Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Feeding Ground for Stars

I’ve lost count of the times, after watching Rangers struggle through another game; my English housemate’s have taken great delight in putting it down in comparison with even the Championship. Of course pride takes over, with the Scottish league defended to the hilt but it has come a point that I may have to admit defeat.
The Championship has become one of the most competitive and unpredictable leagues in the world. The attendance figures are staggering for being a second tier league. In the 2008-2009 season it came only behind the top leagues in England, Germany and Spain, beating Serie A and League 1 from France. While the quality may be higher in the Premiership, La Liga, Italy and the like, they are increasingly having only two or three teams fighting it out for the title. Compare this to the Championship where there is only 7 points between 2nd and 8th, chasing a QPR side who are quite rightly surging ahead.

Didn't quite work for Strachan
As a betting man, the Championship is a proverbial minefield when it comes to the weekly coupon. On any given day one team can beat another, a fact proved by pre-season promotion favourites Middlesbrough currently scrapping it out in the bottom half. The team of proven SPL ‘stars’ has failed miserably; meaning my argument for the SPL is getting even thinner on the ground.
One area in which the Championship holds power over the Scotland’s top league is the standard of player it manages to produce. With talents such as Conner Wickham, Jonny Howson, Shane Long and Scott Sinclair lighting up the division along with a great selection of others; it puts the relative standard of player in Scotland into perspective, for instance I doubt any player from outside the top 2 could hold down a place in a Championship play-off side. One man however has shown how good a breeding ground the division can be.
Adel Taarabt has been an inspiration to his QPR side, who sit with their feet resting on the others at the top of the table. His gaffer, Neil Warnock, described him as ‘talented, exciting and frustrating’ and they are probably the 3 best words to sum him up. With the attitude of a sulking child at times, he looks like he wants to pick up the ball and go home if things aren’t going his way.

Breath of Fresh Air

However the first two are the most important. His movement, skills, assists and goals have been the difference between a playoff place and almost certain title glory. A man who would be chased out of Scotland for his lack of effort at times in a league which prides itself on its work ethic, has been a shining example of confidence producing success. A certain Charlie Adam might just agree with me.
The play-off system in England’s second tier is another reason which further puts down my bias towards the SPL. The top and bottom half split in Scotland has gone drastically wrong and has left the embarrassing situation of 7th place finishing with more points than those in 6th. Change is needed and has begun to be addressed recently by the SFA which may help the league in the long-run.

Brilliant spectacle for fans and neutrals

In the present however the Championship has a clear edge. The 2nd to 6th play-off structure gives a great end to the season. Last season’s final between Cardiff and Blackpool was a fantastic game of football and a great advert for the league; whereas an end of season game between St Mirren and Hamilton on television doesn’t exactly promote the Scottish game. With Cardiff, Swansea, Forest, Norwich and Leeds all fighting it out at the top at the minute, it leaves a mouth watering line up for the end of the season.
The performance of the promoted 3 from last season is also an encouraging factor in showing the quality of the league. Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool have made a tremendous fight of avoiding relegation this season, leading to 10 points separating 7th to 20th place. This shows the gap between the two is smaller than would be imagined. Even for an Old Firm supporter it is hard to think that we would break into the top half of the Premiership within 5 years of joining.
So as I sit here scratching my head for reasons the SPL is better my mind’s a blank. This may be my own fault but I think I may have to admit defeat to those gloating Englishmen. Apart from the sheer passion, and occasional exciting game, which arrives on Old Firm day, Scotland’s ‘finest’ league doesn’t have all that much to offer.
From now I’ll be keeping quiet when the next piece of bait is cast towards me, resisting the temptation to bite and hoping with everything I’ve got England somehow fail to qualify for Euro 2012 so I have something to fight back with.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Masters v The Minnows

Pele: Arguably the greatest
Lucio, Dani Alves, Pato, Neymar. While the Brazilian names of the present don't strike the same sort of fear as the Pele's, Jarzinho's and Romario's of old, the South Americans still have a presence that the footballing world appreciates. A country rich in tradition and success on the footballing field gives an alluring picture to those used to falling at the last hurdle of qualifying time and again in recent years. When the Scotland team take to the field against the mighty Brazilians, it is a chance to test themselves on the biggest of all stages.
The Brazilians have long been admired for the attractive, creative football, showing the kind of flair and arrogance that only the best can get away with. Free flowing in their passing, fearless in attack, these players are the pinnacle to what every young footballer should be aiming to be. With 5 World Cup's and 8 Copa America string's to their bow, this is a country that doesn’t accept failure easily and the recent dwnturn in terms of silverware has led to the third change of manager since the 2002 World Cup victory. Mano Menezes is the man now charged with inciting the flamboyance and skills into this side, while delivering the success that their fans demand.

A goal against the best
 Contrast this to their opposition at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday and it’s a very different picture indeed. Names such as Bell, Crainey and Davidson won’t be throwing Brazil’s plans into disarray. With these players drifting into our squad, it is little wonder Scotland haven’t managed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup where, incidentally, they faced Brazil in their opening group game. A John Collins goal made it 1-1, and although Tom Boyd scored a late own goal, it gives credence to the irrational hope the Tartan Army have going into every game. The subsequent years since have been frustrating for the loyal contingent with a combination of poor performances and narrow exits from qualification leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the devoted support.

It has come to be expected that 4-5-1 is the way forward for Scotland with Walter Smith and Alex McLeish achieving relative success with a defensive, long ball structure that saw wins over the Netherlands and France in recent years. Fans have been forced to grudgingly accept that on the international scene, Scotland really are the minnows and in turn must play as such. Gone are the days of Dalglish and Gemmill who excited the fans with trickery and here to stay for the foreseeable future are a team of battlers, such as Darren Fletcher, Kenny Miller and Scott Brown. The Samba stars have their own brand of football, unfortunately for Scotland so do we.

Don Cowie: Striking fear into Brazil since 2011
Focusing on Sunday’s game it is something which every Scotland fan and player wishes to be a part of. The buzz and excitement, and the mere mention of Brazil, has injured players up of the treatment table and that ‘slight knock’ they have at most friendly’s, miraculously disappearing. Craig Levein, however, will be filling his players full of confidence ahead of what could be the biggest game of their careers. The chance to tell your grandchildren about the time you faced the best is one that many a soul would be sold for. A country famous for its carnival will come face-to-face with a country enjoying their own day in the sun and in front of a sell out crowd, who are probably not there to see Gary Caldwell shelling balls into the stand or the shirt-selling name of Don Cowie, everyone will enjoy the occasion for what it is. A chance to see the best playing against our own. To see football as it should be played. And have the chance to say you were there.

David Narey, Archie Gemmill and James McFadden among others have made themselves heroes with goals against the greatest. Who will step up on Sunday?

Bring it on.