Wednesday, May 30, 2012
To lose face
North of the Border looks at Scotland's loss of face in the USA, the sorry mess at Rangers, and the grim reality of relegation.
THE JACKSONVILLE FIVE
Alexei Lalas, the former USA defender, Major League Soccer power-broker and now an analyst on ESPN and ABC, said it best: "USA should be proud of the way they won; Scotland should be ashamed of the way they lost".
In the wake of a hideous 5-1 thrashing dished out in Jacksonville, Florida, the comments of Lalas were picked up on back home, for two reasons. Firstly, they represented a concise summary of a game that was played out in the small hours of the morning and viewed by a tiny minority of Scotland supporters; secondly, they were in stark contrast to the way anyone associated with Scotland was presenting what had just happened.
Craig Levein blamed the defeat on a lack of focus, which is a galling admission to make while still within the grasp of the many Scotland supporters who had travelled from the UK or across the USA to attend a game they believed would be competitive.
Levein was also missing key players. Darren Fletcher is the national coach's greatest asset and the Manchester United midfielder has been absent since December with a bowel condition; he hopes to resume his career next month. Players such as James Morrison, Charlie Adam and Alan Hutton would also have improved the starting line-up. However, in the build-up to this fixture, Levein made the point that he had depth in every position. Newspapers carried line-ups of four Scotland XIs available to the coach. This game revealed the truth: that Scotland needs its best players, operating at their best, to create any forward momentum in international football.
There is much to admire in the Scotland coach, but at a time when the correct move would have been a more robust criticism of his players, or even a small mea culpa, he said he would take Morrison over Landon Donovan, the USA forward whose hat-trick made him their all-time top goalscorer, any day. Good news for Morrison, an under-rated performer in the Premier League and a certain first-pick for Scotland, but perhaps only slightly less off-key than Alan Partridge's description of China Crisis as "the best band ever to come out of Liverpool".
Scotland are preparing for a World Cup qualification group that, despite their lowly ranking and an absence from finals that will run to 16 years when Brazil 2014 rolls around, is not inescapable. The team lost face in Florida, and ahead of a campaign that will be won and lost on the smallest of margins, they perhaps lost a little goodwill from supporters whose help and patience they will need when Wales, Croatia, Serbia, Belgium and Macedonia come to Hampden.
Rangers started this week finalising the Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) they presented to their creditors on Tuesday, in a bid to avoid liquidation and reformation as a new company (newco). However, in a neat illustration of this gargantuan, sprawling mess of a story, this latest development may not deliver any hard news until the second week of July, by which time those creditors may have accepted the offer, the CVA will have survived a 28-day 'cooling-off' period and Rangers will have exited administration under the new ownership of Charles Green and his consortium. Alternatively, the CVA will be rejected at any point before then and a newco Rangers will emerge.
If that sounds like a kind of closure is foreseeable, you simply haven't been paying attention. And who could blame you?
Michael Grant, the chief football writer at The Herald, laid out the web of open investigations and inquiries that form a web around the Rangers story:
Duff & Phelps and David Grier are being investigated by the Insolvency Practitioners Agency. Craig Whyte and Gary Withey are being investigated by Strathclyde Police. Whyte's lawyers, Collyer Bristow, are being sued by Duff & Phelps. Rangers under Sir David Murray are being investigated by the SPL for alleged undisclosed payments, and by a First Tier Tax Tribunal for tax underpayments. The SFA is being challenged by Rangers at the Court of Session.
It really is a sorry mess, yet there remain signposts on the horizon that might help us guess at a way out. Friday is June 1, the day the pay-cut agreements signed by the players expire and Rangers become ungovernable without new money. Next week, either the prospective new owners, who will still not know a great deal about the nature of the penalties they will operate under in the short and medium term, will either make a bold financial commitment or Rangers will sell their best players at the knock-down prices that are the agreed quid pro quo for those pay cuts, so beginning the transition from SPL powerhouse to lame duck.
Dunfermline Athletic showed the grim reality of relegation from the SPL this week, releasing 12 of their squad as they prepare for life in the First Division. The list includes several players who were key members of the team that stormed that league in 2010-11 and their promotion rivals may now be circling, hoping to pick up the best of them before the SPL clubs become fully aware of how the various aspects of the Rangers crisis will impact on their budgets for next season.
Jim Jefferies, the Pars manager drafted in to a relegation firefight at the end of the season, said: "The way to get up at the first attempt is to have the money to go and strengthen your squad, or bring in players at decent wages, but that we will not be able to do. If we stuck to the players we have and didn't come up, it would be a massive [financial] problem the following year."