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Home|Football News|Scottish Premier League|Previous|Scottish Premier League News

Scottish Premier League Update

The latest from the Scottish Premier League, February 2010

Celtic | Rangers | Scotland


Andrew Driver, the Hearts winger, has committed himself to Scotland as Craig Levein's side bid to qualify for the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

Craig Levein, the Scotland manager held face-to-face talks with the 22-year-old over his international future and it is believed that the Oldham-born player, who has been capped by England at Under-21 level, will pledge his future at senior level to the man who was his first manager at Tynecastle.

Driver qualifies through the new residency ruling that states players can represent one of the four home nations if they hold a British passport and they have been educated in that country for five years.

His decision is a huge boost to Levein just weeks after he succeeded George Burley as national coach.

Driver, who was selected by England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce in a European Championship match against Germany last June, is rated one of the brightest young players in Scotland.

Levein, meanwhile, has repeated his ambition to have Barry Ferguson, Allan McGregor and Kris Boyd back in the Scotland team, even while describing the antics of Ferguson and McGregor during the infamous Boozegate saga of last March while members of George Burley's squad as "sheer stupidity".

Levein wasn't sparing in his description of the behaviour of Ferguson and McGregor, but insisted that neither he nor the SFA were in a position to act in a draconian fashion over it. The Scotland manager also insisted that the SFA itself had been partly culpable in the debacle, while claiming that as many as seven other Scotland players may have been lucky to have escaped censure on the night of the binge.

"I think they [Ferguson and McGregor] were really stupid," Levein said. "I wasn't there at the time, so I don't know the exact details of what happened, but whether, as I believe, there were five, six or seven other Scotland players involved, it was Ferguson and McGregor who ended up being the last two sitting there.

"In my eyes that shouldn't have happened. I don't know why they were told that they could go and have a drink that night [after the World Cup qualifier against Holland]. And then, after it, came the V-sign business. If the drinking thing hadn't happened, then the second thing wouldn't have happened, either. For me that was the biggest mistake - and I am not making excuses for the players' stupidity. But it was all a direct consequence of them being allowed to go and have a drink in the first place."

Levein dismissed the allegation that he was ignoring a principle, whereby any Scotland player who acted in such a fashion did not warrant an opportunity to return to the international team. The SFA has been seen by some to have backed down on the severity of the original punishment for Ferguson and McGregor.

"Look, hang on a minute," Levein said. "Things have changed greatly in football - it is not the old draconian way that it used to be. Society is changing. I feel I'm quite a principled man but what I am saying to you is that a situation arose with these two players where they had been told they were allowed to go and have a drink. For me it was sheer stupidity sticking V-signs up at the press - I've made that clear. But please tell me what they have done that is so bad that you want them banned forever from playing for Scotland?

"The way I looked at it is that for Scotland to qualify for the next championship in Ukraine and Poland, we'll need all our best players available. I think part of the reason George Burley struggled in some of his games was that the best players weren't there, and I think you need your best players available.

"Those two lads were 100 per cent wrong in what they did - they were so stupid - but it is time to move on. Allan McGregor has intimated that he's wanting to come back and play for Scotland. Barry, who I also want back, I will find out about in due course. Either way, I don't think they will do any of that again." Levein said that in part it was through his own experiences as a player - and in particular when a member of Andy Roxburgh's Scotland squad at the 1990 World Cup, when some drinking sessions occurred - that made him want to right the wrong of what Ferguson and McGregor had done.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that when I played in the World Cup in 1990 there were not a few guys who went out and had a few drinks," Levein said. "But football has moved on in the last 20 years. Nowadays the players themselves have to be far more conscious about, first, their bodies, but also about their behaviour. Because today you can't do anything without it being in the newspapers."


Talk of a Treble always brings Scottish managers out in something of a cold sweat.

Even so, the fact remains that all three trophies are alive for Rangers after they progressed to the Co-operative Insurance Cup final where they will face St Mirren in the final. They have a 10-point lead in the league with 15 games left. Chat about a possible Treble has risen given that they also remain alive and well in the Scottish Cup.

