The Burley & the bath water

So Scotland have sacked George Burley.  This after the former Ipswich boss failed to steer them to World Cup qualification or even the outside chance of qualification via the play-offs (though we all know how that would have ended).

George Burley (image from TeamTalk.com)

"What do you expect me to do with this shower?" (image from TeamTalk.com)

Most pundits say he had it coming – most Scotland fans would agree.  I may not surprise you hear that I don’t.

This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water – or to put it another way: fixing the holes in your walls when the roof’s caving in.

Scotland are just not very good.  Not that Burley is a genius but no amount of tactical tinkering and half-time tea-cup related wobblies will get you past that first and all important fact.  Would a Capello, Hiddink or a Mourinho make a Grimsby Town into world-beaters?  Exactly.

I should come clean at this point.  I’m an Englishman (a fair chunk of Irish blood too) but I’ve no real sympathies for the Scots.  Unlike most of our northern cousins, I’d rather they did well as opposed to badly but I won’t fall over myself to cheer them on.

However, as a Colchester United fan, I’m no fan of George Burley’s either.  Burley jilted us at the proverbial altar.  After we rescued him from football management obscurity he paid us back by jumping at the first opportunity to return to his alma mater, Ipswich – our fierce local rivals.  We never forgave him.

That said, I think Scotland got it wrong getting rid of him.

Scotland failed to qualify from the smallest and what looked a relatively ‘simple’ World Cup group.  Netherlands have first place taped, granted – but all Scotland had to do was best Norway, a side nowhere near the peak of their powers, to take second place.  Don’t embarrass yourselves against Macedonia and Iceland and a play-offs place should be nailed on.

Bad start

It started badly when they lost away to Macedonia.  A pair of beatings from the Dutch were to be expected but a tame draw and a 4-0 trouncing against Norway saw any hope of 2nd place vanish over the horizon.

How could this come about?  Sloppy management clearly, in the opinion of the Scottish FA (SFA).

Let’s look at the Scottish team though.  The players who actually lost those key matches.

The team is made up of a list of also rans and that’s being generous.  Between the sticks: David Marshall, who plays for League One side Norwich City.

The rest of the defence are Callum Davidson (an ageing, injury prone Championship player); Gary Caldwell from Celtic (don’t get me started on the ‘strength’ of the Scottish Premier League); Alan Hutton (whose matches for (admittedly) Premier League Tottenham you could count on one hand); and Graham Alexander (Burnley’s bearded centre back who must be nearing 40!).

The midfield features the one decent, top-flight player: Darren Fletcher – a key part of an impressive Manchester United side.  Scott Brown and Steven Caldwell are two more Celtic players plus there’s Kris Commons who plays for Championship strugglers Derby County.

Up front? Ross McCormack who plays for Championship side Cardiff alongside Rangers’ Kenny Miller.

Now I’m not knocking those players (ok I am – viciously so) but they’re hardly a collection of world-beaters are they?  Fletcher is the only one in danger of being any good – who may get into a top international team’s XI.

Is that Burley’s fault?  Hardly.  He can only pick the players available to him and the sad fact is there just aren’t that many good Scottish players out there.

Dearth or death of talent?

Where have they all gone?  Scotland were never awash with world all stars but they still had a scattering of decent players.  Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Kenny Dalglish are obvious examples.  In more recent times players like Paul Lambert were good enough to be picked up by decent European sides (Borussia Dortmund) and went on to win the European Cup.

Fletcher aside which Scotsman could do that now?  And where are they coming from?  Researching this article I logged on to the SFA website to see that the Scots Under-16s had been beaten 2-1 by their England rivals.  The quote from the coach (Ross Mathie) was telling: “…you’ve got to remember these are the Premiership stars of the future we were up against.”

That maybe true Ross – but why aren’t your boys Premier League stars of the future?  It’s not like you can lay claim to the oft used English defence of “no top English managers”… I think Sir Alex Ferguson may fall into that category for the Scots!

The straw that broke the camels back for the SFA was a 3-0 defeat by Wales – Burley’s last game in charge.

The Welsh side were packed with talented youngsters.  Even those of ‘more mature years’ are Premiership players.

Arsenal & Wales' Aaron Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey: Exception or exceptional?

Arsenal starlet Aaron Ramsey was the star of the show.  Even if you take him, as perhaps an exception, out of the equation, the Wales team are superior and not just in terms of the scoreline.

They’ve got three goalies to pick from: Jason Brown; Wayne Hennessey and Boaz Myhill – all at Premier League teams.

In defence: Gareth Bale, James Collins and Danny Gabbidon – more Premier Leaguers.  I need not go on I think?

George Burley may not be in the same league as the Capellos, Hiddinks and Mourinhos of this world – but then nor are Scotland.  Even if the SFA were able to attract a top of the range manager you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

They need to roll their sleeves up and get into the muck at the bottom of their trough of talent.  At the moment it’s a pretty shallow trough.

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Eduardo: Scapegoat or smokescreen?

We’ve all seen and read (endlessly) about Eduardo’s ‘dive’ against Celtic in what amounted to a Champions League qualifier.

Much wringing of hands all-round.  “Diving.  Terrible thing.  We must stamp it out.” etc.  Uefa (under pressure from the media and Scottish FA) have made an example of the Arsenal striker – with a two match ban.

Gunners manager, Arsene Wenger, is understandably upset.  Much as we’d all like cast-iron honesty from all managers and players, did anyone expect him to do anything other than defend his player?

Precedent?

Uefa have, it would seem, set a precedent.  The next round of European matches will be extremely interesting.  Will all divers receive the same punishment?  Doubtful if not impossible.

The question I find myself wondering is why they have acted at all.  The pressure of the repeated media coverage has been cited but if that were the case every other refereeing decision would be treated in this manner.

The pressure applied by the SFA must have been key – big-wigs at Uefa being Scots cannot have hurt either.

Uefa President Michel Platini is an outspoken critic of video evidence.  Instead he advocates (and is trialling) a system of Additional Assistant Referees (AAPs) situated behind each goal.

What is this retrospective punishment of Eduardo if not trial by television?

The referee is hugely undermined and a precedent impossible to follow has been set.  It cannot be the answer.

Imagine if the incident had instead occured in the Champions League Final.  Eduardo dives (work with me  – assume Arsenal made it for argument’s sake); wins a penalty; scores and Arsenal win 1-0.

Under even more pressure, Uefa look at the video evidence and ban Eduardo.  Meanwhile, the Croatian is sat amongst his team-mates on a open-top bus tour of north London with the Champions League trophy.

Would you risk diving to win the sport’s biggest club competition?  Many (many) players would.  What’s a two-match ban to a place in history?

Additional referees are a far better answer.  Punishment would be instantaneous and results would stand, with authority.

If Platini supports this view, Eduardo’s ban is at best sending mixed messages – at worst it’s just a smokescreen – doing something for the sake of being seen to do something.