Showing posts with label Carlos Bocanegra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlos Bocanegra. Show all posts

Monday, 14 March 2016

Kyle Lafferty - why the deserters should be ignored

In 2012, as is all-too-notoriously remembered, effectively Rangers’ entire first-team squad thereabouts abandoned the Club in its hour of need. That infamous press conference with Steven Naismith & Steven Whittaker, the refusals to TUPE and get Rangers some desperately-needed money; these all added up to an unforgettably sour experience and left those deserters as some of the villains of the piece.

Rest assured, Rangers fans did not completely object to their best players leaving under the circumstances of a drop to the Third Division, it was the refusal of a number of them, nay, most of them to transfer their deals over so Rangers could at least get a transfer fee.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Rangers hero: "It's all about Rangers, for me"

Rangers’ captain Lee Wallace has today confirmed a complete lack of regret over his decision to both stay with Rangers in the bowels of the Scottish game, and to effectively sacrifice his Scotland career.

Wallace gained icon status, and, eventually, a well-earned captaincy for his choice to stay loyal to Rangers while others jumped ship as quick as they possibly could following Rangers’ troubles in 2012, but Wallace gave the best years of his career to the Ibrox cause instead, and admits he is a Ranger through and through, famously saying recently:

Sunday, 9 August 2015

How Barrie McKay is proving them all wrong

July 2012. Brechin City and their hedge. Life in the Third Division began with that infamous trip to Glebe Park in the Ramsden’s Cup, and Rangers had lost just about the entire first-team playing squad.

Carlos Bocanegra led the team out with the likes of Kirk Broadfoot and Dorin Goian professionally continuing on while awaiting a move away to a better standard of football. They did their parts, by not abandoning the Club immediately, but naturally there was a massive reliance on youth in that match, with the likes of Hutton, Macleod and Naismith (Kal) all featuring.

But one player stood out – a fresh-faced 17-year old by the name of Barrie McKay.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Why We Just Don't Like Steven Naismith

     "We owe no loyalty to the new club. There is no history there for us." 

- Steven Naismith, 24th June 2012.

If ever a Rangers players went from hero to anti-Christ in one fell swoop, Steven Naismith is him. No other ex-Rangers player is held in the venomous contempt Naismith is, for an overwhelming litany of offences against the Ibrox side, most notably the above quote strongly suggesting, in his opinion, that Rangers FC are dead.

It is worth, however, looking back to just before he joined Rangers to see a distinctly pre-emptive hint of his 'mercenary' ways. His agent Andrew McCormick said of his protracted move from Rugby Park to Ibrox:
            "He is being denied an opportunity to better himself and increase his earnings 10-fold. I defy anybody not to become frustrated in those circumstances. It's like having a winning lottery ticket in your hand but Kilmarnock's chairman wants to rip it up and deny him the chance to cash it in."

The signs were there that Steven Naismith had the loyalty of Judas, and the need for material wealth, but so desperate for his services were Rangers fans that we completely ignored them. Instead we lapped the forward up, and spent 4 years waiting for him to get off the treatment table and onto the pitch, producing the kind of form we hoped he was capable of. He did manage to become an integral part of the 2011/2012 season, from July to October and suffered 'that' injury which derailed Rangers' season before taking the title away from Ibrox and into the hands of those at Parkhead.

However, from being a hero whose presence back on the pitch next season following said injury was so keenly-awaited, Naismith turned into a back-stabbing turncoat following the acquisition of the club by Charles Green's Sevco company after administration. He and fellow deserter Steven Whittaker called a press conference, and the following was one of the many colourful quotes Naismith uttered:

            "I am extremely proud of the actions we took but I am disappointed and angry that Rangers Football Club no longer exists in its original form."

Now, let us keep context and a cool head here. Naismith, like many others at Ibrox, took a whopping 3/4 paycut. No Rangers fan forgets that, including me. His actions, and that of his fellow colleagues, helped stabilise the club through administration and delay liquidation of the old company long enough that Green's consortium could take over and transfer assets. Herein is the problem, however, and it basically erases that magnificent gesture entirely:

Steven Naismith not only failed to do the proper thing and transfer his contract over to the new company which fellow pros like Neil Alexander, Lee Wallace, Maurice Edu, Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian did, he not only committed the appalling crime of stating Rangers were 'dead', but most egocentrically of all he made the whole ordeal about him.

Just like at Kilmarnock it was all about Steven Naismith. Back then before his move to Govan how he could not sleep. How he was stressed out. How he was disillusioned with the treatment he was receiving. Sound familiar? Here at the press conference in 2012 it was all about Steven Naismith again. How 'I' am proud and 'I' am disappointed and angry. On his Twitter page he ignored/blocked any criticism and retweeted hundreds of fawning tweets from supporters desperate for attention giving him sympathy. Because it was all about him. No apology to Ally McCoist for going behind his back and betraying him and certainly no apology to the Rangers fans for deserting them. Not a hint of any sympathy for the hell McCoist and the supporters were going through, but instead a 'me me me' mentality which made Steven Naismith the biggest victim at Ibrox.

No Rangers supporter would have begrudged Naismith the move to Everton if he had done it with dignity. If he had transferred his deal over so Rangers could get a couple of million for him. However, even Steven Whittaker, Allan McGregor and Steven Davis do not attract the same level of ire as Naismith because while they also did not transfer their deals to the new company, none expressed such poisonous opinions about Rangers as Naismith did.

Sadly, however, Naismith did not leave with dignity. He left by the back door, his former club getting nothing for the 4 years they had paid his wages and medical bills. He even had the gall to say he had loyalty with Rangers, not Sevco.

We all know about TUPE, about the rights of employment law. And many could argue Naismith did what was within his right to do legally. The problem is morally it was corrupt - he might have had the legal right to walk away but the morality of his actions raped Rangers of millions of pounds after they had stood by him for 4 years of non-service.

Now, it must not be forgotten Steven Naismith is not a complete monster. He does fund homeless charities both in Glasgow and Liverpool. The man is not without a heart. However, he does have an ego, and even his blurb about his charity strikes as self-interested:

            “I am an observant person and I tend to notice things. It does not take long before you realise there are people who need help.”

He is absolutely right, and his charitable actions are to be applauded, but his way with words will always be his downfall - even this quote sounds a bit like a brag.

