RABONAS, RAINBOW FLICKS AND RED FACES

Furore. It’s a funny word isn’t it? Never sure how to spell it or how to pronounce it and it hardly rolls off the tongue. It reminds me of all those magnificent words those masters of footballing ceremony, Arthur Montford and Archie MacPherson used to purvey; ‘sensational’, ‘stooshie’ and the immortal ‘stramash,’ as they graced our screens on a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon. Furore of course has two meanings – One, a great, widespread outburst of admiration or enthusiasm, or the other, a state of excitement or confusion, commotion or indeed, uproar. So what better way to describe the reaction to Nathan Oduwa’s audacious piece of skill than by saying, in true Arthur Montford style, “what a furore”. I just wonder what they would have made of it all.

Disrespect

There is no doubting young Oduwa has talent. The very fact that he should try such an act of footballing wizardry, that he knew was guaranteed to provoke a reaction, would tell you that this was not a one-off. He’s clearly ‘that type of player’ and he would have known, make no mistake about it, that his fellow pro’s would snipe and snarl at his audacity as well as accuse him of ‘taking the piss’. But did he really? This is a generation of footballers who have been brought up in a time when tackling is a dying art, and the physical side of the game is frowned upon. The staple of the community programme graduate and the academy trainee has become the rabona and the rainbow flick, just as mine was raw meat and sharp, metal studs.

These kids are encouraged from a very early age to express themselves in matches and are taught to use those skills and tricks, in order to both beat, and embarrass their lumbering, defensive counterparts. Surely then, we shouldn’t be trying to knock it back out of them as soon as they reach the first team? It is also important at this stage to dispel the myth that the rest are “gonnae get ye” or “try it with me and i’ll put you in the stand.” That unwritten code of honour among footballers that implies if you are disrespectful, you’ll get what you deserve. The game has changed to such an extent that any attempt to ‘even it up’ will normally result in at least a card, or the inevitable early bath. At that point I am certain that he who has sinned, will be the one facing the wrath of his team mates for disrespecting THEM by getting himself stupidly sent off.

Gone are the days of being able to get away with ‘one for nothing’ without any discernible punishment as it was in my day. Smashing into any fleet-footed forward who had the gall to take an extra touch, as he tried to skip past and bear down on goal in his fancy coloured boots is no longer feasible, nor acceptable.

Cameo

But as i’ve said, was he really being disrespectful? Andrei Kanchelskis, 6:0 up at Hampden against Ayr United, standing on the ball and pretending to look out over the pitch, THAT was disrespectful. Jim Baxter, sitting on the ball at Wembley, as Scotland toyed with the World Champions, THAT was disrespectful. Both unnatural football movements, both ‘taking the piss’, but young Oduwa? He was only showcasing a skill he had learned and (almost) perfected through years of tippy-tappy academy football.

Sure, he may well have been better advised to leave the fancy footwork another week or two and play himself into Scottish football, rather than making himself a target for the Championship’s hammer thrower’s during that 10 minute cameo role. In my opinion though, he was only doing what came naturally to him, although I do have to say that I bet he was rather embarrassed at the ‘furore’ created, given he was unable to execute the move successfully and indeed, lost possession and had to give away a foul to try and gain it back.

Hardly Messi, as was portrayed in some quarters, but don’t mock him for having fun and trying it.

Gazza

I was lucky enough during my career to play against two of the best players to grace Scottish football, namely Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. Laudrup was the better of the two, possessing pace, power, skill and two incredible feet even the greatest would have been proud of. Gazza was different to that, without the blistering pace, but had an unbelievable bag of tricks allied to the strength of a cruiserweight and elbows that would jab you like knitting needles as he surged past. I remember a game at Easter Rd where the ball broke to me in the middle of the pitch and without hesitation, I stuck it in behind the Rangers defence for our strikers to run on to. As the ball ran aimlessly for a goal kick, Gazza sauntered over and said “calm down and pass it” “take a touch.” He wouldn’t have known me from any other fresh faced Jock, trying to impress himself on the game and make his presence felt, so little did he know, THAT WAS MY TOUCH.

