STRUGGLERS AXE BOSSES


St Johnstone and Motherwell both sack their managers after poor starts to the season. Are Livingston the right model for success. And why Kilmarnock's euro-exit was par for the course.

 

WHAT'S IN A NAME ?

Rather a lot if the recent managerial appointments of MOTHERWELL and ST JOHNSTONE are anything to go by. Take the Fir Park outfit. Their best players left last season to go to Wigan. Now what does it tell you about Motherwell when that benighted Lancashire town - famous only for George Orwell's magnificent book - and its third-rate football club are a more attractive prospect than one of Scottish football's most venerable institutions?

Crippled by debt, under-performing, first they sacked manager Billy Davies. Then, with results improving under caretakers John Philliben and Miodrag Krivokapic, they dismissed that duo as well. The outlook is distinctly bleak. So perhaps its appropriate that they've brought in a manager named BLACK!

Eric Black comes with a big reputation courtesy of the SFA and the 'Largs Mafia' coaching school. Undeterred by his painful experience as No 2 to John Barnes at Celtic, Black will attempt to restore Fir Park fortunes with no money, precious few sellable assets and declining crowds. Not the best recipe for success.

By the way is Motherwell Chief Executive Pat Nevin who appears regularly on Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports channel giving interviews on 'Inside Scottish Football' any relation to the former Scottish international Pat Nevin who used to refuse to give interviews to Rupert Murdoch's 'Sun' newspaper? I think we should be told.

As for St Johnstone they've also gone down the road of appointing a failed Celtic No 2 with the manager's job going to Billy Stark. And Stark as in 'stark raving mad' may be an accurate assessment of anyone wandering into a Perth bookmaker's and laying down money on Saints being a Premier side this time next year.

But Billy Stark knows that if Saints do go down then at least he won't have to shoulder the blame. The damage was done at St Johnstone some time ago. The McDiarmid Park side are determined not to live outside their means. Unfortunately for them that means having to operate with a hard core support of fewer than 4,000 and negligible finance from other sources. Consequently they couldn't hold on to their best players. The end product is likely to be First Division football and the lower crowds that will entail. This is a vicious circle that offers only one hope of escape. Saints possess one of the brightest talents in the game in the shape of Kiegan Parker. His transfer might help the ailing club financially but would do little to help them avoid relegation.

Stark has finally taken over a Premier club. Yet he had the chance to do so seven years ago when he was offered the Kilmarnock job after Tommy Burns walked out on the Ayrshire club to join Celtic. Stark chose to follow his pal to Parkhead. And apart from a brief and undistinguished spell at Morton, he has worked in tandem with Burns ever since. Interesting to note that Burns was St Johnstone's preferred choice as boss. Perhaps experience has taught Tommy to recognise a poisoned chalice when it is put in front of him. At any rate, if Stark fails to turn Saints around, expect to hear noises about how they'd have been better off with the organ grinder. St Johnstone are not a club noted for loyalty - they once sacked Alex Totten a few days before Christmas when they were lying in sixth place!

Of course if Saints really wanted a boss with a suitable name they'd have given the job to German bandleader James Last! And who knows, if this sort of thing catches on then actor Stephen Furst, film director Michael Winner and former jockey Bob Champion will all probably be in the frame to take over at an increasingly desperate Ibrox.

 

THE LIVINGSTON MYTH

First off, credit where it's due. Since Livingston morphed out of the old Meadowbank Thistle (who themselves evolved from Ferranti Thistle) they have done incredibly well. Third Division to SPL in five years is no mean feat. And they appear to have built a genuine fan base in the New Town they take their name from.

That wasn't easy either. Clyde made a similar move a few years previously, changing base from Glasgow to Cumbernauld but their crowds at Broadwood aren't significantly higher than they were at Shawfield. So for Livvy to go from a couple of hundred to several thousand regular spectators is some achievement. And, considering that these fans either previously didn't watch League football at all or, if they did, were regulars at Ibrox or Parkhead then it is also a very welcome development.