The final irony is his dream move to Everton went sour and Toffee fans dislike him almost as much as Rangers fans do. As I mentioned in my last entry, the official Everton club magazine arranged an #AskNaismith hashtag on Twitter, for fans to tweet him questions to be answered in print in the next issue. It took barely 10 minutes for this to be completely over-run by Rangers fans slating Naismith. Amusingly, Everton fans joined in.

I know this entire entry sounded like a bit of a rant, and I accept it possibly was. It could also be deemed as an irrelevant piece given how long the player has been away.

That said, with aforementioned hashtag hilarity plus his brief appearance for Scotland yesterday night, it brought up a lot of old memories which I feel a lot of fans want off their chest.

Steven Naismith is not the biggest bad guy out there, there are many far more malevolent people than he, but his foolish, selfish, cruel and greed-filled comments at leaving Ibrox make him quite possibly the most loathed ex-Rangers player of all.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

We Need Defenders!

With today's confirmed signing of Ricky Foster, Rangers have acquired their second fullback in a row. Not only that, but their second ex-player in a row following Steven Smith's re-entry to Glasgow's south side after a spell in North America. Whether or not fans are in favour of former Ibrox stars returning to Govan is open to debate, but one thing is for sure now; Ally McCoist's men are rather stocked up in the wingback berths.

Lee Wallace and Steven Smith on the left, Andrew Mitchell and Ricky Foster (and Anestis Argyriou, technically speaking) on the right. While hardly Alves and Alba, it is still a pretty robust collection of fullbacks for a team in the second division.

However, the critical issue remains of the two central defensive positions. Quite simply, Emilson Cribari and Ross Perry were poor last season. In Scotland's bottom tier the former Napoli defender and the previous fringe Ibrox starlet were completely exposed and plenty of agonising goals were conceded thanks to appalling positional sense, dreadful communication, and a blatant lack of pace.

It is clear work is desperately needed in this vital position on the park - it may be a cliché but it is entirely true that a team's foundations are built around its defence. With Foster, Bell, and Wallace confirmed for next season, the wet mud is in place for aforementioned stanchions, and concrete needs to fill the empty spaces.

It has been mooted that former under-21 French defender Sebastien Faure (now 22) and under-17 Canadian international Luca Gasparotto (now a mere 17) may be targeted for the 2 defensive slots but this is speculative. It is unlikely any manager would wish to risk a 17 year old lad, no matter how promising he is, in such a critical position as a first-pick with the pressure that goes with it when older players than he struggled massively under similar pressure.

As for Faure, he remains something of a relatively unknown quantity at Ibrox despite several appearances. While not disgracing himself by any manner of means, the young Frenchman did not assert himself as guaranteed first-team fodder albeit he certainly did no worse than the likes of Cribari and Perry in the middle.

There is also the rather depressing notion of Jon Daly and Lee McCulloch being slotted in the centre - 2 players whose primary positions are not defensive and the knowledge that Jig struggled there when he was utilised at the back last season. It is not an ideal solution by any means.

It is pretty sure-fire that Rangers require two trustworthy and decent stoppers. Two new signings, on a Bosman of course, who can vastly improve this horrendous defence as first-choices while the likes of Luca and Faure can be excellent squad depth in backup.

Names recently linked loosely as new acquisitions include Andy Webster, Danny Wilson, and Cristophe Berra.

It is safe to say the name of Webster sends shivers down the spines of fans. A dismal failure during his first spell, Andy was at Ibrox for around 3 seasons and made a pathetic 2 appearances during that time. There is no denying he actually did not play too badly when he did play but 2 appearances in over a thousand days is a quite catastrophic return. Questions have been asked about his mental strength and ability to cope with life at Ibrox, the suggestion being made he lacked good old-fashioned 'bottle'. So this would not be a popular signing if it took place.

Then there is Wilson - a player who left rather ignominiously and was somewhat condemned for chasing the dream at Liverpool first chance he got. Danny was an excellent defender at Ibrox during his brief spell of breaking through, but his career has gone utterly downhill since departing. The epitome of his post-Ibrox failure was joining a club who ended up in admin, and his contract being ripped up. Wilson is now without a club. Would Rangers fans like him back? The overwhelming consensus is 'yes'.

And lastly Berra. More of a postulated signing than concrete evidence to support his arrival, Berra is yet another Hearts link who has had a decent career in England to tell the truth. He is another free agent, whose time at Wolves has come to an end and aged 28 may still feel he has more in him than plying his trade in the Scottish second division.

A major problem Rangers have not enough tangible defenders have been solidly pursued by management. At least, not enough that the fans are aware of. McCoist admits signings are desperately required at the back:

            "I'm delighted with the signings we have made. We would still like to strengthen, especially in the centre-back area – that would be ideal."

This is a very polite way of saying new signatures are absolutely essential. But while midfielder after striker after goalkeeper after wingback have either joined or been linked, there really has been a conspicuous lack of centrebacks being mooted for a switch to Govan. Webster and Wilson are the only two links being widely discussed and nothing official has been offered to verify interest in either.

It is not quite panic stations given there is quite a long time before next season starts in earnest, but McCoist has endowed his squad rather well thus far - it crucially needs the finishing touch with two defenders or there will be big holes. And with the 95% certainty that both Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian will be permanent departures in the coming weeks, the lack of quality CB's is a huge concern.

The rebuild is almost there. But it requires a rather large couple of cherries on top to complete the cake.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Starting Again Feels Good at Ibrox

On the 24th of May something took place at Ibrox to follow up on events of the 22nd of the same month which felt thoroughly unprecedented to Rangers fans given the tumultuous chaos the club had been engulfed in for over a year. On the 24th of May 2013 Rangers supporters woke up to something rather unfamiliar:

Good news.

With one of the overriding areas of discussion among the fans over the past season having been the aching absence of good football, despite the collection of the SFL Division 3 trophy Rangers fans had been thoroughly disappointed with the fare produced on the pitch. Supposed 'SPL stars' like David Templeton, Dean Shiels, Francisco Sandaza, Kevin Kyle and Ian Black had been an excruciating letdown on the pitch, with only fleeting glimpses of quality from any of them.

