MANAGER OF THE YEAR

We have reached that time of the season when the players and football writers will be asked to choose their players and managers of the year.

While there is plenty of debate about who has performed best ON the pitch there can be no argument about who has delivered the most from the technical area – Steve Clarke.

Yes, even if Brendan Rodgers delivers a back to back treble I’d argue that the Killie gaffer has actually achieved more during the season than his Celtic counterpart.

Sure, football is about winning trophies and competing at the highest level and there is no doubt that a ‘Double Treble’ would be worth shouting about but, when a manager’s impact on a club is as significant as Clarke’s has been, there is no competition.

When he took control of the Rugby Park squad back on October 14th his team sat bottom of the pile without a win from their first eight fixtures, had amassed only three Premiership points and scored just five league goals.

Fast forward five months and Kilmarnock are now sitting in fifth spot and have only tasted defeat on four occasions from the 25 matches he’s presided over.

More importantly, Killie have won 13 of those games and beaten both Celtic and Rangers at Rugby Park. They also won at Ibrox last weekend and had previously picked up draws against Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow.

That’s progress of huge proportions.

From cannon fodder to top-six certainties you would have to say Steve Clarke has worked wonders in Ayrshire in a relatively short period of time.

Brendan Rodgers on the other hand has NOT taken Celtic forward this term.

Of course, an invincible season was always going to be difficult to surpass but there is no doubt that his team have gone back the way and most Celtic fans will recognise that.

How far back will vary from punter to punter but I’d suggest that Rodgers has a major job on his hands to even get his squad back to last year’s levels.

Sure, the Hoops will still win the league by a distance and will ultimately be the power brokers of Scottish football for the foreseeable future but that’s not the manager’s mantra.

No, he wants to develop players and teams by improving individuals. He wants to continually challenge the standards at his club. He has spoken about creating a legacy during his tenure.

And, he wants to provide all of that with an attractive brand of football.

Well, this season was clearly not on the Sat-Nav route to those destinations.

Less impressive performances, a drop in standards by individual players, unresolved defensive frailties, ropey recruitment and a few humblings in Europe are all confirmation of the step backward from that all conquering group of last term.

Let’s face it, it is not likely to be panic stations around Lennoxtown but Brendan Rodgers will know himself that some things have not gone to plan.

For that reason I think Steve Clarke is the pick of the managerial bunch.

In fact, if I was to pick anyone other than Clarke it would be Jack Ross.

The St Mirren gaffer grabbed the Paisley side by the throat and literally dragged it out of the car crash it found itself in last season.

He placed the squad in intensive care and has gradually resuscitated the entire fabric of the club to such an extent that he will take the Saints back into the top flight next term.

That too is progress and in any other year it might just have been enough to get the nod.

Sadly for Jack Ross and the rest of Scottish football’s gaffers Steve Clarke has eclipsed them all.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LOYALTY GAME

Gone are the days when loyalty to a badge, a board of directors, a set of fans, a manager or a cause was more important than the colour of your pounds, euros or dollars.

Sadly, as football as morphed from a sport to a business, so have the rules of engagement with employees. In most circumstances it is ALL about what is in their pay packet.

Now, we all know that football is a short career and footballers need to capitalise financially where they can. But, that thought process and dynamic is constantly eroding the connection between the fans and the players year on year.

It is no surprise that men such as Billy McNeilL, John Greig, Willie Miller and Maurice Malpas are held in such high esteem by the supporters of Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Dundee United respectively as well as the wider footballing public.

As ‘one club’ men they are entitled to be celebrated and revered by the fans because they not only delivered silverware to their clubs; they played for the jersey.

Could the same ever be said about Nicolas Anelka, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovich or many of the modern players who have been engineered to look after themselves first?

Contrary to regular opinion though, there are still loads of guys out there who give their all for their club over a significant period of time.

Lewis Stevenson at Hibs, Scott Brown at Celtic, Keith Lasley at Motherwell and Andrew Considine at Aberdeen are great examples of individuals who have ALWAYS given their lot for the people who pay their wages.

In truth, amongst the backdrop of a game that is now regularly paying players £400,000 per week, there are thousands of guys who go about their business week in week out in a more committed manner for literally 0.1% of that figure.

From Kris Doolan and Chris Millar to Steven Hammell and Steven Anderson there are plenty of guys who put in a real shift for one club during their career and that is why they are loved by the punters – it is not the money that drives these guys, it is all about their professional pride and conscience.

If you look hard enough you will find plenty of others in Scottish football who have operated in the same way.

And, that brings me to Queen of the South’s Derek Lyle.

Now, I’ve known Del since he was a gallus kid at Partick Thistle under John Lambie.

The only difference now is that he’s no longer a kid – sure, he’s still just as gallus – and already half way through his 21st season in Scottish football. That takes some doing.

Throw in the fact that he suffered a really bad knee injury during his time and it is remarkable that he is still doing what he does best – scoring goals.

As one of only five players in Queen of the South’s history to score over 100 league goals he is quite correctly celebrated down Dumfries way.

He is currently third highest goalscorer in the club’s history and is only three goals behind the late, great Bobby Black who graced Palmerston back in the ’50s and ’60s.