But let's not get carried away.

Livvy have been ruthless in their move through the divisions, casting off players and management with abandon as they pursued their Premier dream. And once they reached the top flight, they took the path so many others have trodden before them. The path of expensive foreign imports. This website has no particular gripe with them for that. If it is good enough for the Old Firm then it is good enough for Livvy. But some of the nonsense about Livingston being a breath of fresh air in the SPL and showing the way forward for provincial clubs needs to be answered. So here goes.

Livvy have reached third place without so much as having a single player in their first eleven who has come up through the ranks. Even the Old Firm can usually manage one player who has been with them since his schooldays. So how can this be the way forward for provincial clubs? Others have tried this approach with varying degrees of success. Motherwell have been forced to backtrack on their signing policy and (Caniggia apart) the jury is still out on Dundee.

Also, Livvy's good fortune has been achieved at the expense of others. A good chunk of their side arrived from Raith Rovers and Airdrie at knockdown prices as those clubs battled for survival so its a bit galling to hear Livvy claim that they'll feel aggrieved if they lose Marvin Andrews cheaply. They didn't moan about getting him from Starks Park for shirt buttons.

So yes, Livingston have made an impact in the top flight. But they are not the blueprint for the future of the game and it will be interesting to see how long they can maintain their present policy. I suspect the intention is to hold the line in the Premier until they can bring their own players through. Anything else would be suicidal. They may have a Lottery winner on their board but how far does £10M go in football these days?

For the true 'breath of fresh air' in Scottish football this season, why not look at Division One? Airdrie fans didn't even know if they would have a team at all this season yet in next to no time, Ian McCall has transformed the Diamonds into table-toppers on a shoestring budget. The big-name Spaniards of the Stevie Archibald era are gone and the team has actually improved.

In the same division, John Lambie's Partick Thistle, having just come up from Division Two, have given themselves a decent chance of two promotions in succession.

It is this rarely feted odd couple of McCall and Lambie that have provided the Scottish game with the real 'surprise' stories of the season thus far.

EURO DISNAE LOOK GOOD

Far be it for us to criticise a fellow fitba website but one of the fine sites we link to recently went in for a bit of Killie-bashing after the Rugby Park side's recent defeat in Norway. It even went as far as to suggest that if Kilmarnock should qualify for Europe again this season that they should decline the place for the good of Scottish football!

Now we realise that the site in question has a bit of a green tinge to it and that the aforesaid criticism of Kilmarnock losing to a Norwegian team was made before Celtic's visit to Trondheim but the truth is that none of our clubs have achieved anything of note in Europe for some years.

As for the specific charge levelled at Kilmarnock, that they have let the country down, well we can only say no more than any of the rest in recent seasons. True this website has more than a sneaking affection for the Ayrshire club, but we try to boost ALL of Scottish football here. The best defence that can be made of Killie's performance in Norway was that it was no more than the rankings dictated. Kilmarnock were fourteen places below Viking according to UEFA and for once the numpties of Nyon were right.

But, and this is the worrying point, Kilmarnock were manifestly the most Scottish of our Euro entrants this season. No fewer than eight Scots lined up in their starting eleven in Stavanger. That's probably as many as the Old Firm and Hibs combined. So if Killie don't make it this year (and the way they are playing that's a fair bet) who will take their place on the Euro-stage? Who are capable of achieving more than the Ayrshire team? Livingston? With their Spanish-cum-caribbean backbone? Hearts? Dundee United? The revived Aberdeen?

Even the Old Firm with all the millions at their disposal and all their foreign 'stars' struggle to make an impact on Europe worthy of their size. The sad truth of the matter is that Scottish football has reached a new low in European terms. This is something that Tommy Burns (him again) saw coming years ago when he suggested that we were heading towards the same level as the Republic of Ireland. Burns was right. There are only two major differences between us and the Irish right now. Firstly, their domestic players don't get paid the megabucks for underachievement that are on offer in Scotland. Secondly, their national team can live with the big boys.

 

 

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