As a result, the complete vacuum of cohesive football was a real eyesore, with youngsters like Lewis MacLeod, Barrie McKay, Fraser Aird and the 'veteran' Andy Little (cruelly blighted by injury) the only real consistent performers. Even hardy Scottish internationals like Lee Wallace struggled at times for a high level of performance.

It became apparent new signings were desperately needed, and with the illegal embargo still in force, manager Ally McCoist has been forced to only deal in the bosman/precontract market. So, after the extremely pleasant revelation of soon-to-be former Kilmarnock goalkeeper Cammy Bell's official signature on the dotted line in Govan on the 22nd of May (potentially spelling the end for Neil Alexander), the aforementioned 24th produced even more delightful follow-up news.

Long-standing target Jon Daly had signed from Dundee United, and Motherwell's midfielding Englishman Nicky Law had also put pen to paper on a transfer.

Then 4 days later, on the 28th of May, Queen of the South's promising young striker Nicky Clark also finished off the clutch of signings now reinforcing a struggling squad.

The feel-good factor these acquisitions have led to cannot be underestimated. Yes, there are still many off-pitch issues still to be resolved, but for now, for once, fans genuinely have something to look forward to.

It is true these signings are not the calibre of old, of course they are not. The days of signing a Brian Laudrup, a Paul Gascoigne or even a Dado Prso are long gone. Maybe they will return one day, but for now getting decent quality SPL players is the best Rangers can do, and the truth is after the atrocious performances which punctuated last season, the idea of players of a better level who can produce something more exciting is a truly inspiring notion.

Right now the first team is potentially Bell, RB, CB CB, Wallace, McKay, MacLeod, Law, Templeton, Clark, and Little. Daly may well fill in at CB but what is clear is that while defence desperately needs loving attention, the rest of the team is pretty much finalised. With Honduran international defensive midfielder Arnold Peralta strongly reported to be joining the ranks later this week from Vida in his homeland, the first team, defence aside, is starting to take pretty effective shape.

But let us not ignore that back line. The clear Achilles heel of the team last season, the dismal flops that were central defenders Ross Perry and Emilson Cribari are clearly not up to the job of playing for the club, and Anestis Argyriou looks like he does not know what country he is in at right back. With speculation about Motherwell's Tom Hateley as a new right back, that would shore up a problem area. But the middle remains a real bugbear.

Many suggestions have been put forth by supporters. Yours truly ran a poll to gather suggestions of potential signatures that could sort the curtain at the back. Hibs' Wetherspoon, Hearts' Zaliuskas, Cristophe Berra and even St Mirren's Darren McGregor were all mooted.

For now it is feasible, assuming Peralta's signature is captured, that he, along with McCulloch and Daly are the 3 players proposed to fit in there. With none of them experienced defenders by trade, it is a kamikaze solution. Some address the issue by raising the name of Canadian youngster Luca Gasparotto. But with the area such a sensitive subject, is it fair to put such first-team high pressure on a fairly untried youth player? He is admittedly a Canadian international but Rangers is a much more pressured business.

Last but not least there is the outside possibility that Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian might possibly desire a return to Ibrox. But given both crave international football and the SFL Division 2 is so low in quality, this is clutching at thorough straws.

Defence is a real problem area but the rest of the team is not. And that is undeniably good news. McCoist still has work to do to finalise the selection of players that will protect the goalkeeper, but the fact the rest of the team looks frankly in rather good shape is rather enjoyable. The only downside is Rangers fans were initially similarly impressed with the ultimate flops signed from Scotland's top flight last season. Furthermore a former Napoli defender, a Lyon stopper and an AEK Athens RB looked pretty good on paper. But paper is not where the game is played.

Here is definitely hoping the new signings show up the old ones. And that there are more to come.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Chaos Theory of Ibrox

It is literally impossible to know where to start for this latest entry. I took a break from blogging recently due to the ridiculous ascent of concentrated chaos at Ibrox. If I had wanted to cover it all, on some days I would have compiled 5 separate articles. As I type I wonder exactly what I am going to write about.

Will it be the absolute drivel which surrounded Charles Green for 2 weeks and led to his untimely departure, leaving the club in yet another maelstrom?

Will it be the ugly rumours inside Ibrox concerning exactly who the mole(s) is (or are) who has (or have) leaked out sensitive information?

Maybe the desperate stories that (now) former Chief Executive Officer Green sold his shares to gangsters?

What about the rumours circulating around Imran Ahmad and his (reputed) dodgy deals?

Maybe the appointment (on an interim basis) of new CEO Craig Mather - thankfully as yet this gentleman has attracted few unwanted headlines; but give it time. They will surely come.

Maybe I could even concentrate on the absolutely atrocious product on the pitch - from the quite putrid defeat at home to Peterhead last weekend, to yesterday's incredibly laboured 4-2 win at Ochilview Park, there is certainly no shortage of drama on the pitch as well as off it.

You see, loyal readers, times at Ibrox currently stink. The scandalous stories permeating from the inner bowels of the stadium and leaking onto the front and back pages of the red tops have forced die-hard fans to suffer ignominy in a way Rangers supporters never should.

The number of bluenoses seriously considering not renewing their season tickets is as understandable as it is depressing. The club does (supposedly) have division 2 football 'to look forward to' next season but given the standard of that league is barely any better than division 3 it is not really that much of a fillip. It is progress towards the top tier again, thankfully, but the arduous schlep to get there is categorically soul-destroying.

The process of cultivating a half-decent team capable of the rigours required for the 'higher' levels of Scottish football is also proving a stuttering exercise. The current crop of squad members, by and large, are abhorrent, with very few first-team members proving themselves genuinely worthy of retaining their slot. Apparently new players will be coming in, such as Cammy Bell, Tom Hateley, and John Daly, with Middlesbrough's Andre Bikey and Motherwell's Nicky Law mentioned too. Furthermore there are the optimistic notions that on-loan defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian will return - but these are pushing the envelope.

The current squad, as it stands, is a joke, and half of the first team reflects the off-pitch antics.

What of Alistair McCoist? I have not even touched on the manager yet. Fan-feeling regarding Super is distinctly negative now. There is no getting away from that. The majority of fans desire a new boss, and for the sake of his legend and retaining it, I would have to concur. It is difficult to judge how good a boss he actually is given the perverse circumstances of his tenure, and previous entries of my blog have stoutly defended him. I do not waver from that - but for the sheer need to 'freshen things up' and try a different approach it is probably worth Rangers' time appointing a new manager. If, for nothing else, it may prove the team's woeful ineptitude was not due to McCoist.

