Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Never say never
Steven and Darren Fletcher returned to the Scotland squad when Craig Levein named the men that will be sent to Wales and Belgium later this month to salvage the nation's hopes of a place at the World Cup. The starting XI will be improved vastly by their inclusion, yet their return is newsworthy for different reasons.
During his spat with Steven Fletcher, Levein chose to compare the attitude of his huffy forward with that of Darren Fletcher, Scotland's best player. The Manchester United midfielder may have someimtes struggled to find his best form for Scotland - understandable given the disparity between the talent around him in those two teams - but, said Levein, he answered every call, never gave less than his all and demanded the same from those around him.
Steven Fletcher, on the other hand, had criticised the manager and declined to be selected for a minor fixture, precipitating an icy stand-off between the two. Since the striker last played for Scotland, in 2010, he has moved from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Sunderland for £14 million and started this season in incredible form.
For much of that time frame, Darren Fletcher has been struggling to overcome a debilitating bowel illness that at one point threatened his career. No sooner has he returned to the Manchester United team than Levein has restored him to the national squad.
In both cases, the selections would not have merited much consideration when it comes to the comparative abilities of the players coming into the squad and those they will replace in Levein's team. However, the return of Steven Fletcher required the kind of back-channel politicking usually associated with hostage exchanges.
Levein had said he would not consider Fletcher for the duration of this campaign, but a goal per game in the Premier League will refresh most managerial strategies. The national coach had also stated that the first move in any reconciliation must come from the player. That appears to have been the case, but what is surprising is the number of moves made after that one.
Fletcher said in a one-word tweet that he would play if selected. According to quotes attributed to Levein, the coach was then contacted by "a third party" suggesting Fletcher was ready to return to the fold. "Things progressed" between Levein, the SFA and this shadowy 'Deep Throat' figure to the point where the estranged couple were ready to make up.
There was then "a text", apparently from Fletcher to Levein, a final confirmation that, yes, this great summit could begin. The two then talked - history may never record what exactly was said - and a peace was brokered that may have a lasting effect on world affairs. Or the World Cup. Or not.
Levein, in this whole saga, had appeared mindful of the personality politics in play. It looked like he didn't want to lose face. By getting round all that - however circuitously - the coach has got back a striker who is streets ahead of anyone else available to him. The return of both Fletchers gives Scotland a much-needed momentum shift going into a double-header upon which all their hopes of a place in Rio already rest.
The cost of doing business
The administrators who ran the old Rangers in its final days have issued a report to creditors, placing the final debt owed by that organisation to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs at a staggering £94 million.
The breakdown of that figure provides insight into the various fault lines that sank Rangers. Over £18 million is due as a result of Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and national insurance payments missed during the brief and fatal reign of the former chairman, Craig Whyte, who appointed the administrator, Duff & Phelps, when HMRC began proceedings to force a court-appointed administrator through the doors at Ibrox.
Duff & Phelps claim they are owed over £3 million for services rendered. The report also reveals that the club made a loss of £4 million during the period of administration.
Around £3 million had already been agreed as liability for a tax scheme relating to some contracts under the previous stewardship of David Murray. The rest, a little over £74 million, is the amount Duff & Phelps say Rangers will be due if an appeal against a decision regarding the use of Employee Benefits Trusts in the Murray era fails.
All of the above reveals the pounds-and-pence cost of the massive failings of the Murray administration, Whyte and his partners and Duff & Phelps. While the Rangers support appears to have transferred whole-heartedly to the company purchased for £5.5 million by the consortium fronted by Charles Green in the summer, those who argue passionately about a continuity of their club's identity should strive to ensure they have the opportunity to question those responsible for the fate of that institution.
Right now, as the reformed club forges on and its previous body is picked over, it appears that those with responsibility for staggering corporate malpractice, with huge social and economic consequences, not least for those supporters, have been shielded by the fact this all took place in the world of football.