Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Betting on Black
Betting on Black
When Scotland players began to withdraw from Craig Levein's squad for this week's friendly against Australia, the manager decided to call up Ian Black of Rangers. Not since he put out a 4-6-0 formation in the Czech Republic had the national coach courted controversy with such abandon.
Black was close to a call-up last season, when he was among the best central midfielders in the country as a player for Hearts in the SPL. However, he didn't make the cut. Black later left Hearts under freedom of contract and joined Rangers in the Third Division. It appeared that Black, like Lee Wallace, another former Hearts player, had sacrificed his Scotland career to pilot Rangers through the lower leagues for a few years.
Instead, he found himself in the Scotland squad, a couple of days after playing in a 2-2 draw with Peterhead in Rangers' first game in the Third Division.
Levein's options were depleted but there are many midfielders who will have been wondering what they have to do to get in front of a player who will play out this season and next against part-time opposition. Even if Black is the best option for Levein for this friendly, is he part of Scotland's World Cup qualification strategy? That is to say, will he be asked to play against East Stirlingshire one week and Croatia the next?
Nothing Compares to Sou
Kenny McLean is one of the best young players in Scotland and his career curve is just about perfect. At the age of 20, his level of responsibility in the St Mirren midfield has increased over the past three seasons, from a loan in the lower leagues through a season as a squad player until, in 2011-12, he became a first pick for his manager, Danny Lennon.
McLean started this season with a bang, from all of 35 yards. He unloaded against Dundee for the first goal in a 2-0 win that put his team at the top of the SPL after the second weekend of matches, one in which Celtic and Dundee United, winners on gameday one, did not participate.
After the game, Lennon was asked about McLean and said: "Maybe this season we will unleash a new [Graeme] Souness or [Kenny] Dalglish and I certainly think McLean has the ability to do that."
It was a startling thing to hear. McLean is very, very good, but the players he was compared to are two of the best Scotland has ever produced. The St Mirren midfielder has yet to play for Craig Levein's national team.
Lennon knows his player, of course, and must be confident that his words will give McLean a target to aim for. However, there must also be a risk that those watching the midfielder play this season meet him with expectations so high that he can do little other than disappoint. Without the hyperbole, a young player may have had a little bit more room to continue his trajectory and discover where it will take him.
Lennon has not only developed his outstanding player since taking control of the club in 2010 but has redesigned his team into a winning outfit who look like they will have a run at a European place this season. Perhaps we should assume he knows what he is doing and enjoy McLean before the 'new Souness' line hooks in Liverpool or Sampdoria.
The book Soccernomics, football's own Moneyball, worked out that in 2010 Craig Gordon was the most valuable goalkeeper in English football. This was the result of a complex equation that took into account his £9 million transfer fee and the wages that came with his British record move from Hearts to Sunderland, as well as his level of activity and his performance during games.
That's the science behind something that was evident to anyone watching Gordon play for Scotland or Sunderland during this time. He was an A-list goalkeeper.
This summer, Gordon is the most valuable free agent still out there. After serious knee and ankle injury, he is yet to find a club after Sunderland allowed his contract to expire.
He has been training at his old club, Hearts, but Gordon remains beyond their reach. His name has appeared next to a list of teams from Bristol City to Udinese and his eventual destination, salary and level of performance will be intriguing.
At his best, Gordon wins points for teams at the top level. Depending on how well his body has repaired itself, his next club may be about to make the best value acquisition of the summer.