But this, all this is nearly trivial compared with the dire tabloid content the club is generating.

Since February 2012 Rangers fans have been unable to truly enjoy the club. Given the way things are heading it may be years before they can again.

We Are The People (but right now it is hard work).

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sporting No Integrity Whatsoever

SPL and Rangers fans have long been discussing the concept of league reconstruction. When the Ibrox giants were voted into Division 3 it was clear a huge financial hole would engulf the top flight - this was realised due to, in part, the massively cut terms of the ESPN and Sky TV deals. Quite simply, the respective broadcast giants renegotiated the terms and paid out a significantly reduced sum thanks to the loss of Rangers in the top flight. There was also the obvious loss of gate receipts thanks to the absence of Rangers fans.

So, throughout the sheer chaos that has descended upon Scottish football this past year, it seemed the SFA and SPL would endeavour to fast-track a return for Rangers to the top-flight in order to restore financial parity and to refill the staggeringly bare SPL stadiums by reconstructing the game in this country in order that Rangers would be part of the Premier League once again.

It would make financial sense given the black fiscal hole Scottish football is fast-becoming, and it would make moral sense given Rangers' expulsion from the SPL was based on a complete lie. Yes, Whyte did indeed with-hold PAYE and NI, but the entire mess had been based on the Big Tax Case, something which Rangers famously won not that long ago proving the entire EBT use to have been kosher.

So, it stands to reason that the powers-that-be would quietly shift the club back to the top to rectify the errors made previously and, more important to them, fix Scottish football's increasingly stark problems resulting from Rangers' absence from the summit.

It is all about 'Sporting Integrity', remember, conducting oneself in the game according to an ethical code, and engaging in behaviour befitting moral and upstanding circumstances. Celtic's Peter Lawwell famously coined this phrase in 2008 to represent the importance of honesty, decency, playing by the rules and, most importantly, imparting justice.

So, when we expose the proposals put forth by Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster, they fulfil this crucial criteria, right? They restore Rangers to the top, they make the game fairer and more interesting in this country, they expand the top-flight to 16 teams as has been long-suggested and ultimately while Scotland will never be what it was, it would be a better mess than it was before.

Only, no they do not. They do none of this.

Regan and Doncaster have managed, somehow, to make Scottish football more complicated than a Stephen Hawking book. In doing so, not just have they compiled nonsense proposals of a '12-12-18' format but they have brazenly decided Rangers are not only not being restored to the top flight, but, get this:

The 'Sporting Integrity' we all admire and love is being utilised to the full because Rangers will not be promoted at all this season! Even if the Ibrox men finish top of the table by 50 points, even if Lee McCulloch scores 20 hat tracks and increases the current GD to +23432542, even if Barrie McKay figures out a cure to cancer - none of this matters. This season is now officially, if these proposals by the powers-that-be come to fruition, a complete busted flush.
Under the new guidelines, Rangers remain in the bottom flight (or 'National League' as it is now being renamed) and the top flight of 12 remains...12!

So not only are they refusing to acknowledge their own errors and that of the member SPL clubs, but they refusing to fix them too. It is almost as if by restoring Rangers to where they belong, Regan and Doncaster and the SPL admit they need the Govan club. And they appear to be refusing to do that and think these crazy proposals are the answer to the financial abyss and empty stadiums.

What is worse is they are actually apparently endeavouring to make it even harder for Rangers by effectively branding the Third Division a dead rubber because Rangers remain in its equivalent next season regardless of what they do this year.

It was absurd enough when Aberdeen remained in the SPL when they finished bottom in 2000 thanks to not having to play a play-off with Falkirk given the First Division winners did not have a stadium which met SPL standards, but to actually deny a league-winning team of Rangers' stature promotion is a new level of utterly ridiculous governance.

'Sporting Integrity' is a complete and total sham, and was a buzzphrase compiled by Peter Lawwell as an argument as to why Rangers should not have a fair crack at the SPL and UEFA Cup Final. It was of course transparent nonsense, and still is, yet is still used when convenient and amusingly ignored when it is similarly appropriate.

To paraphrase an epigram composed by the magnificent Eric Arthur Blair (Or George Orwell as he is better known);

"All teams are fairly treated and equal in Scotland, but some are treated more fairly and equally than others."

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Does Ally McCoist Have What it Takes to be Rangers' Manager?

There can be no denying that no rookie manager has ever had to suffer what Ally McCoist did. In no country's premier league has a side the size of Rangers ended up in administration before the club's company got liquidated, forming a new one, while baggage enough to fill Heathrow continued to blight the team and torment a manager who should have been enjoying the glorious privilege of leading the team he loves.

McCoist was denied that, so appraising his managerial skills does not come under the same rules as with any other manager in the business. Being the face of the club during the horrendous administration period and effectively carrying the side's troubles on his shoulders single-handedly even managed to receive (possibly reluctant) sympathy from that dubious chap who manages the club's former rivals. That is how bad it got for Rangers and Ally McCoist.

This does not even sum up how bad McCoist felt.
So it is with trepidation that I try to weave my way through that period and attempt to evaluate McCoist's overall managerial capabilities where it comes to the really important stuff; the results on the pitch. It will not be easy; the past year has been saturated with so much off-topic pulava that finding one's way to the turf is fraught with peril. But that said I will give it a go.

Last season was McCoist's debut as solo boss; and it started out slowly with a turgid 1-1 draw at home to Hearts but one which featured a vital goal from a player who grew to incredible prominence in the following months, Steven Naismith. A string of convincing wins then followed and saw McCoist's Rangers race ahead in the league to at one point having a 15-point cushion over Celtic. Naismith had been crucial to this success, as this blog discussed last season, and the shape of the team had him as an integral part of its smooth operations.

The moment the momentum changed was when this aforementioned player was injured in a hard-fought victory at Aberdeen on the 29th of October. Naismith was ruled out for the rest of the season and despite the following match being another home victory, the subsequent visit from St Johnstone saw Lomas' men hold Rangers to a 0-0 draw.