As Queen of the South’s most decorated player, he has won two League titles and two Challenge Cups, it is safe to say that he will always be part of the Doonhamers’ family.

It is no surprise that his Testimonial Dinner last Saturday night in Dumfries was sold out and that the feeling within the room towards him was nothing short of incredible – I think he almost enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him.

That proved to me that loyalty is still a two way street and very much alive in football.

You just need to know where to look for it.

The Gaffer..

Billy McNeill. Gordon McQueen. Jimmy Bone (twice). David Provan. Michael Oliver. Billy McLaren (twice). Tommy Gemmell. Tom Spence. Rowan Alexander/Mark Shanks. Tommy Bryce. John Lambie. John Connolly. John McVeigh.

14 men with one thing in common – they all managed me during my playing career.

And, the point is, that is probably ALL they had in common.

Football management is not prescribed and there is no magic formula out there that guarantees results for the man in the dugout. There is literally no Sat-Nav to success.

Sure, coaching courses and seminars can provide guidance to budding gaffers but it is ultimately down to the individual to come up with his own route to eminence.

What works for one guy might not work for another and vice-versa. Management is about what works for YOU. End of.

Were all of my managers the same? No. Did they all have the same technical and tactical aptitude? No. And, did they all have the same man-management styles? Definitely not.

Some were more concerned with coaching and camaraderie while others majored on fitness and formations.

The bottom line is that success will always be relative and governed by a number of factors including; the quality of players recruited and the identification of a formation to suit them, the group’s understanding of the shape and strategy, the physical ability for the players to perform, the desire of the squad to execute that strategy, and the belief of those players in the guy who is asking them all to do all of the above.

Get those factors right and you won’t be too far away.

It is not a science – and that applies to any team in any workplace.

On the same night last week that the news of Alex McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager was breaking I was having dinner with a good friend who has been hugely successful in business.

We had chatted about his experiences of building a business, managing employees and putting together a board of directors.

He emphasised about NOT needing to have everyone in your team on board with your vision and views but, to have any chance of success, you MUST have the majority.

Football dressing rooms are no different.

It is impossible for every player in a squad to be happy with the manager because some of them don’t get picked. But, those who are selected can influence them.

They can ultimately change the behaviour of any doubters or dissenters very quickly and, if that happens, everyone at the club can benefit.

Look at what Brendan Rodgers has achieved at Celtic in his 20 months in charge?

You NEVER hear publicly about players being unhappy about being left out of the team. That doesn’t mean that they are not unhappy – they just know that they need to work harder to get back into the side and hold onto the jersey when they get that opportunity.

The one thing that has never changed about managers is that they dictate what standards are acceptable at their football club. That’s their bag.

From the way the players behave at the club and out with it’s confines to the way they apply themselves in training and in games the gaffer alone calls the shots.

He is THE most important person at the football club and everything else derives from how well he does his job.

Attendances, sponsorship deals, media coverage, marketing opportunities and other revenue streams are all affected by how the manager performs.

Quite simply if you get it right on the pitch you should reap the rewards off of it.

A new beginning..

After 18 years as a columnist with the Scottish Sun it is now time to share my views on football and the ever changing world of the beautiful game on a new platform.

From as early as I can ever remember I have loved football.

All I wanted to do as a kid was to play the game with my friends on any spare piece of ground that we could find. Growing up in the 1970s and coming from a working class background meant that the ball we used during those kickabouts varied day on day.

It didn’t matter to us what condition the sphere we were using was in. From ‘real leather’ balls and plastic blowaways to patched up bladders and tennis balls we just got on with it as we played five-eleveners, headers or World Cup Willie.

Those were magical days when EVERYONE I knew wanted to be a footballer.

I was one of the fortunate ones who actually managed to live the dream when I was offered a contract at Celtic by Parkhead gaffer and Lisbon Lion Billy McNeill.

That happened after a reserve fixture at Dens Park where I was lucky enough to play as left-back behind the late, great Tommy Burns who was returning from injury. I have said many times that Tommy playing that evening was the difference for me – he literally coached me through every step of the 90 minutes and I couldn’t fail to impress.

Signing for Celtic changed my life forever – it gave me credibility as a player in an era when players who left a club the size of Celtic were guaranteed a contract elsewhere.

Inevitably, my career started at the top and I worked my way down. Not that I’m complaining; there were better players than me who never kicked a ball professionally.

In truth I was NEVER good enough to play for Celtic’s first team and even though I elected to only sign on a part-time basis that didn’t matter – I could have trained 24/7 without the extra training being enough to allow me to make the ‘big time’.

Instead, my journey in football began in the Reserve Leagues under the watchful eye of Bobby Lennox and alongside others who would go on to have very decent careers – Stuart Balmer, David Elliot, Gerry Britton, Stevie Fulton, Mark McNally, Andy Murdoch, Alex Mathie and Gerry Creaney were just some of the boys I had the pleasure of sharing a changing room and pitch with.

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So, yes, my football life started on the streets and spare bits of grass in and around Milton of Campsie but it was on the pitches of Barrowfield and Helennvale astroturf that my professional career was spawned and developed in the first instance.

As well as sharing memories of my time in the game I’ll comment on the pressing matters within Scottish football and the wider football community.