Later in the game, he picked the ball up around 35 yards out and ghosted effortlessly past two players, before making his way toward goal. By now, my less than intimidating presence, just inside the 18 yard box, was all that stood between him and another majestic, solo effort. He jinked to go right and made a ‘legover’ movement, going over the ball and dragging it away from me with his left. Classic Gazza and unfortunately for me, so classic that I had failed to read the first ‘dummy’ and ended up on my arse with my trailing leg by now hovering like a trip wire. Had he been prone to going down easily, there would have been no need as, on this occasion, the trip wire done it’s job and sent him sprawling. A stonewaller, converted for a Rangers goal and as I stood there, stooped over, hands on knees, red-faced and trying to avoid eye contact with our bench and the inevitable manager’s glare, the pitch felt like a lonely, empty place.

Gazza’s trickery had done for me, although I needn’t have felt so alone as Paul Gascoigne had done that to many, many better players than me. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of him, as he bounced back to the halfway line and from the corner of my eye, just about raised my head high enough to see the trademark, Gazza wink. It was enough for me to know, that even though i’d been dumped on my Scottish backside, by nothing more than a moment of Gascoigne magic, there was still a respect for the footballer.

If Nathan Oduwa does manage to pull off some of his repertoire of trickery on one of Scottish football’s hardened pro’s, I hope he has the good grace and humility not to rub anyone’s nose in it. If he does that, he’ll show that not only does he have the ability to grace a higher level, he also has the class to go with it. Just as one of his legendary predecessors did.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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THE LOAN RANGERS

The dreaded loan deal. Managers up and down the country will be scouring through their notepads and the back of their discarded bookies lines, checking to see if they’ve taken note of someone who can help them out before the emergency window closes. Clubs outside the Premiership, can still bring in some ‘emergency’ loan signings until the middle of March, in order to bolster a flagging squad, or compliment one that’s challenging. The emergency loan window, which operates beyond January, was supposed to be just that, “in case of emergency,” but nowadays it’s used more as a necessity when ailing squads need beefed up on a measly budget. Coaches will be looking over squad lists up and down the country, where all manner of waifs and strays will by now, have been deemed surplus to requirements. A striker from a Development Squad looking to make his way in the game, a midfielder on the fringes and looking to put himself in the shop window, or a senior player, coming back from injury and looking to get fit. All examples of the classic loanee. There’s still the matter of those players who are already on loan and have been since January to contend with and, whilst Rangers signing five players from Newcastle grabbed all the headlines, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Celtic too have dipped their toe into the not unsubstantial loan market, although in entirely less indignant circumstances.

The loan market is fraught with risk, although in general, the positives usually outweigh any negative impact on the team. But how does the process work and how do clubs come to agreeing all the contract details? Well it’s not as simple as it seems and in some circumstances it can be a lot more complicated than it should be, especially when dealing with certain chairmen.

The deal

So you’ve identified you need a striker; what’s next? Well there are two possible scenarios. The first; you contact the manager to see if the player from their squad you fancy is available. At this point it pays to have done your homework as it rarely goes down well if you make a loan enquiry about their star striker who has already scored 25 goals. The second option is to sift through piles of emails from clubs who regularly circulate details of ‘players available for transfer’ or ‘players available for loan.’ Quite often you could very easily substitute the word ‘player’ for ‘problem.’ When I played, if you got a player on loan he would be a prospect, or someone who had established himself at a level and was coming back from injury. Clubs would use the loan system to farm out young players who they felt could improve from the experience. That outlook has changed dramatically in recent times and in the current financial climate. I’m talking particularly about Scotland here, but generally now, if you are loaned a player, he will have been surplus to requirements. Someone not deemed good enough, contributing little to the squad, or a problem. Rarely will the big clubs lend you a ‘prospect’ anymore. Those ones are kept for themselves and catapulted into the first team in order that they become a saleable asset. Celtic’s policy in recent seasons has been to send anyone they felt may be an asset to the English Leagues. This was in order to maximise any resale value. If someone does well at Swindon, you are far more likely to get £100k for them than if they do well at Queen of the South. It’s important to state this is not a criticism but a fact of modern football life and good business. The lower Leagues in Scotland are littered with players who went on loan from bigger clubs and never, ever got anywhere near the first team. The ‘look after your own club’ mentality exists throughout football. Rarely does anyone in the game do you a ‘favour’ without getting a benefit for themselves. Whether it’s good for our game? That’s an entirely different question.

