S. P. Hell

Last updated : 13 April 2009 By Stand Free Ed

Despite collecting three well earned points few fans will have left Pittodrie on Saturday feeling they had received value for money. All too often SPL battles have become Wars of Attrition where creative, beautiful football is stifled out by negative tactics and hatchet men. As a result, fitness and athleticism have taken priority over genuine skill and flair.

Calderwood has taken his fair share of criticism following the predictably meek exit from the Scottish Cup last month and one of the biggest gripes among fans is the level of entertainment provided by his Aberdeen side. The last ten league outings have seen Aberdeen score only seven goals which seems to belie the view that Calderwood encourages attacking football. However, over the same period we have only conceded seven and the defence appears to be holding firm on a regular basis with Jamie Langfield topping the SPL clean sheet charts. Perhaps it's not Jimmy that's the problem, perhaps the nature of the game in Scotland has changed.

The goals in Scotland in general seem to have dried up. Outside the Old Firm only one player has hit double figures in the SPL this season and the average weekly goals has dropped from over 16 goals a week last year to barely 14 this year.

There appears to be two main reasons for this. First, as Rangers proved in their tedious European adventure last season, negative football can be very effective. The rise of 4-5-1 has allowed some teams to bore their way to success and when options, and more importantly talent, are limited it must be difficult for managers to resist. The most frustrating, tiresome performances at Pittodrie, the ones which have further hardened the feeling towards Calderwood, have come against teams we'd hope to pass off the park. Games against Hamilton, Kilmarnock and ICT have been particularly brutal on the eye.

The other reason is the poverty gripping Scottish football. Any player showing half a season's worth of quality is lured away by the filthy lucre of the Championship. No non-Old Firm club can compete with their bargaining power and few players will opt for the potential glory of a couple of nights of UEFA Cup action in exchange for trebling their wages. Players of any flair or quality disappear from Scotland before they fully develop and often before they bear fruit in our own top league.

The examples are becoming too numerous to mention from Gow, McCormack, Anderson, Porter, McNaughton, Berra and Nicholson to even First Division players like MacDonald, Dorrans, Snodgrass and McPake. Scottish football just can't cope with the brain drain, and the talent deficiency is becoming more and more apparent in our top league. The whole league is devoid of the star players you pay your money to see. Performers and entertainers are few and far between and unaffordable to most clubs. Should a talent emerge from the youth ranks the opportunity to cash in is irresistible to chairmen.

With the budget available Jimmy has assembled a squad of players capable of punching their weight at the top end of the SPL but each and every one of them is clearly flawed. In Lee Miller we a have a player with about the best touch in the league, a fans favourite, an international and a player who rarely scores from open play. In Charlie Mulgrew we have a left back with a lethal delivery, a dead ball specialist who can't defend. In Mark Kerr we have a workhorse, an effective passer who keeps the team moving with his enthusiasm, energy and drive but who is completely incapable of getting a shot on target. Yet despite their flaws, these are players that every other SPL manager would welcome into their teams.

The problems don't end there. The restricted budgets mean paper-thin squads and a reliance on utility players. They are invariably a jack of all trades and master of none. These players have become more and more important for SPL sides and the value for money they can bring has again brought the Championship clubs calling. Aberdeen have lost McNaughton and Clark in recent years and to effectively replace them Jimmy would have required four or five signings to fulfil the variety of roles they covered. Obviously this isn't possible on an SPL budget and instead he's had to make do with journeymen and drifters.

Every summer sees the departure of the league's top players to the Championship, and this results in managers desperately trying to plug the gaps in their squads before the transfer window slams shut. Aberdeen finally signed a left back only to find they no longer had a right back. Jimmy tried to deal with this through speculative punts on EPL loans but the gamble hasn't paid off and the team has suffered as a result. The compound effect of these patch ups is an imbalanced squad awaiting further repair at the next window when inevitably some more top performers will seek higher wages elsewhere to further exacerbate the problem.

The manager's job in Scottish football is becoming increasingly difficult and the result is increasingly unwatchable.

The only hope is that the credit crunch bankrupts the Championship before the turgid football bankrupts the SPL.