With Celtic suddenly finding form and racing to 5-0 wins, Rangers' momentum crashed, and a defeat at Rugby Park now saw 1 point from 6. Naismith's absence was proving a serious problem, and it was McCoist's first test. Unfortunately he was completely unable to resolve it. The signing of Nigerian international Sone Aluko did little to stem the tide of change, despite some spirited performances from the former Aberdeen winger, and before long, and significantly well before administration had sprung up the former lead had been reversed and Rangers now trailed Celtic by an increasing margin.

Put simply McCoist did not have the ability to compensate for losing Naismith. This is not a completely incriminating situation; Real Madrid would be weakened without Ronaldo, ditto Barcelona without Messi, likewise Man Utd without Van Persie. But McCoist's solutions initially were quite bizarre. In the abysmal draw at home with St Johnstone the completely ineffectual central midfielder Matt McKay was asked to play a left wing role with the similarly inept Alejandro Bedoya out on the right. It was understandable this team would struggle. 

Not one of the better signings in recent years.
January saw the loss of star striker Nikica Jelavic and the continued deterioration of the team with the only incoming being Swedish U21 forward Mervan Celik.

As administration begun football became second-best to the drama off the pitch, and fans wrote the season off completely. The situation had become that of forgiving and forgetting McCoist's failings during the first season and wiping the slate clean for the next season, wherever the side would play.

So, with that in mind, let us see how McCoist is doing this year. His debut in the Irn Bru Scottish Third Division saw the side start reasonably brightly against Second Division Brechin City in the Ramsden's cup, but the performance fell to pieces before 90 minutes were up and the home side (and their hedge) had their heads high after holding their illustrious visitors to extra time following a 1-1 draw.

Extra time saw Lee McCulloch save the day with a header but it did not gloss over the rather feeble display which McCoist was unable to arrest at half time. 

In the Scottish League Cup tie which followed at Ibrox against East Fife, McCoist seemed to have fixed the problems. A resounding 4-0 thumping of the visitors and it seemed that Ally's men had finally grasped the challenge ahead of them. Not so.

The next league match saw a trip to Peterhead, a side mooted as being Rangers' main rivals in this league (well-substantiated given they top the table). And it proved a tough trip with only a 90th minute equaliser from striker Andy Little snatching a barely-earned point for Rangers. Again, McCoist had been unable to either motivate his side effectively, or organise them well enough. Many suggested he was playing a 3 at the back system, and a slight lack of cohesion there saw it difficult to confirm or deny that.

And this pattern has been the blight of McCoist's second season in charge so far. His strikers and midfield are generally doing enough at Ibrox, which is easy enough to motivate one's self for when 50,000 fans are in attendance; but the boss is seriously struggling to counter determined sides on their own patch in front of considerably more modest crowds. The players appear either lacking in desire or certainty about their role, and predictable long-balls result from the back.

McCoist's defenders, put simply, are having a terrible season as well. Goian and Bocanegra (prior to departure) looked pale imitations of their old selves, with positional sense non-existent and a real lack of desire going into the challenge. Broadfoot, often the butt of the abuse, may have been distinctly poor as well before his departure to Blackpool, but it appeared to have spread to Ross Perry at RB who was comically awful in a position he has previously played so well.

Enter some new signings; Emilson Cribari and Anestis Argyriou. Cribari appears to wonder what he is doing, with dreadful pace and pitiful man-marking along with quite despairing lack of understanding as to where to sit. Argyriou looked below par against Elgin, but it was Perry's naivety which cost a goal.

Argyriou, the club's new right back.
Is this McCoist's fault? Who knows. He does not seem to have the right balance away from home yet, with it not being unnoticed that Rangers have drawn every match on their travels. At home he does not appear to be struggling in the same way, given the players will not lack inspiration. But the defence is an Achilles heel regardless of where the side plays.

Is McCoist good enough to be Rangers' manager? It is very difficult to answer that question but the truth is since the side lost Naismith to injury last season, there has not been a single sustained run of form to the nature of 5+ victories in a row. That is October to the present day. A few small patches of 3 in a row but nothing higher. Barry Ferguson once said that until the side had won 10 in a row (years ago during a very poor spell while he was at the club) he did not believe they had turned it around. And that seems about right.

The current season sees our best winning streak at 2 matches. 2 occasions. One of them is ongoing, and the trip to Annan on  the 15th will see if McCoist's Rangers can breach that 3-win run mark.

If the journey to 7th-placed Anna Athletic does not yield a victory for Rangers, it may be the first time valid questions can be asked of McCoist's capabilities as Rangers manager.

He was given a clean slate this season given his remarkable conduct during last season, and regardless of football results will always be a legend who sacrificed more for the club than any other individual (bar those tragic losses in the various disasters) in the club's history. But slowly it is about results on the pitch again, and for Rangers to progress as an entity, back to where it belongs, McCoist must prove he is capable of steering the ship in that direction.

Sadly, sentiment, even well-intentioned, does not bring success.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Home and Away

It is fair to say this refreshed Rangers squad has contracted a rather nasty case of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is generally described as 'split mind', where one half of a personality is grounded and performs as it should, while the other, when initiated, becomes erratic, unreliable, and its thought processes defy reason.

That would be a reasonable summation of Rangers' home and away form this season thus far.

Last night saw yet another comfortable victory at Ibrox over a relatively decent side in visitors Falkirk following on from a vile display in Berwick where the host team more than deserved the point they earned by full time.

Big Jig not getting it easy in Berwick.
Fans were irate to say the least by the end of 90 minutes on Sunday - whether the manager Ally McCoist was to blame, or the squad was, the club got it thick from the thousands of loyal fans who cried blue murder at the shameful performance the men in blue had provided. Fast-forward to last night and reaction was of a vastly more positive nature, which tends to be the case when your side has put 3 past their opponents without reply.

So, and this is the nitty-gritty; what is causing this gulf in form between home and away matches?

The 3 notable matches at Ibrox against East Stirling, Falkirk and East Fife have seen massive scores in favour of the hosts. 3-0 has been the lowest margin of victory. But something which has been glossed over slightly in the aftermath of last night's victory was how easily manipulated Rangers' defence was. Anestis Argyriou, Carlos Bocanegra, Emilson Cribari and Lee Wallace struggled significantly with Falkirk's front men, particularly from balls in behind which bypassed the back 4 time and time again. With more clinical finishing, luck (they hit the post), and without Neil Alexander's own slice of luck where he nearly fumbled into his own net, last night could have been slightly trickier than it was.