The contract

You’ve identified your player, now it’s the matter of wages. It used to be common practice that there was an even 50/50 split, more often now however, chairmen are pushing for a higher percentage. In certain cases, some have become so difficult to deal with, as they are now demanding full wages are covered. At Dundee we had to pull the plug on a deal after trying to negotiate a loan with a player who wasn’t getting a game for his Premier League club, whilst sitting on £800 per week wages and insisting we paid full whack. This would have made him our highest earner at the time. The chairman of course, conveniently forgetting that we were taking away one of his problems and solving one financially at the same time. We were new boys at the time, and we felt people in the game were trying to take advantage of our inexperience. As it was we stood firm and it meant the player was stuck in limbo, but it was important for our reputation in the game that we weren’t to be recognised as pushovers. For the club and for ourselves.

So with the deal done and the player now part of your squad, the risk again becomes a factor. There is a perception that loan players don’t care as much about their new club as they do their parent club. From my experience, it’s simply not true. It’s important to remember that players rarely get TOO attached to a club anyway as their next move/transfer/loan may never be too far away. I also have to stress at this point it is important not associate attachment with not caring. Most players generally just want to play football and whether out on loan, or playing for the club who owns their signature, their care and effort will be equal. Only when players are at clubs long term do they ever have a particular affinity or attachment. I’ve never known a loan player to try less or be less committed because he is on loan. If he’s not playing well, it’s very, very rarely for sinister reasons.

The Spirit

All of which brings me to the current scenario of Rangers’ five loan players and the issues on the back of that. When we were at Notts County, we took over an ailing squad which was fractured and not playing well. We managed to secure five loan deals, including Tom Ince, Lee Miller and Kevin MacDonald. These were all players we knew and we felt they could do a job for us and, initially things were very good and results followed. Their impact was excellent and we picked up enough points to put us in a stable position. However, when their loan deals were up, we were unable to replace them and we had to go back to relying on the players who had initially manoeuvred the club into a difficult position in the first place. It was like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound when a tourniquet was required. We couldn’t stem the blood flow and slipped back into trouble again.

Adding more ingredients to an already volatile mix, is rarely the long term answer and whilst the short term impact of a few wins may justify their inclusion, adding five temporary players to an ailing team, is never good for the long term stability of ANY club. There is also of course the matter of the players already there feeling squeezed out as these ‘st-rangers’ come in and inevitably take their place.

Looking from the outside in, it’s a dressing room which already looks fractured and vulnerable. Spirit looks at an all time low and it remains to be seen whether the addition of these five players from Newcastle will have enough impact to prove justified. We really will have to wait and see whether the positives, outweigh the negatives, of this particular arrangement…tonight will be the second big test of that. The jury is certainly out after the first.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL – FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

You’re shite and you know you are.

That well versed put down, usually sung as the third or fourth goal goes crashing into the net as you destroy your rivals. Gloating and mercilessly baiting as you wallow in the misfortune of others, less able than you are. Football does that, lifting your spirits to such an extent that you lose all sense of reality, forgetting that at some point, it might be your turn to take a beating. As (ex) managers and coaches, we are acutely aware of that, careful to the point of caution, thinking about every word that may or may not be distorted to make the headline. Some are less careful than others and few are brutally honest, but make no mistake, we are all waiting for that time when a loose word comes back to bite you.

