Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scottish Football - A Slow Death

Scottish Football, if it was a horse, by now you’d have taken it to the barn and shot it. Following football North of the border has always been a testing pastime. With the exception of the early eighties with Aberdeen and Dundee United and the occasional splutter from the much vaunted ‘Old Firm’, supporting Scottish clubs or the national team in any kind of International setting has been akin to going to work in the morning and realizing you forgot to put your trousers on.

The difference many years ago though was that we actually produced players that had talent and gave us hope before the inevitable glorious defeat. McGrain, Souness, Hansen, Miller, Strachan, Dalglish, Archibald, Jordan. Even as recently as McAllister, Duncan Ferguson, Lambert, Collins, McCoist - and Stewart McKimmie. All good players and in some instances great players. So where did it all go wrong? Look no further than the English Premiership.

The globalization of football and the major leagues has all but killed interest in the leagues of the smaller Nations. Take a look at the once mighty Ajax of Amsterdam whom against now, English clubs would field a second string team. French and Portuguese clubs have mainly stuttered to a halt also in the European arena. Belgian clubs used to flourish, famous names such as Royal Antwerp (now a feeder club for ManYoo), Standard Liege, long since forgotten.

Why pay twenty quid to watch Dundee United serve up rubbish in the freezing cold when for the price of a Sky Sports Season ticket, you can watch Drogba at lunchtime, laugh at Paul Merson and co all afternoon, watch Rooney at tea time & then Lionel Messi before bed? Ask many kids in Scotland which team they support and a fair few will name a Premiership team first.

Rangers in particular have got themselves in a dreadful mess trying to keep pace with the Premiership when the revenues simply were not there. Everybody else then racked up debt trying to keep up in turn. We now have a domestic game riddled with debt and serving up produce not fit for human consumption.

This I also believe is the reason for the current standard of Scottish player. Many are blaming the Playstation generation but they will be the ones at fault for the lack of talent in years to come. The issue now I believe is the development from the age of sixteen years and upwards. A league full of third rate imported players has blocked domestic talent and the standard of football in the reserve and youth arena is simply not good enough. Take Darren Fletcher as an example. Does anyone really believe he is particularly more talented than many of his countrymen? What he has had is exposure to excellence in terms of the players around him from a young age and he has duly developed into a fine player.

I cannot believe that there is something genetically different (other than superior intellect North of the border of course) between people born in Glasgow or Edinburgh versus people born in Manchester, Merseyside or Newcastle. It is the access to top level football at a young age and the period approaching senior football that is the issue.

My own view is that the Premiership has had it’s time in the sun and that the ‘big 3’ of Italy (already in a huge mess), Spain and England are in steady decline. The Bundesliga is steadily improving and the French league is becoming more competitive again. Nothing lasts forever and the domination of the big leagues has proved to the detriment of all. Club debt is not restricted to the smaller leagues, it’s just the major leagues have had the revenues (step aside Leeds United) to service that debt. Bolton Wanderers currently have debts four times the size of Rangers, scary stuff. No one is saying Scottish football is dead but it is certainly not breathing without assistance. A decline South of the border might just be the tonic to revive the fortunes of football in the North.