Thankfully an on-form Andy Little and a sharp brace from stalwart Lee McCulloch kept the points in Rangers' grasp.

Little's form is aiding the side considerably.
Poor defence at Ibrox is being glossed over with good attacking play which leads to goals.

At away grounds the home sides naturally step up their game. It is their playground and they are determined to dominate. And Berwick just about did - where the balls in behind failed to do the damage at Ibrox, possibly related to nerves in front of a bigger crowd, they are managing to do so away from home. Now-departed Kirk Broadfoot's failure to clear a header in Brechin led to Rangers failing to clinch all 3 points in that game. Indeed, the home side led 2-1 in that match. And these defensive issues are blighting the campaign thus far.

All matches at Ibrox - easily won (overlooking that shaky defence) - all matches away - the side struggles to get a point. And we cannot even blame an under-performing Broadfoot for defensive mishaps any more. 2 new signings have failed thus far to blend in cohesively, albeit these things 'do take time', as is the oft-used cliché when a player fails to excel at his new club.

However, a further problem, and a significant one at that, is the staggering lack of motivation away from home from the entire team. From lumping aimless balls up top (where no target man exists unless Kevin Kyle starts) to passing mundanely around the back line, the side does not look motivated or lively on its travels.

The performance in Berwick was nearly criminal in its complete lack of interest from the away team, and nothing changed at half time despite McCoist's furious words to ESPN's Eilidh Barbour who nervously asked him for his opinion on the first 45. The team returned in the second half and continued on exactly as previous, and it was no surprise that Andy Little's first half goal was cancelled out.

It is easy enough to be motivated when 50,000 fans are chanting in front of you, less so when a mere 50th of that is present at a backwater Scottish football ground. And this is a huge challenge for McCoist. He struggled to negotiate the Naismith problem last season, and while the slate is clean this time around, similar difficulties are challenging him and thus far, away from home at least, the side is not delivering.

When Elgin City visit on Sunday, rest assured the side will win comfortably. It is the following weeks and months away from home that concern. Can Ally get his side more motivated and in better form for their journeys throughout the country, or is promotion in serious doubt with far too many dropped points away from home?

Time will tell.

Monday, 30 July 2012

11 Men Kickin' a Baw

The 29th of July is not normally a particularly momentous day for Rangers supporters, but 2012's occasion of this date was quite possibly the most memorable day in recent history. It was truly up there with Manchester in 2008, up there with winning any recent league title.

It was the day Rangers played football again.

What supporters, and in particular one Alistair McCoist have had to suffer in this calendar year, as fans of this proud club belies the ability of any commentator such as yours truly to put into adequate words. It is incomprehensible for any football club to be subjected to the level of chaos and mayhem that the boys and girls in blue have been tormented by in the past 6 months, and beyond unacceptable that authorities have not only failed to aid a wounded giant as it lay bleeding, but have instead compounded the existing injuries then added fresh ones.

It all led to strongly worded statements from McCoist and Charles Green respectively condemning the shocking treatment of the club, and the 'bigotry' which has imbued the punishment delivered.

Not shy to speak his mind, Green called it as it is.
But on the third last day of the month, Rangers supporters, having been through the bloody mill and back again more times than they would care to list, got to enjoy supporting their football team again.

11 men kickin' a baw.

That is all Rangers supporters have ever wanted. The sheer 'privilege' of questioning tactics, praising individual performances, berating others, covering their face in anguish at a dodgy goal conceded, celebrating a fine goal scored.

The very basic staple purpose of football which bluenoses have been cruelly denied for far too long.

We are once again able to discuss formations, team selections, performances, substitutions, and of course goals. So let us do that, let us have a look at the match in the Ramsdens' Cup at Glebe Park, home of Second Division Brechin City.

Glebe Park. You can just about see the famous hedge.
The team fielded by the away side was an impressive selection, with 100+ capped USA captain Carlos Bocanegra leading the side out, followed by the likes of Lee Wallace, Lee McCulloch, Kirk Broadfoot, Dorin Goian, Andy Little and new signing Ian Black.

The opening 5 minutes were positive and saw Northern Irish international Little score a fine goal and show why he could elevate himself to being the top striker at the club. The next 40 were quite a huff and puff and while Rangers created some small openings, they could not take them. Young Barrie McKay stood out impeccably on the left; the number 10 operated the left wing like a seasoned pro, with some deft touches, flicks, and reverse passes akin to Ronaldinho. At only 17, this lad has serious promise.

Unfortunately it turned sour around 43 minutes when a misjudged Broadfoot header failed to clear a lob, which instead slunk through beyond the rather feeble attempts from Goian to clear it, as Brechin forward Andy Jackson slipped it beyond the equally poor attempt from Neil Alexander in goal. 1-1 at half time.

Sights like these will be welcome again from Neil.
The second half was very much the archetypal cup tie at a lower league side (albeit, ironically, Brechin are in a higher league than the Gers), with heavy 'dreicht' rain compounding matters, and saw Rangers struggle with fitness and passing. After a reasonable first half, the Ibrox men, with a complete lack of pre-season under their belts, became bogged down in the environment and occasion, and it took an extra time close-range header from loyal servant Lee McCulloch to seal a very hard-fought win.

Having just written about a Rangers match, albeit merely a brief report, still feels like something I am hugely grateful for. The mere honour of having a fully-functioning Rangers to write about, to analyse, nitpick, praise, criticise, and above all enjoy feels like something which many felt may never happen again.

The club is not completely out the mire yet, but the safety harness is out along with the lifejackets and slowly Ibrox is floating back to the surface, breathing again along the way.

Thank God!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

What's Football Got to do With It?

Just prior to the summer of 2009, Rangers, having just won the league, had a great deal to look forward to. With direct entry to the Champions League group stage assured thanks to the SPL title along with the many millions that achievement brought into the club's coffers, plus confirmed participation in the Emirates stadium friendly summer tournament also featuring Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, and Atletico Madrid, things were looking fairly positive at Ibrox. Walter Smith's side had recovered nicely from the dire Paul le Guen debacle and were progressing well. Indeed, the side went on to win the following two league championships, and Four in a Row was looking a distinct possibility, especially given new ownership and the blistering domestic start to the season 2011/2012 under new manager Ally McCoist.

