Wednesday, April 24, 2013
This week, Rangers move on from the Charles Green era, while the race for player of the year is wide open.
Last year's man
Charles Green left his post as chief executive of Rangers this week and later announced his intention to sell his 8% stake in the club in December, the earliest opportunity under the rules of the stock market. His story is not yet done, but he will be a hero to supporters of the rejuvenated club no more; all that is left for him is an ongoing investigation into his alleged ties with the disgraced former owner of Rangers, Craig Whyte. And, of course, the millions of pounds he will make from selling his shares 18 months after Rangers were rebooted in the Third Division. So, every cloud.
In that time, Green has rarely been far from the back pages of the Scottish press. He was the subject of death threats and police guards; he made crazy promises that were never kept; he filled Ibrox stadium for a season of matches against part-time opponents; he was a divisive and often ill-informed rabble-rouser; he used racist language in a newspaper interview. That is just a part of it.
Picking through his public statements about petitioning David Cameron to get Rangers out of Scottish football, his accusations that bigotry was the basis for Rangers' failure to reboot in the SPL, a claim of a link-up with the Dallas Cowboys, and more besides, it is difficult to see anything he uttered as anything other than the hokum of a PT Barnum, holding the attention of the crowd just long enough to ensure he gets away with their money.
At the start of this story, when Green was the bad guy, there was a refreshing clarity about his endgame: a rapid exit from Rangers with a healthy profit. If his proposed sale to James Easdale, a Scottish businessman already in for 6% of the club with his brother Sandy, goes ahead, the bottom line will ensure a happy ending for a pantomime villain.
Voting is afoot in the player of the year polls and the race is wide open. A case is being made for just about all of those racing for the SPL golden boot, with the possible exception of the man with a four-goal lead at the top, Michael Higdon of Motherwell. The idea is that Higdon is an effective final cog in the most efficient machine in the league, as opposed to an outright matchwinner, and it is not without foundation.
The recruitment of Niall McGinn by Aberdeen was perhaps the signing of the season, but their real masterstroke was converting him from a winger to a striker. Leigh Griffiths, who will return to Wolverhampton Wanderers following a second loan at Hibernian, has been the most flamboyant of finishers throughout the season and, like McGinn, his goals have carried his team. He also still has the Scottish Cup final to come.
From the champions, Victor Wanyama, Kris Commons and Fraser Forster are the strongest contenders. Wanyama is 21 now and Celtic will make a big profit on a player they had hoped would this season be emerging as a first-team player. Instead he has long since been a first-pick and he made a bigger impact in their Champions League campaign than any other.
He may not be in Scotland next season and it easy to see his appeal to the elite clubs in England who have been watching his performances this season.
However, the North of the Border vote goes to Andrew Shinnie, Inverness Caledonian Thistle's No. 10. Here's why:
Inverness have provided the best value in the league, not just in terms of points-per-pound but also in the way they attacked every team, home or away, for the vast majority of the season. If they have achieved the most from what they started out with, then the individual who has most influenced that collective gain has been Shinnie. He has been first among equals, the player his team-mates look for in a tight spot and the playmaker behind the prolific striker, Billy McKay - another player in the running for the award. He has contributed 15 goals of his own and, in a team that often play a direct game, his first touch and ball retention have marked him out as an exceptional player in the SPL.
Shinnie's Bosman move to Birmingham City was confirmed this week. At 23 he should go straight into the starting team there and he will not look out of place at St Andrew's. It is also inconceivable that with game time in the Championship, he will not add to the single Scotland cap he won last November. Nobody has come further this season than Shinnie.
Brittain's got talent
Richard Brittain was at the centre of an interesting mini-drama this week. The Ross County midfielder had struck an early pre-contract agreement with St Johnstone when he entered the final six months of his contract with the Dingwall club at the start of the year. Recently, he has spoken of his desire to rip up that agreement, citing "personal reasons" for his intention to remain in the Highlands.
So the fates placed Brittain and Ross County against St Johnstone, who had been standing by their agreement with the player and insisting Brittain would not be allowed to remain at County without some kind of deal being struck. The reasoning given by Steve Lomas, their manager, was that he had closed the book on his search for a central midfielder when he signed Brittain and had missed out on the chance to acquire several alternatives for next season. Were he to start again at short notice, it would be likely that he would end up with an inferior player.
Lomas also revealed that he offered Brittain a two-year contract when no such offer was tabled from County. Furthermore, he suggested that the player had wanted to complete the transfer in January, but a request for a fee of £50,000 from County put paid to that. Lomas' conclusion was that the success enjoyed by Adams' team in the second half of the season has given them a financial base from which they could improve their offer to Brittain.
The case is a test of the robustness of the pre-contract agreement. If St Johnstone continue to stand their ground, Ross County may be faced with the choice of paying for a player who is effectively theirs already or forcing him into a move he no longer wishes to make and from which they do not stand to benefit financially. In the midst of it all, the County manager, Derek Adams, faces precisely the same issues as Lomas: does he bank on Brittain and risk shopping for a last-minute bargain if he loses his captain and dead-ball specialist?
This all came to a head in the first post-split fixture, which ended 2-2 as County twice came from behind in Perth. Both of their goals came from the penalty spot and were scored by Brittain. After the first, it appeared he was unsure of the level of celebration he should employ; after the second, he went mad. It certainly hasn't cleared the issue up any.
Finally, congratulations to Partick Thistle, who sealed their promotion to the SPL and the First Division title with a 2-0 win at Falkirk.
They caught up and then overhauled Greenock Morton, who had assembled a gnarly side packed with players who knew what it took to get out of a division that is like quicksand. They did it with a base of young players and others who they recruited early and developed with patience.
Two-thirds of the way through the season, they lost their manager, Jackie McNamara, to Dundee United and he was replaced by Alan Archibald, who had started the season on the playing staff but finishes it with the task of building a squad for the top division.
That task is made more difficult by the list of players out of contract in the summer, but if Thistle can keep most of them, there are plenty of teams in the SPL they can draw a target on next season.