THERE IS something not quite right about the new fitba season getting underway before the Open Champion has posed with the Claret Jug. It goes against the order of seasons.
But, here we are, the Bigot Brothers have already played their opening games in the Champions and Europa Leagues qualifiers, with Aberdeen and Kilmarnock due to kick-off their European adventures tonight – and we are still only midway through the second week of Wimbledon.
I wish the BBs and the two “diddy” Scottish teams all the best in Europe, and wonder, just when the SFA and the SPFL will adjust their season to give our clubs a fighting chance of just maybe, still being in Europe past Christmas.
It does grate with me that most of the close season transfer activity appears to revolve round importing non-Scots. The first and most-important part of the SFA's reason for existing is supposedly to promote and develop Scottish football.
Just how allowing the top clubs to bring-in non-Scots willy-nilly squares with this, well, it has me beaten.
Unless we gain Independence, and a speedy re-admission to the European Union for an independent Scotland, I fear our top clubs are going to get a bit of a shock, once Westminster's hard presumption against immigration starts to kick-in, and it becomes very difficult to import foreign players. The days of free-for-all importing will soon be over.
I was reading yesterday about the rules in French Rugby Union, where the clubs are supposedly awash with imports – to the detriment of French young players. Well, except, France has won the last two Under-20 Rugby World Cup competitions.
In France, the clubs MUST include a specific number of France-qualified players in each match-day squad. The same rule applies in English rugby, where each match-day squad has to have at least 70% (16/23 players) “England-qualified.
If that rule was introduced into Scottish football, the Big Two would surely struggle. In Sarajevo, the Celtic starting XI contained six Scots, which equates to 61.1% “Scotland-qualified,” while the full 18-man match-day squad saw 11 of the 18 – 54.5% being “Scotland-qualified.”
The Rangers squad was even-less Scottish: just two of the starting XI, Allan McGregor and Ryan Jack were “Scotland-qualified,” that's 18.2%, while only three of the seven on the bench: Andy Halliday, Greg Stewart and Greg Docherty were “Scotland-qualified,” giving a squad figure of 27.8%.
That's a long way off the 11 players, born within a 40-mile radius of Celtic Park, the immortal Lisbon Lions, and also a long way off the 11 Scots, known as “The Barcelona Bears” after they pulled-off their club's greatest win in the 1972 Cup-Winners Cup final.
And don't give me the old: “These days are past” line. It could happen again, with a wee bit of hard work and ambition – oh yes, and if the SFA weren't scared of the big two and got them, and the other big clubs telt – start pushing young Scottish players.
Bringing-on young players, I will admit, in an inexact science. Scottish football first became involved in age group football in 1955, with the first Under-23 team, from which emerged four internationalists: Alex Parker, Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Graham Leggatt, all of whom were in the full Scotland squad for the 1958 World Cup Finals, just over three years later, and two of whom, Caldow and Mackay are in any all-time Scotland squad named since.
In all, in 43 Under-23 internationals between 1955 and 1976, we tried-out 209 young players, of whom 116, or 55.5%, went on to become full caps.
Then we switched to Under-21 football, and in the first decade, we capped 104 players at this level, of whom 50, or 48.1% went on to win full caps.
Then, in 1986 David Holmes recruited Graeme Souness as Rangers' manager and everything changed. David Murray bought the club and introduced the import-heavy recruiting system he had used with his MIM basketball club, and, everyone else followed suit.
I am still updating my data base of Under-21 caps, but, can tell you, between 1986 and 2006, the percentage of Under-21 caps “training-on” to become full internationalists fell from 48.1% to 33.2%.
In fact, there are several instances of Under-21 caps from the Big Two, who played more age group internationals for Scotland than first-team games for their club. Sorry, but, that aint right.
I had a look at the last Scotland Under-21 team to take the field, losing 2-1 to Sweden in a tournament back in March. That team was:
Robbie McCrorie (Rangers); Sean Mackie (Hibernian), Barrie McGuire (Motherwell), George Johnston (Liverpool), Daniel Harvie (Aberdeen/on-loan Ayr United), Allan Campbell (Motherwell), Michael Andrew Johnston (Celtic), Benjamin Houser (Reading), Jordan Holsgrove (Reading), Ross McCrorie (Rangers), Iain Wilson (Kilmarnock). On the bench were: Jamie Brandon (Heart of Midlothian), Patrick Reading (Middlesbrough), Fraser Hornby (Everton), Jake Hastie (Motherwell), Oliver Shaw (Hibernian), David Turnbull (Motherwell); all of whom got off the bench, plus unused subs: goalkeepers Kieran Wright (Rangers, on-loan to Albion Rovers) and Ross Doohan (Celtic) and defender Calvin Miller (Celtic).
I've never-even heard of at least half a dozen of these guys. Certainly David Turnbull, Michael Johnston and the McCrorie twins have a bit of public name recognition. But, five years or so into their professional careers, these guys are some way off pushing for a place in the full Scotland squad. Indeed, Ross McCrorie, a veteran of over 50 first-team games for Rangers is so far out of Steven Gerrard's plans, he has agreed to a season-long loan with Portsmouth in England's third tier, while his goalkeeping twin brother is also going out on-loan, to Queen of the South.
Given what he has already done at the club, I cannot see the sense of loaning-out Ross McCrorie. Yes, giving Robbie a chance to play regularly, and ditto Kieran Wright, well that allows Rangers' fourth and fifth-choice 'keepers to show what they can do, and I can see nothing wrong with that.
No, it's difficult enough to make it as a professional footballer, but, if you're a young Scottish wannabee, it seems, these days, even your employers like to put additional obstacles in your way.
The talented and determined will always make it, but, I wonder, over the years, just how many marginal boys – who might have made it, got disillusioned and gave-up.