The problem that Walter Smith sees between now and the end of the season lies in keeping enough of his players fit. If Rangers are to win all three domestic trophies they will probably have to negotiate 20 more league and cup games between now and the Scottish Cup final.

Reaching the cup final without replays would mean they would have played 54 games by the end of the season, 34 of which have already been negotiated. That's a relatively low total for a team going all the way in the cups. Pursuing the quadruple stretched Rangers' season to 69 games en route to the Uefa Cup final in Manchester two seasons ago. Smith has won only one treble and that season, 1992-93, lasted 64 games.

He could win it after fewer matches this time, but that's not the most significant change in circumstances. This time he has had no opportunity to refresh his squad with new signings and give it further depth. That's Smith's worry. Rangers will not be able to negotiate those remaining 20 or so fixtures without incurring further injuries and suspensions.

Smith's concern is that chasing three trophies could ask more of the Rangers squad than it is able to give. That's the message he has given out, at least. Privately, behind the gates of Murray Park, he may be happier about his current resources than he is letting on.

So far this season Celtic have played two games more than Rangers and their squad seems larger and fresher because of the new blood introduced by Tony Mowbray in the transfer window. Smith hasn't had money to spend and rejuvenating the side with young players has been limited to using Danny Wilson as a stand-in and John Fleck and Andrew Little in cameo roles. Rangers have turned time and time again to a backbone of senior players - Allan McGregor, Davie Weir, Sasa Papac, Steven Davis, Lee McCulloch, Kris Boyd, Kenny Miller, Steven Whittaker - who have started most of their matches.

Rangers can only cross their fingers and hope that all of them can continue the long march. But it need not be the end of the world if one or two of them are absent. Rangers have had no incoming players for a year-and-a-half, but before the signings stopped their squad was not assembled cheaply. It may not be ideal, but Rangers do look to have enough bodies to keep soldiering on to the run-in.

The men in the spine of the team have played a lot of football in the past couple of years, of course, and in recent weeks some have felt a sense of tiredness. "We have had a lot of injuries for such a small squad," midfielder McCulloch said. "People are starting to get a little bit leggy so I think it's important that we do the leg work ahead of Saturday, which is going to be a hell of a game. We just need to keep going. It doesn't matter who we play or how thick and fast the games come, we've just got to concentrate on ourselves, make sure we're right and look after ourselves.

"The gaffer could rotate the squad and rest players but I don't think any of us are likely to go into the gaffer and say 'please rest me'. I think you want to play in every single game and win every single game. They are helluva games coming up, really important. I think the next four or five games could make or break the season. It's important we look after our bodies."

Unless there is a cup replay, Rangers' next five games are at St Mirren in the cup tomorrow and then league games against Motherwell, Hibernian, St Johnstone and Celtic at Ibrox on February 28. By then there will be a clearer picture of where the league championship trophy is heading and Rangers will know if they are in the quarter-finals of the cup.

"I think it's going to be a good end of the season," said McCulloch. "I think two years ago we were seven points ahead and we threw it away. Last year Celtic were seven points ahead and we ended up winning the league. So I think a 10-point gap or a seven-point gap, whatever it is, isn't as healthy as it sounds. It could still go either way. I see Celtic coming with a late charge. They've signed eight players and we can't sign anybody so they are in a position of strength.

"Celtic have made some fantastic signings but I don't think it's about them. We have to be selfish and concentrate on what we have to do. It's a good gap but I still see them as favourites, to be honest, because of us not signing anyone in the transfer and Celtic signing eight. In my book that makes them favourites for the title.

"But we have boys who know how to win a league. We've played a helluva lot of games. We're quietly confident."

Smith himself has admitted that he fears for Rangers' financial future and expects the club's debt problems to worsen before the end of the SPL season.

The Ibrox side are roughly £31 million in the red and are seeking a new owner amid pressure from Lloyds Banking Group for the deficit to be repaid.

Despite the manner of success on the pitch this term, Smith expects their predicament to worsen in the coming months despite the January sale of Pedro Mendes to Sporting Lisbon and no new players arriving to take over.

"It doesn't take away from the fact that we have a problem," said Smith.