This is the face of Ally we prefer.
Sadly, 3 years on from that summer of anticipation, barely 36 months, and the normal Rangers supporter no longer finds themselves discussing summer budget, transfer targets, pre-season friendlies and potential formations. The utter debacle from administration onwards, which has been debated to the ends of the earth, has left Rangers supporters violated, betrayed, frustrated, and denied the ability to enjoy football in the way most football fans take for granted.

Sometimes it is said the close season is a boring time for fans - with no competitive club football, supporters are left to read the tabloids conveying the latest transfer speculation, or match report from last night's friendly, be it a glamour match against some elite European club, or a trip to a third division German side's ground. Every nuance of said game is nitpicked upon by fans eager to discuss where weaknesses lie, what the manager should do differently come the start of the new campaign. As dull as this may be, one thing it definitely is not is stressful. Regrettably, since February 14th, everything Rangers has been one acute anxiety after another, with good news at a priceless premium.

Rangers fans have been categorically crushed by those who run the club, past and present, and the ability to anticipate a new season has been mercilessly extracted.

The USA played two friendly matches recently, one against a miserable Scotland, another against the new generation of Brazilian superstar. The majority of fans watching these games were able to focus on the football, thinking about the players from their clubs and how they would perform for their country. Milan supporters would have watched the Brazil friendly and noted Onyewu, the American international, who used to play in defence for their club, Pato, the late substitute for the Samba superstars who scored a stunning goal but who has struggled badly with injury for the Rossoneri, and Thiago Silva, arguably the best defender around right now who scored a fine header for his country and wore the captain's armband and has assured Milan fans he is going nowhere.

Rangers fans would have spotted two of their American stars, Bocanegra and Edu having outings, but sadly, the fragile existence of their club coupled with the sanctions being threatened against them meant appreciating the football side of the equation was effectively irrelevant. 5 goals past Allan McGregor in the Scotland friendly seemed to sum up the battering Ibrox has taken.

Expression sums it up.
Supporters are no longer able to discuss football, but instead have no option but to converse about the SFA, SPL, Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster, HMRC, BTC, sanctions, administration, Duff & Phelps, Craig Whyte, and Charles Green, to name a few. Formations, Steven Davis' form, Kyle Lafferty's personality, Ally McCoist's tactics, David Healy's absence from the first team - issues which might occasionally merit a brief discussion but inevitably the conversation returns back to the kind of subject football fans should never have to worry about.

Super Ally had a great deal of pressure going into this season, given the stunning act he had to follow, but rather than managing a football club, he has managed a storm. And as anyone knows, people can be controlled slightly more than the weather can. Rather than explaining a football selection, Ally has had to rally the troops in the face of this miserable debacle. And the most dire part of it is it never seems to abate. From one horror to another, more time has been spent in offices, courts and boardrooms dealing with administrative matters than the simple premise of arranging a summer pre-season match.

Never have so many supporters wanted a period in a club's history to be behind them quite as much as this. Other clubs have suffered badly too, Portsmouth, Leeds, Juventus; but the latter two survived and while Leeds are not the Premier League side they once were, they still exist for supporters to cheer on. Juventus were relegated 5 years ago for so-called 'Calciopoli', but today they are Italian champions and will be in the Champions League next season. 

One day we hope to be here again.
But Rangers? The club cannot plan for next week never mind next season. With yet more time being devoted to what sanctions the SPL can carry out on the club, the next blow seems imminent.

If only it was about the football again.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Who Will Stay and Who Will Go?

It has been a quite tumultuous period at Ibrox, with administration's grip tightening ever-further and no apparent end in sight. The league has now been formally wrapped up by our bitter rivals, and the one piece of distinct good news in Govan has been offset by the counter-news which could render it pointless. The good news is Steven Naismith seems to have returned to full training, and may well feature before this term is out. The bad news is West Bromwich Albion are circling like vultures for his services. And should the number 14 leave, he might not be the only departure this summer.

This slightly longer blog than normal will take a look at the players who are vulnerable to the leeching of other clubs this summer, and who might be less liable to this. Given the financial predicament Rangers are currently suffering it is entirely speculation, but given player values and abilities, it is worth posturing some of the more significant names at the club.

Allan McGregor. This has not been the best season for Scotland's number one, who is reportedly the highest-paid player at Ibrox. His shot-stopping has been patchier than normal, and he appears to have been affected by the off-field chaos. As many will testify, as much as strikers desperately thrive on confidence, so do goalkeepers. It is a psychologically demanding position, and recent chaos around the club has not benefitted McGregor, who, as one of the top earners, has had to tolerate a 75% wage cut. While no concrete offer has ever been reported for his signature, there is every possibility that a lower EPL team may wish to snap him up at a cut-price while offering him the sort of wages he normally expects. His current value is debatable - on top form he could be valued at £6M+ but this season he has failed to reach that. Mark Hateley has also raised a valid point in the past that McGregor has never been snapped up by big English clubs due to his height - this may or may not be true but there is no denying McGregor is not the tallest of goalkeepers so maybe this has deterred other clubs. Also in Rangers' favour is his own public support of the club - following 2010/2011's championship win, he wanted nothing more than to put pen to paper to sign on longer. Hopefully that desire remains.

McGregor during the recent Old Firm match.
Steven Davis. The captain had a promising start to the season, but the injury to Naismith saw his own form dip, and he has been hot and cold ever since.  Another of the top earners, Davis is relatively familiar to English sides having plied his trade with Aston Villa and Fulham, but since joining Rangers, similarly to McGregor, there has been no concrete bid received, merely speculation. Of course the club's plight may make clubs interested in a cheap deal for a relatively young midfielder (turned 27 in January), with the same carrot of higher wages. As such possibly some lower EPL team may swoop, but the chances of Davis leaving are not huge.

Steven Naismith. Roy Hodgson's West Bromwich Albion have reportedly made bids, something the manager has not denied:

            "That might be so. It’s not really my department, it’s sporting director Dan Ashworth you’d have to ask about that."