John Collins had his very own “you’re shite and you know you are” moment this week and to say that I am surprised at the reaction and hypocrisy by some from both within and outwith the game, would be an understatement of ‘Houston, we have a problem’ proportions.

Firstly, it is important for me to state there is no question that John, MAY have chosen his words a little more carefully. However, having clamoured for years to get our players, managers and coaches to tell the truth and reach beyond the “game of two halves” and “crossing the white line” clichéd claptrap, are we now to pillory someone for giving an honest assessment on some of our game’s failings?

It is important however to give context to what John said. John Collins did not say that Scottish football is appalling and of sub-standard as some of the newspapers would have you believe. He did, however say, that Scottish football, does not test Celtic as much as European football does in certain situations (granted, in a slightly different way than I have). He wasn’t making a sweeping generalisation as has been portrayed in some quarters, indeed, if you read the full transcript of the interview, the tabloids have a very different emphasis to their side of the story than the broadsheets. There is nothing wrong with that. The journalists are only doing their job. They will enter a press conference with pre-conceived ideas about how the ‘presser’ will go. On many occasions they will already have an idea of their angle, pushing and pursuing a line of questioning until they get what they want. Or, as was the case on this occasion, the interviewee will hand them what they want on a plate. There is often a great amount of training and skill involved in that, because being able to spot the ‘story’ is what sells papers. But let’s look at what John actually said;

“they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers…”

Those nine words in isolation are now being taken to mean that Scottish football is awash with players who are of the football intelligence level of a miscreant schoolboy and may well be construed as disparaging. They certainly created the headlines that seem to have caught everyone’s eye, but if you look at the previous sentence and the one that comes after (which many of the newspapers decided, in their wisdom to leave out) then you can see that John was in fact talking about specific incidents on the pitch, situations and points of weakness that better players are able to exploit.

“…If you become open and detached from each other against good players and good teams you’ll be punished…that doesn’t happen to us in Scotland – no disrespect to the other Scottish teams, but they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers to punish us when we do become detached from one another.”

To suggest that John was being deliberately condescending to the standard of the Scottish game, rather than being very specific about the demands of European football, is frivolous. However, the stark reality, regardless of how the words may have been perceived is that had he meant to ‘down’ the Scottish game in a not-so-subtle manner, he would only have been telling the truth. The standard of play, and indeed, player when it goes beyond the first and second rounds of the European competitions, after weeding out the chaff, DOES become a much bigger test than what we can provide in this country. We only need look at ALL Scottish clubs results in European competition in recent times to see that.

There has also, in my opinion been a great deal of hypocrisy on the subject, with all manner of managers and coaches having their say on the matter, most of whom disagree with John’s assertion. I have known Derek McIness for a long time, having played against him and pitted my wits against him in a coaching capacity. He has achieved far more in the game than I ever will, but on this occasion I have to disagree with him, given that John Collins is saying no more than what almost every manager in the country will say in their team talk every other week when they arrive at Celtic Park. No? Let me fill you in.

“We need to keep it tight…”

“We need to stay compact and not become open and detached from each other, because if we don’t, Celtic have players who are quick enough and clever enough to punish us…”

Sound familiar? Does that counter argument therefore mean, that every manager in the country is being disparaging, disrespectful and demeaning to his own players, just as John Collins apparently was? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The Celtic assistant manager wasn’t trying to apportion blame for Celtic’s failings, he was stating a fact that in Europe, his players are given a greater test than they are at home. If Celtic fail in Europe, it will be down to Celtic, but John Collins wasn’t trying to waiver or deflect from that. He will be acutely aware of his responsibilities, and that of Scottish football, but neither was he trying to put down our game, nor sing “You’re shite and you know you are.”

So please, spare me the false outrage and the calls for his hanging. A wise man once said, “better to be true to yourself than to be false to others.” Something we should maybe all think about next time we see the headline and forget to read the whole story.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell