The great diet of Pie and Bovril heads out to the European shores as Scottish Football descends upon Europe once again.
But wait a minute. Will the stereotype staple diet foods even be lukewarm as the ball trounces from one half to the other? As this goes to press, Dundee United are already out of Europe even before a ball is kicked in the SPL and before the wains are back at school. A fine, entertaining 3-2 performance against Slask at home has been forgotten about because yes you heard it again… another Scottish team is out of Europe, this time on the away goals rule.
Oh well, at least it wasn’t a hammering.
In my opinion, you have to be fully thick skinned to get away from the last two season’s horrors in Europe. The list is quite simply endless. Motherwell slipping up to a part time outfit in Wales. Aberdeen crushed at Nostalgia filled Pittodrie. Hearts thumped in Zagreb. Falkirk beaten in a by a country with a population of 35,000. Celtic failing to knocked out in a supposedly easy group in the Europa League. Hibernian bloated with Riordan and Stokes dropped.
Surely we have seen the worst of this slump now unless more horrors are set to be written in the script?
Like our national team competing in World Cups and European Championships aplenty, we became over expectant of our club teams after one fine 2007-2008 season which is surely one of the exceptions in the history of Scottish Football. Rangers got to the UEFA Cup final masterminded by tactical defensive football. Celtic got to the knockout stages of the Champions League, and Aberdeen got to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup. Yes it really did happen and it has now become sublimed in a deep sea of nostalgia even though it was only three years ago.
What is unbelievable however is how negative some people were towards the managers of those respective teams. Rangers played sheer minded, numb boring defensive football and the ever volatile Scottish media were keen to play the side down. Yet it brought a final.
Who can forget how Gordon Strachan was constantly hounded at Celtic? Not being a Celtic man went against him, yet Strachan brought two consecutive seasons of entry to the knockout glorious stage of the Champions League, and went down fighting respectfully against both AC Milan and Barcelona.
Then there was the Jimmy at Aberdeen. Obviously it was the Queen of the South debacle in the Scottish Cup that was the end. But the fans aren’t obviously going to forget the glories against Copenhagen and Munich at ‘Todders’ forever are they?
That season will go down as the revival of Scottish Football for our clubs in Europe and national team as well which a lot of people seem to have forgotten about. I still have a copy of the Daily Record of the day, Scotland were set to play Italy and the paper was in hysterics interviewing every single Scottish celebrity proclaiming the Tartan Army would descend upon Europe once again. In the end as painful as it is still to say, it was a glorious failure.
The media do play a big part in Scottish club’s playing in Europe. Ever read about the ex-player in the newspaper or website talking about his club’s glory days in Europe 20 or 30 years ago? Straight before that club are set to play an important tie, which has no relevance to a previous encounter?
Newspapers and journalists have an agenda and purpose to seek but its actually straight minded boring and actually a distraction for our current players, weighted on the shoulders by past glories. Even though it wasn’t Europe, just ask any Motherwell player before the 2011 Scottish Cup final who wasn’t being reminded about the club’s 20th 1991 victory anniversary.
Just ask Aberdeen who have been haunted by 1983 forever. Dundee United’s match against Slask brought the inevitable interview from an ex Tangerine who had played in the match against the Poland side back in 1980.
Yes okay but who cares?
This Dundee United side certainly has no resemblance to the McLean years. It is shoe stringed on a £1.5million budget, and the cycle of European competition has changed. Yes even though they went out, a 3-2 win against Slask at home has to be seen as an achievement, and they were very unlucky to go out.
Away from home is the key one here. A good example to pick out is this – Hibernian losing 3-0 away to NK Maribor at the start of 2010-2011. Manager, John Hughes proceeded to drop both his two top goal scorers from the previous season – Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes. Instead the other striker, Colin Nish for who knows what reason was given the job up front on his own, possibly due to his physical presence. Result – long ball tactics to the big man. Are Scottish teams scared? Yes.
By dropping Riordan and Stokes, who both have international caps and technique that could be utilised in European leagues, the tactics signalled a reputation to the other surveyors of the Scottish game that physical presence away from home in a 4-5-1 formation was indeed the Scottish way. Sitting back and tackling hard. What message does this serve to the technique driven youngsters of today’s game who have focused their skills on the ball? John Hughes had undone all the good work from the previous season, and it could be said that this tie was one step of the way to his downfall at Easter Road. You can’t argue that dropping two star strikers in a tie Hibernian needed to get a decent result, was a calamity.
As a nation, our clubs have to be more courageous in playing away from home. Being scared and sitting is never going to do a trick. Did it do Craig Levein any good with the 4-6-0? Of course it didn’t.
Walter Smith in his spell as Scotland manager is surely the king of the 4-5-1 formation. Scotland fresh from a low ebb under the Berti Vogts era suddenly resulted to playing this formation with one Kenneth Miller, the one at the top. It did do Scotland good it must say but we still must open our eyes up.
By going away from home from playing the formations and personal like Hughes did, the teams are showing the Scottish game that it disrespects itself, and is an awe of all the opposition, particularly when it comes to opposition. Slask from Poland didn’t play defensive football at Tannadice did they? Those two goals away from home made they sure were in the next round.
A helping hand
The Scottish season is kicking off early this year. One of the reasons is being apparently to help clubs remain fit for their European ties. Yet all the managers are saying the season is too early. They have said they were not ready before, which makes it a complete contradiction. There is a barrage of excuses in Scottish football. The point is you always have to be ready in Europe, no matter what. Liverpool were tired from lifting the Champions League in 2005 and went straight to the first qualifying round for the following season, after only a matter of weeks after the hangover. There were no complaints and Liverpool went straight to Wales like it was a normal tie.
So there you have it. Just a few points to set your eyes with the map of Europe table. Of course, if this season does prove to be a fine season for Scottish clubs, you could chuck this page into a skip. But remember to make the most of it when it happens. And have a dram or two.
Five not the obvious ties worth talking about:
Bordeaux 0-1 Heart of Midlothian, UEFA Cup R2, 2003-2004:
At this time, Hearts were the definite third force in Scottish football, being too far ahead of the rest and too far away from the Old Firm’s constant millions. The Hearts team were supplying the Scotland squad with a good crop of established and emerging internationals and this result under Craig Levein certainly raised an eyebrow with Mark De Vries scoring the only goal. Hearts crashed 2-0 at home, but they did pick up a victory away from home, so often the curse of the Scottish trait.
Dnipro 1-1 Aberdeen, UEFA Cup R1 2007-2008:
Yes okay it wasn’t a victory, and was played out on a lot of defensive football. But it was still a joy to see a local lad, Darren Mackie score a fine goal. Aberdeen’s 1-1 draw secured a lucrative passage to the UEFA Cup group stage. This was the pinnacle of Calderwood’s team and it was in Europe. This result led to the now glory days of a win against Copenhagen and draw against Bayern Munich at home.
Principat 0-8 Dundee United, UEFA Cup QR, 1997-1998:
It was in Andorra. And a Scottish team scored eight goals away from home. Is that worth mentioning? Scottish clubs traditionally struggle against unfancied opposition. Robbie Winters got 4, McSwegan likewise a hat-trick, Zetterlund just the one.
Motherwell 8-1 Flamurtari, Europa League, QR2, 2009-2010
current Motherwell side. Here’s hoping that all the youngsters mentioned go on to have good careers.
And the might of Raith Rovers, PS1 simulated somewhat 1995
Written by Dan Birch | www.danbirch.co.uk