Despite the high cost of living, it’s still incredibly popular, even in the current economic climate. The footballer seems to be the only professional still insulated from the credit crunch and the SPL in particular appears to be a place where mediocrity can be rewarded with vulgar salaries and obscene bonuses.
Gary Caldwell is the most recent player to expose both a staggering lack of self awareness and a feeble grasp of current affairs. The Celtic centre half, who has the honour of being the single worst SPL Player of the Year ever, has failed to notice the belt tightening occurring throughout Scotland, or his own limited mental and technical abilities in both International and Champions League duties and has demanded a new contract worth in the region of £20,000 a week. That, if any context was needed, is the annual equivalent of every single fan at an old firm game paying their ticket price directly into Caldwell’s bank account. Even Fred Goodwin would struggle to keep a straight face trying to negotiate that deal.
The old firm have a long and rich history of spunking money away on utter garbage. Bobo Balde barely kicked a ball in three years at Celtic Park but is estimated to have earned £4,500,000 in wages during that time [He kicked plenty of players though... - Ed]. This summer alone, Rangers have trimmed their wage bill by around 100k a week by offloading average SPL makeweights like Adam and Burke along with expensive flop Hemdani and past it cloggers Dailly and Ferguson.
While the old firm remain relatively financially secure due to their global branding, European revenue and additional TV money, the rest of the SPL has to count every single penny. When the average club invests a couple of grand a week on a player they must receive some sort of return on investment.
Aberdeen currently find themselves in the position where their biggest investments are providing the smallest return. The stuttering start to Mark McGhee’s tenure has been brightened by emerging talent. Paton, Crawford, Fyvie, Pawlett, Megginson, Aluko and Maguire are all under 21s looking to make an impact and impress the new boss. Their directness, enthusiasm and determination has put their experienced colleagues to shame.
Last season, due to European success, Aberdeen were able to make some significant investments. Diamond and Miller were rewarded with lucrative new contracts while the services of Oldham captain McDonald and Scotland B international Kerr were secured at considerable expense. So far this season, the Aberdeen support are still waiting for these top earners to make any meaningful contribution to the team with only Diamond excused by his niggling injury problems.
These players are not only the best paid at the club but they also make up the spine of the team. The first months of McGhee’s reign have seen solid improvements in the back line, leading to 400-plus minutes without conceding a goal, but our midfield has been totally bypassed due to the ineffectiveness of Kerr and McDonald and the sum total of goals scored by the clubs strikers has stalled at one after Maguire’s wonder goal against Hamilton.
McGhee has battled manfully to get the Dons playing attractive, flowing football. He’s worked hard in training to prepare them for more entertaining football and he’s taken all the flak when his 4-3-3 formation has failed to make the desired impact but it’s the most experienced, best paid players at the club are the ones who have let him down.
It’s easy to look at the likes of Duff, Young and Foster and criticise their performances. They are budget players, often played out of position, to fill gaps in the side, played out of desperation and limited options. They are easy targets because of their obvious limitations. They need the top players to perform at the top of their games to prevent their weaknesses being exposed. After the Sigma humiliation it was hard not to feel sorry for Derek Young, he clearly tried his best but was totally out of his depth. Kerr, McDonald and Miller didn’t have the same excuse but were equally ineffective.
Our youngsters offer similar problems to the squad fillers. They lack the physical strength of their experienced team mates and they are learning their trade in the most unforgiving of environments. Our captain, at least, needs to lead by example, encourage, support and relieve the pressure on our future stars but so far the 16 year old Fyvie has battled to cover for Kerr’s dreadful use of possession.
McGhee is still very much in a period of transition. He’s assessing his squad and preparing to build his own side. The January transfer window will be a very interesting one. Kerr, Miller, Mulgrew and McDonald will all go out of contract in the summer. Mulgrew is currently the single most important player in the squad and every effort will be made to secure him on an extended deal, hopefully before any pre-contract offers can be made from down south. The other three will need to justify to McGhee that they are worth the expense. Jim Leighton was a true legend at the club but McGhee was ruthless in his appraisal of Jim’s usefulness. Clearly McGhee thought he could get better value elsewhere. It should be a stark warning to our players that they must earn their wages every week but so far it appears to have gone unheeded.
Next week we face Rangers at Ibrox, McGhee’s toughest test so far. We’ve waited so long for a victory down at Snake Mountain that the Sigma trauma will instantly be forgotten if we secure three points on Saturday. It’s the ideal opportunity for our big guns to prove their worth and finally show up for a big occasion.