a bit of patience, and dare I say it, common sense is required.
Make the right appointment, trust your judgement, and back your club to the hilt.
by Johnny Connelly
Back in 2007, then Scotland Under-21 coach Rainer Bonhof warned that Scott Brown, despite his obvious talent, “needs to be calmed to avoid disciplinary problems”.
Almost seven years on, the German’s words seem to have gone unheeded.
On the one hand, Scott Brown displays all the qualities of a world-beater. He’s 110% committed, is full of pace, tackles hard, will run all night for his team, has an infectious personality, and presents a considerable attacking threat.
Sadly, there’s more. There’s a seemingly unshakeable petulance too. So severe is this negative aspect of Brown’s play that it’s undermining his ability, so much so that some Hoops fans are beginning to wonder if the dynamic midfielder is even fit to wear the captain’s armband.
Frustration, disappointment and anger resonated around Celtic Park in midweek when Scott Brown, in a moment of madness, foolishly swiped at Neymar, resulting in a straight red card, and the disintegration of any hopes Celtic had of taking any points from the Catalan giants.
Until that point, in keeping with Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde behaviour, the Scotsman was one of the best Celts on the park. His tireless running and positional discipline made life difficult for Barca. Celtic were always facing the improbable, but when Brown lashed out, the improbable became impossible.
Given the importance of the Barcelona match, surely a failing on the part of the captain in this way should set alarm bells ringing in Neil Lennon’s head. The role of captain at any club is a great honour, and is usually bestowed upon only those with the utmost levels of integrity and ability to lead the team on all fronts. Can you imagine the likes of Paul McStay, Tom Boyd, or Danny McGrain kicking out at Neymar in such a prestigious match? It just wouldn’t have happened.
This, when added to Brown’s back catalogue of petulant bookings and repeatedly taking the bait when befaced with a confrontational scenario surely makes his tenure as captain questionable. Impressive performances and a gutsy swagger will get you far, but there’s more to it when it comes to being handed the captain’s armband at a big club.
Lennon must know in his heart of hearts that Brown’s behaviour is unacceptable. Barca match aside, Brown’s name has been thrown in to match reports in Europe for negative aspects in Celtic’s two other big European games so far this season. Another petulant foul against Shahktar Karagandy, and a clumsy, off the ball incident against AC Milan (leading to the deciding goal), add to and underline the question marks around Brown’s professionalism.
It is understandable that Lennon doesn’t criticise his players in a brazen manner, but from his comments about the Brown incident, it seems as though he genuinely believes the player’s actions were justifiable.
The likes of Giorgios Samaras could fill in nicely as captain, and is debatably a better candidate. It’s clear that Celtic can’t afford a liability in the Champions League. They may get away with silly fouls and sloppy play against SPFL opposition, given the gulf in class between Celtic and the rest of the pack; but in the Champions League, Neil Lennon’s men are invariably the underdog, and would be punished for handing the opposition any ill-gotten advantage.
Brown is a terrific player, but how long are the fans and the manager expected to put up with reckless behaviour? The Hoops captain isn’t a budding, raw, rough around the edges project anymore. He’s a grown man, he’s the captain of Celtic, and Scotland.
Now’s the time to start acting like a captain.
Why We Should Just Say No, to a Winter World Cup
By Johnny Connelly
Paradise Found? – An artist’s impression of one of the Qatar stadiums
There’s a very good reason why Nat King Cole’s famous ‘Christmas Song’ starts: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, and not “Neymar blazing over an open goal” – The World Cup is a summer event, and should be kept as far away from the festive season as T in the Park, Scottish Cup Final day, and 99’ cones at Ayr beach currently are.
Eyebrows were raised across the globe when Qatar was selected as the preferred bidder for the 2022 World Cup, especially over the likes of Australia, but this latest suggestion to shift the tournament to a November/December affair is a bridge too far, (in my eyes at least).
I fully understand that it could be troublesome to host a tournament in the height of summer in a country where the temperature at this time can frequently exceed 40 degrees, but the notion of it being warm in Qatar isn’t a new phenomenon. This begs the question, why even select Qatar as the hosts in the first place?
FIFA’s approach to the World Cup is abundantly clear. They’ve bought into this utopian idea to move the world’s premier football tournament to every far flung corner of the planet.
I’m all for raising the profile of the game in countries that aren’t steeped in the game. For example, the USA have never looked back since hosting the tournament in 1994, but their situation differs from that of Qatar’s in terms of infrastructure and cultural readiness for what is essentially a heavily westernised event.
FIFA’s motto, “For the game, for the world”, seems as though it couldn’t be further from reality. Given how inaccessible Qatar is to western tourists for this type of event, the average punter would have better luck going to the World Cup if it were hosted on the moon.
The disruption it’ll cause to domestic football would be at best bizarre, and at worst, catastrophic. The sheer logistics of working in a winter shutdown of two months or more across the biggest leagues in the world would decimate the rhythm of the traditional season, and could open a can of worms in terms of inviting the questioning of all our football traditions.
Traditions are what make our game ‘beautiful’, and when you start to challenge things like having the World Cup as a summer event with a carnival atmosphere, you’re toying with the very building blocks of the tournament itself.
Football purists will point you towards the likes of Espana ’82, Mexico ’86, and France ’98 to name but a few instances of how the World Cup should be hosted. The shambolic decision to award the tournament to a nation, then latterly question if it’s even possible for them to host it within the usual parameters really tears the Hollywood shine off what should be the biggest event in the world.
We can only hope that lessons are learned, and common sense prevails to allow the World Cup to retain its usual summer timeslot. Questions will be raised about the World Cup in Qatar in the lead up to, during, and after the tournament itself.
The hope is that in the future, the focus will once again return to bringing the games to the people, creating a carnival atmosphere, and facilitating a multicultural celebration of the beautiful game for all to enjoy – Tartan Army included of course!