The speculated fee was around £2M, considerably less than the players' worth and  Naismith is extremely vulnerable now that West Brom have made a move. Based on his early-season displays, his value may have scaled to £8M+, but with administration and his own injury, the club might be willing to let him leave for a vastly reduced fee. The two considerations here are the player's own desire to leave, and given his media sound-bites, those desires, if they exist, are well-hidden, and the potential for a bidding war now one club has made a move. Naismith is clearly the club's biggest asset, and while it was believed his injury protected Rangers from suitors, now his fit-again status has attracted courters. The club will do very well to retain Naismith.

The Naismith we remember - scoring against Celtic.
Steven Whittaker. Subject to a derisory £450,000 bid from Bursaspor which scaled eventually to around £1M, Whittaker was the centre of speculation at the start of Ally McCoist's reign due to said bid, and the contractual negotiations with Rangers which procrastinated extensively. Eventually he became one of the top paid players at the club, valued highly by McCoist for his versatility. He is yet another to have his wages sliced way down, and there is every reason to suggest if a bid was received for him, given the history which surrounds him, that the club would accept it.

Maurice Edu. After a sticky start, the American found his feet and has had a pretty reasonable season at Ibrox. He was also the object of affection from several French clubs including, Sochaux, Auxerre, Marseille, and Bordeaux. The former did bid several times, from £500,000 up to the region of around a million, but the former Toronto FC man stayed put. Due to his age (25), his athleticism and his caps for the USA, Edu is definitely a prime target this summer. There would be no shock if a French club, particularly Sochaux, returned to the bidding table.

Carlos Bocanegra. The 32 year-old has been a truly excellent signing, with very few off-games. With over a hundred caps for his country, he is most definitely an asset due to his maturity and experience with time in the USA, England, and France to include on his CV. Quite happy at his previous club Saint-Etienne, it is debatable how loyal to Rangers he feels despite his slightly over-the-top claim that Rangers are globally as appealing as Manchester United. His words generally have been of the positive variety, but if a European club saw Rangers' plight and the fact that such a player has had to suffer a wage cut, a low-price bid might just see Rangers letting him go. Indeed, the whole administration process has been tough on him:

            "There is so much in the papers about who is going to take over it does my head in."

Maybe he would welcome a departure from the stress of it all.

Dorin Goian. The Romanian had a rip-roaring start to life in Glasgow, and certainly came with a quality pedigree, having amassed over 40 caps for his country of Romania, and experience of the tough league that is Italy's Serie A. He became something of a cult-hero among the supporters, but in the past 4 or 5 months has not sparkled at the back like he previously did, suffering a touch of inconsistency. Aged 31 now, his agent has reportedly been in talks with clubs in Germany and Turkey over a move away, but the Romanian has equally been impressed with life in Glasgow and the club's supporters, seemingly rejecting a move to China. He has stated his contentment at Ibrox and how, like the other players, he wants an end to the takeover saga. It is difficult even to speculate on his future.

Typical Goian - big personality - but will it keep him at Ibrox?
Kyle Lafferty. Something of a 'village idiot' reputation has followed the Ulsterman since joining Rangers. Prone to the odd gaffe now and then, not to mention ill-advised performances in the media, Lafferty's initial detractors have by and large been won over by his performances since last season's split. His inconsistencies have been woven out his game and he has been regarded as a big player. Indeed, following that season speculation linked him with a move to West Ham for £2M. Surely worth more than this, Lafferty is regarded as an asset, if maybe not quite as highly viewed as the Naismith's and Davises by some. But like many in the Rangers squad, he is a Rangers fan, and has never spoken of wanting away. He is a player Rangers would do well to retain, and chances are slightly above even that the club can do so.

Sasa Papac. A consistent performer, the first portion of this season saw the Bosnian scale his displays in the presence of new-signing Lee Wallace, and produce arguably his best football since joining in 2006. 32 now, Papac has nigh-on never been linked with a move away, and was reportedly one of the top earners before the wage cut. The Bosnian has made his money in football, and while his recent displays have not been of the best variety, unless he is released by the club, Papac is almost a certainty to remain.

Lee Wallace. The left back-cum left winger was an unglamorous signing last summer by McCoist, albeit the most outlay was splashed out on his signature. A pretty good capture, the Scottish international has received minimal criticism for his performances, but it is unlikely his value has changed any from the £1.5M paid for him. He is another who, bar the club letting him go, will probably remain.

Lee McCulloch. The big-hearted Scot has gained something akin to 'legendary' status for his 'play for free' gesture which endeared him greatly to supporters. His performances this season have been adequate, and his utility nature has allowed McCoist to deploy him as striker in recent games. The near 34-year old has been a loyal servant to Rangers since joining in 2007, and while often not being a fans' favourite, his commitment to the team has been undeniable. At his age he is almost certain to remain at the club, and given his willingness to play for nothing, there is no reason for the club to let him leave. Although it is unlikely any bids would ever be received either.

McCulloch leaving Murray Park - feeling the strain like all the supporters.
Sone Aluko. While not able to reverse the bleeding suffered by Naismith's injury, Aluko's signing has been nonetheless a breath of fresh air, and the Nigerian international has shown some truly outstanding skill since signing for Rangers. His performance in the recent Old Firm derby was stunning, including a quite Messi-like goal. He is an undeniable asset, and Spanish side Rayo Vallecano have been in contact with his agent regarding a move. Under normal circumstances the winger would have substantial worth, but these are not substantial circumstances, and predators would be delighted to pick up his services at a minimal cost. The player himself has been non-committal about his future, which is perfectly fair. Much rather they say little than swear allegiance before departing in the  next window. When asked about the situation, the 23-year old said:

            "We’ll see what happens next. There are a lot of things going on at the club but it will get to the point where I will sit down with them and take it from there. It is not something I am looking at right now. I am concentrating on playing and winning games for Rangers and carrying on my good form. That is my only focus just now. We are all dependant on the situation and what happens, so once the club figures out what the next step is I will decide as well.”

Perfectly mature and sensible comments to make. 

Given the squad size, it would take an essay Tolstoy would be proud of to go through every player. I have focused on the main protagonists of the tale, the most significant players at the club. I am sure I have forgotten a name or two. Of course, this entire piece may become a lot less relevant should a takeover be secured and new owners are able to inject cash into the club, raising wages back to what they should be. But this is completely up in the air.

As Sone Aluko puts it: "We'll see what happens next."