It’s been a while since I blogged, for a multitude of reasons. Over the Christmas period, like a Civil Servant version of Andy Webster, I picked up a succession of various maladies that left me unable to do little more than eat ice-cream and curse my lack of sleep.
When I haven’t been in bed doped up to the ear canal, I’ve been at work, or studying towards the Professional Competency Award (at least I think that’s what it’s called) I’m currently undertaking. As a result, when I get home at night, the last thing my brain wants to do is be persuaded to give up a few thoughts on the state of football. And to be honest, I’ve been a little exasperated with the game. I’ve felt that way since the World Cup I suppose when I fell in love with the verve of the young German team and the performances of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was simply immense all tournament long.
Since then, domestic and even European games have seemed somewhat mundane by comparison. It hasn’t helped that Rangers and Scotland have delivered a series of varied performances and the occasional terrible result while everyone remotely connected with football in Britain appears to have taken leave of their senses this season. It’s been a mad, mad, mad, mad season.
However, it’s early February, and the transfer window has just been closed and locked gently. It’s as good a time as any to look at how our elite guard of Scottish fitba…er, llers are doing.
The three big stories concerning ‘our boys’ during the last month involved Kenny Miller, Charlie Adam and Kris Commons. The former, in the goalscoring form of his life and with five months left on his contract, accepted an offer to sign for Turkish champions Bursaspor. While some Rangers fans have expressed their displeasure that the striker chose to leave (and the club only received £400,000 for his services), Miller is not a Rangers fan and is nearer the end of his career than the beginning; the money he is being paid by Bursaspor could set him up for his retirement, if he manages it right.
Meanwhile, on transfer deadline day, former Rangers misfit Adam was the subject of two confirmed transfer bids, reported to be in the value of £8-12m. Indeed, apparently a late, late bid by Tottenham was only not accepted because two Blackpool shareholders couldn’t be contracted to sign a particular document. Adam’s ascent to being one of the hot properties of one of the big four European leagues over the last 18 months is pleasantly surprising. But it’s not that surprising.
While the precision of his left foot has never been in doubt, his attitude perhaps has. During Paul le Guen’s short spell as Rangers manager, Adam excelled, scoring fourteen league goals (including a forty yard chip over a stranded Dundee United goalkeeper). His performances under Walter Smith were less assured, perhaps because Smith played Adam on the left hand side of midfield where he feels less comfortable. Indeed, Adam was substituted at half time in the first game of the 2007-08 season, a Champions League qualifier against FK Zeta, after an appalling first half performance at left midfield. Still, he would go onto score two goals in the group stage proper, something that Scottish midfielders rarely do, so the talent was latent.
When Adam first signed for Blackpool, then of the Championship, in the summer of 2009, many observers would have been justified in suspecting he would disappear into the lower reaches of English football over time, as so many Old Firm cast offs do. But he hasn’t. Installed as club captain and the keystone of Blackpool’s midfield by Ian Holloway, he has thrived, and his goals, performances and leadership have helped the small Lancashire club book their great adventure in the Premier League.
And even in the much hyped top flight of the English game, Adam has continued to impress. As of the 5th February 2011, he has scored six goals (including four penalties) and provided six direct assists, with his set pieces leading to any number of further goals. He is currently the third highest scoring midfielder in the official Premier League Fantasy Football game. I know, it’s hardly the most scientific method of quantifying a player’s ability, but it’s a decent barometer, particularly the bonus points:
“The three best performing players in each match will receive additional bonus points. Three points will be awarded to the best player, two to the second best and a single point to the third.
Player performance is assessed by Press Association analysts, all of whom are ex-professional footballers, who attend each match. This assessment takes into account the quality of a player’s overall performance and their contribution to the match result.”
Adam has more bonus points than anyone else in the division. But he still has his flaws; he is guilty of one too many Hollywood passes (although when they come off they can be astounding), he’s not great defensively, and he’ll never be an athlete. However, he’s only 25 and he has time to improve. The big transfer he’s being talked up for might not have happened in January, but it seems a certainty any future improvement in his game won’t take place at Bloomfield Road.
Kris Commons meanwhile had been linked with both Rangers and Celtic (as so many players seem to be nowadays). Out of contract at Derby in the summer, he apparently turned down an offer from Rangers despite the player himself saying he had no dealings with the Ibrox side, and signed for their Glasgow rivals. The next day, he scored the opening goal in the League Cup semi-final against Aberdeen, although whether he meant the audacious chip from the edge of the penalty area has been debated.
Elsewhere in England, the Scottish contingent have been a little quiet. Barry Ferguson has helped Birmingham reach the League Cup final, his tidy, efficient passing that retains possession still not appreciated by everyone. Alan Hutton, after a resurgence in his reputation at Tottenham appears to be struggling for form once more; Harry Redknapp was foiled in a move for Everton’s 34 year-old Phil Neville, which suggests Hutton might not be the manager’s preferred long-term solution for the right-back position. Steven Fletcher has been in the news for apparently resigning from international football, but more concerning is his lack of first team appearances at Wolves (despite being their top goalscorer), but he has more Scottish company now he’s been joined by Leigh Griffiths and Jocky the cat. 15 miles away Graham Dorrans finds himself in a similarly marginalised and struggling to recapture last season’s form at West Bromwich Albion. However, Scotland’s international poachings from England, Dorrans’ team-mate James Morrison and Sunderland’s Phil Bardsley appear to be in rich veins of form at the moment.
Craig Levein’s squad for the Nations Cup later this month featured the lowest number of Championship players in recent times, with just Leeds’ Robert Snodgrass represented. The Scots in that division aren’t experiencing the best of times, perhaps encapsulated by Jamie Mackie and Kevin Thomson both suffering leg breaks. The Scotch Corner experiment at Middlesbrough has generally been something of a failure, although Boro’s performances haven’t been improved much by sacking Gordon Strachan. Kris Boyd has looked forlorn at times, and yet like Fletcher at Wolves, remains the club’s (joint) top goalscorer.
And in Scotland, where we don’t have two bob to rub together, young players are getting their chance to display they are every bit as good and bad as the foreign imports that are so often in front of them in the queue for a first team start. James Forrest at Celtic and David Templeton at Hearts have taken said chance (although some would argue that at 22, Templeton is hardly young in professional football terms; he is in Scotland), but the young player I’ve been most impressed with, probably because I’ve seen the most of him, is Jamie Ness at Rangers. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I adored watching the World Cup, and during it I finally completed my transition from being someone that worshipped the goal to someone that worships the pass. I’d always loved seeing someone playing a defence-butchering killer slide-rule pass of course, but I now am in thrall of those players that don’t squander possession, that pass the appropriate pass, be it short or long or in between, and then move into space to receive, that don’t panic and give the ball straight to the opposition, and Jamie Ness is very much in that mould. He’s started Rangers’ last six league games, and while he is still prone to making the odd rookie mistake, he displays an eerie clarity of thought under pressure. There’s certainly a good chance his career will have a similar trajectory to that of Barry Ferguson and Charlie Adam.