Scything Down a Good Crop?

A football trivia question gets asked, and what follows is a bombardment of players past and present who are all evocative of memories from their time. Upon the guess of ‘Julian Joachim’ to one such question, it was agreed amongst myself and my trivial peers that he was what we would describe as a ‘classic 90s English Premiership player’. And upon this, a new tangent of thought was sprung, that of the ‘classic footballer’. A ‘classic player’ is not necessarily the best player; he is something close to, but not quite a cult hero, someone who is atypical of his surroundings.

The English Premiership (Best League in the World Mate) have moved on from the 90s classics such as Andy Hinchcliffe, Warren Barton and the aforementioned Joachim, and now seems to have a current breed of players that their press believe to show ‘proper English grit and determination’: Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and John Terry. Questionable ethics applies to three-quarters of these players, which is probably a fair reflection of the English Premiership.

Italy’s Serie A is the league of the ageing master: Maldini, Zanetti, Pirlo, and Del Piero.

Spanish La Liga evokes players such as Raul, Xavi, Casillas, and Messi. Classy professionals.

The players of the German league are, as expected, rugged efficiency. Oliver Kahn, Mattias Sammer, Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose.

It would be easy to look at these examples and say that they have been cobbled together, and ignore a lot of other possibilities just to try and make a point based on stereotypes. Easy to say this, and also correct. As this is nothing more than a longwinded introduction to get to the question that I wish to examine: What makes a ‘Classic’ SPL player?

There are a few different areas of categorisation. There are the players such as Henrik Larsson, Stilyan Petrov, Giovanni van Bronkhorst, and Claudio Reyna. Players who were great in our league and proved themselves at a higher level one they left as well.

There are also the players who stood out and were heroes for their clubs, but for whom the grass did not necessarily prove to be greener, and ended up returning. These players are the SPL Boomerangs. Eoin Jess, Rudi Skacel, and Barry Ferguson all fall into this section. Good players who were shining in Scotland, regularly to the adulation of their own supporters but who for some unknown reason, just cannot seem to do it outside Scotland.

As well as these we have the SPL furniture, the players who have been with us for such a long time that they are as part of the SPL as moaning about referees, Chick Young’s hiding of his Rangers allegiances and Jim ‘Spencey’ Spence’s love for all things Dundee. Step forward players such Jim Hamilton, Colin Nish, Michael Higdon, and Dave Mackay.

There remain more categories. SPL saw a new investment into the Scottish game, and with it a yearning for something new and exciting. There became the opportunity for the clubs to broaden horizons, and introduce a new and exciting breed of player to our shores. So with this great opportunity for something new and grand to our game came a bunch of shit foreigners. Nicolas Fabiano, Juan Cobian, Pa Kujabi, Mo Bangura, Zibi Malkowski, Davide Grassi, and many more that could be included. The SPL quite simply would not be the league it is without some of the dross exports that have come in simply because their name sounded exotic or they once had some link to a big name European club that should have made them better than they actually were.

There is a final category that our league would not be complete without. While they could be seen as falling within the SPL furniture category, there is something special about this grouping of players that merits them having a podium all to themselves. They do belong in the SPL, though that may be because they simply would not be allowed to ply their trade or get away with some of the crap that they get away with in any other footballing nation in the world. The cloggers. Players such as Ross Tokely, Grant Munro, Jim Goodwin, and Darren Dods who have somehow managed to make the step up from Sunday League thugs to top flight footballers. Not wanting to be overly critical of them, but they are a large part of what is wrong with Scottish football.

There is the threat of a new breed of player developing within Scottish football, there have been a crop of promising young players who are threatening to make a real impact on our game. Players such as Gary Mackay-Steven, James Forrest and more recently Ryan Fraser are providing a welcome spark to the game. These are attacking players who are willing to take on their man and run at defenders, even going as far as to try a trick or a step-over. It’s almost become unprecedented in our league, but these are players who are good to watch.

Our clubs have not been able to offer transfer fees and compete in richer leagues than ours, such as League 1, for a while now. Instead of scouring after the scraps the Sky FC’s decide against, our clubs finally seem to be making the welcome move of relying on our own produce. If necessity happens to be the reason for this, then fine. People will not be complaining about the motive provided that the end result is good.

The snag though, is that the Cloggers are not happy with sharing their status amongst the SPL ‘iconic’ roles, so they seem to be setting out to stop these young players. For ‘stop’, you could also read ‘hack’, ‘chop’, or ‘scythe down’.

Aberdeen were a team severely lacking in creativity, so as soon as Ryan Fraser started trying to go beyond his marker, he was obviously going to stand out to opposition defences as one to be wary of. He has been subject to ten yellow card fouls and one red card foul already this season. His card is most certainly marked, defenders will go out their way to stop him and do not seem to be overly fussed as to the means of doing so.

In Aberdeen’s match against Hibs, Alan Maybury put in a studs showing challenge, over the ball on Ryan Fraser. It was a challenge that could have broken his leg. He was shown a yellow card. That was the wrong decision. Though perhaps more annoying than the decision being wrong was the analysis that was conducted on the BBC’s flagship Scottish football show, Sportscene.

Craig Gordon was on partly to provide analysis and partly to remind managers he still existed. Dave Mackay was on partly to provide analysis and partly because surely someone must have pulled out. Their analysis was not good. Alan Maybury was fortunate to escape a red card. But then again he is the type of player that Hibs will appreciate having in their side, as he will put in the tough challenges and his experience will prove invaluable. You might say that more could have been made to highlight the bad challenge, I might say that it was appalling that it was not.

Apparently there are different types of fouls that exist in the game, there are shades of grey in the matter that should be black and white. There are fouls that are plain to see bad challenges, but then we have fouls that apparently only happen because the attacking player is too quick. The latter of these two fouls shouldn’t be heavily punished. If slow cumbersome centre halves are struggling to keep up with quick players then they can just stick their leg out to hopefully get the ball, if the quick players gets the ball in front of them, then its his fault for being too quick.

The disappearance of Rangers from our top flight forced the hand of most clubs. Where previously developing youngsters was a good intention and something we hoped to do, it is something that is now becoming a necessity for most. Some of these young players are actually showing real promise, and may even be beginning to excite crowds.

These players must be allowed to flourish. Of course they will be in for treatment from some of the rougher defences, this happens in football. But that does not excuse blatant fouls not only going unpunished, but also being underplayed.

It is clichéd, but the SPL has a chance to start something of a fresh this season. Maybe we might be able to see a new breed of SPL player flourish, but they need to be allowed to.


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