"I think you need to be blind to think we don't have a problem that for a team of our standing we should not have, and my concern is that that will continue.

"We are only left to do what we have to do on the pitch and try as hard as we can and we are doing that.

"Anyone that has seen us play would say that, for whatever faults we all have from myself all the way down through the players, they don't lack a desire to try as hard as they can to win the game and they are managing to do that.

"But everything will not be all right at the end of the season. It will only get worse.

"My concerns for Rangers for the long term - not even in the long term, for the end of the season - are genuine concerns as being a supporter as much as being a manager."


The old adage has it that Celtic and Rangers are only ever three defeats away from a crisis but Celtic manager Tony Mowbray has already reached the stage where one more loss may be enough to destroy his credibility and leave Celtic on the hunt for a new manager.

Quite simply, it has been a month to forget for Celtic. Since drawing the Old Firm game at the turn of the month - a game they ought to have won by a considerable margin - it has been all downhill. The Parkhead side approach February staring down the shotgun of a ten-point deficit to Rangers and the cracks in the squad all too apparent.

The month closed with a 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock, a game that essentially told the story of Celtic's season, with a disjoined side losing out to journeymen as a consequence of poor defending and finishing which was less than clinical.

Mowbray has transformed the squad he inherited, bringing in 13 new players while allowing 16 to leave. His team is a work in progress, then, but they appear to be reversing into the future. They introduced eight new players during the January transfer window, but the problem for Mowbray is in how he can enable them to gel quickly since he is almost out of time.

For the first time in their history, Celtic are by some distance the wealthiest club in Scotland yet they are failing to make their financial superiority count where it matters most and are currently in danger of achieving the improbable feat of finishing third in a two-horse race.

Robbie Keane was the marquee (loan) signing on Monday, designed to address the problem of declining attendances for the remainder of the season but, even though Tottenham Hotspur are understood to be paying a sizeable chunk of the Irishman's £65,000 weekly wage, the defeat at Rugby Park undermined that ambition.

There have been several baffling decisions from Mowbray recently, not least handing the captaincy to four players in as many weeks.

Gary Caldwell had the honour for the Old Firm match on Jan 3, even though he was about to be transferred.

Then Darren O'Dea, a defender considered surplus to requirements for the first half of the campaign (most of which was spent on the bench during a fruitless loan spell at Reading) was considered officer material in spite of having gone three months without competitive action. O'Dea went from being skipper in the win at Hamilton last weekend to not even being stripped at Kilmarnock.

Defender Glenn Loovens, who has had a desperately poor season, was next to be given the armband but when Scott Brown appeared for the first time since October as a substitute at Rugby Park he took it from the Dutchman.

Most perplexing of all, though, was the decision to deploy the Scotland midfielder at left-back with Celtic trailing and in dire need of a goal.

The manager, as so often this season, claimed afterwards that he would take it on the chin: the problem for him is that a growing percentage of the club's support now believes he is in possession of a glass jaw.

Mowbray won nothing in four seasons as a centre-half with Celtic during the club's wilderness years of the early 1990s.

Even so, he made a better start to his playing career at Parkhead under Liam Brady than he has as the club's manager. The 46-year-old has won fewer than half of his 35 matches since he replaced Gordon Strachan, in spite of spending more money than every other SPL club put together this season. With 23 SPL fixtures having been played and 15 remaining, Celtic currently trail leaders Rangers by 10 points, although the 20-goal advantage in goal difference enjoyed by Walter Smith's side is worth another point.

It is the widest gap between the Old Firm at this stage of the season since January, 2007, when Paul Le Guen resigned as Rangers manager while 17 points behind Strachan's team.

The only SPL clubs Celtic have not dropped points to this season are bottom-six outfits St Johnstone, St Mirren and Hamilton Accies.

Hibernian are currently two points behind Mowbray's team with a game in hand, leaving Celtic in danger of missing out on a top-two finish for the first time since Mowbray was a player in 1995.

Mowbray has lost 11 of his 35 competitive matches in charge of Celtic. It took his predecessor, Strachan, 87 games before he racked up 11 losses. Martin O'Neill, the manager Strachan replaced, went 91 matches before reaching that stage.

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