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Archive for May, 2013

Only two men had won the domestic double as both Celtic player and manager before yesterday: Jock Stein and Billy McNeil. But Neil Lennon has now added his name to those of the legendary pair after his side beat Hibs 3-0 to complete a double.

The Scottish Cup Final is the traditional end to the Scottish football season, so it’s time to have a look back over 2012/ 13.

Celtic started as the strongest of favourites to win the Scottish Premier League title. The liquidation of the former Rangers FC certainly made a 44th league success far more likely, but there are of course no sure things in sport.

Ultimately Neil Lennon’s side finished a handy 16 points clear of second placed Motherwell. A haul of 79 points from 38 league games was good but not exceptional, and a record of 24 wins, 7 draws and 7 losses was probably not as dominant as many would have expected. Form away from Celtic Park was poor at times, and with only 9 wins to show from 19 away matches there is much room for improvement.

There were, of course, mitigating factors. Lengthy injuries to several key players and the additional matches and travelling associated with a successful European campaign certainly impacted on league form. And the title was ultimately won – so does the margin of victory really matter? Indeed had a much bigger gap opened up it would simply have been seen as proof of the lack of competition, so Celtic were really in a no win situation.

Domestic cups are always a far less certain prospect than leagues. The best squad of players should prevail over the long haul of a league season, but shocks can happen on one off cup matches.

Celtics League Cup campaign started off with a 4-1 victory against Raith Rovers, with Gary Hooper netting all four. St Johnstone then offered little resistance, with Kris Commons the star man as his hat trick helped Celtic to a 5-0 victory. But an unexpected 3-2 semi final defeat against eventual cup winners St Mirren was to derail treble talk before January was out.

The Scottish Cup campaign began with an inauspicious 1-1 draw against Arbroath at Celtic Park. A 1-0 success in the replay on a cold December evening came courtesy of a fine Adam Matthews goal, his first for the club. Raith were beaten once more, this time by 3-0 to see progress maintained, with all of the goals coming in the second half. And the revenge 2-1 win over St Mirren in the quarter finals saw all of the goals come in the opening 20 minutes of the match.

The semi final against Dundee United at Hampden was one of the best matches of the season. Ahead within two minutes through Commons, Celtic soon found themselves behind, before Wanyama’s equaliser made the half time score 2-2. Commons’ second was then cancelled out by Daly’s second and a thrilling 90 minutes concluded with the sides locked at 3-3. Substitute Anthony Stokes was to be the extra time match winner, heading home for a 4-3 victory.

Yesterday’s final was a much more clear cut win, a 3-0 victory over a Hibs team who played with spirit but did not trouble Neil Lennon’s men unduly. A Hooper first half double, both from Stokes’ crosses, and one from Ledley in the second half made it a day to remember.

With domestic success always likely, the European campaign took on added significance. Two qualifying rounds had to be negotiated before the big names (and big bucks) of the Champions League group stage could be contemplated. An early season start meant that the first game was played before the league season had kicked off, a 2-1 home win over HJK Helsinki on 1 August. A 2-0 victory in Finland seven days later completed the job. Helsingborgs of Sweden were next, and a pair of 2-0 successes, away and then home, saw progress secured.

The group stages of the Champions League are where all of the big names of European football want to be. Celtic were in the fourth pot of seeds when the draw was made, and there was no way that an easy draw was likely. Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow came out of the hat, prompting ITV to tweet “goodbye Celtic”. Wasn’t that great motivation?

The six group matches began with a goalless draw at home to Benfica. Not the best of starts, with the home ties looking likely to be the best opportunity to pick up points. But the trip to Moscow saw a late Samaras winner give Celtic a 3-2 victory ahead of a mouth-watering double header against Barcelona.

Celtic’s match in the Nou Camp saw some heroic defending and an early lead courtesy of yet another Samaras away European goal. But an equaliser just before half time from Iniesta and a cruel injury time winner from Jordi Alba settled the match. The return at Celtic Park was one of the great European nights. Wanyama’s header put Celtic ahead in the first half and Neil Lennon’s tactic of forcing Barce wide was paying off as few chances were created.

Deep into the second half with the score still 1-0, substitute Tony Watt found himself through on goal as Celtic broke. With the calm of a veteran the youngster placed the ball into the corner of the net and, almost unbelievably, it was 2-0. A moment to savour for the 19 year old – and one that few who witnessed it will forget. An injury time goal from Messi wouldn’t affect the final outcome, and a famous victory was won.

It was back to earth with a bump in the next match, a 2-1 defeat in Portugal, the goal almost inevitably coming from Samaras. That set up a tense last game at home to Spartak Moscow where a late penalty from Commons finally secured a place in the last 16 knock out stages.

The tie against Juventus was to prove disappointing. A 3-0 home defeat effectively ended the tie in a game where weak refereeing saw the Italian team employ tactics akin to all in wrestling to nullify Celtic’s set piece threat. There was to be no miracle in Turin, a 2-0 defeat bringing a memorable campaign to an end.

For a team ranked 63rd in Europe to come through two qualifying rounds and a tough group to make the last sixteen was a tremendous achievement. Neil Lennon and his players should be proud of their efforts and the achievements of the season.

So how do we rate season 2012/113 overall? Two domestic trophies out of three and a significant European run makes it an excellent one in terms of results. Some of the football played at times left a little to be desired on the excitement scale, it’s true. But there is much to look back on with pride. And to build upon next season, with many young players now having gained a great deal of experience.

It is only six weeks or so until the qualifying campaign for next season’s Champions League begins. And there will be much talk of players in and out over that period.

But for now let’s just congratulate Neil Lennon and his players on a job well done this season.

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New Scottish football club The Rangers (established 2012) is currently subject to a “transfer ban”, or more correctly a ban on registering new players. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped them from lining up new recruits for a crack at next season’s Scottish second division. How can that be?

I’m not going to go through the tortuous history that resulted in Scotland’s newest club joining the third division last summer again here. Let’s just start here from the fact that a number of conditions were accepted by the club, including a ban on registering any new players between 1st September 2012 and 31st August 2013.

The timing of the ban meant that players could be registered before the start of the current season. But, as the summer window during which clubs can complete transfers runs until the end of August 2013, no new players can now be bought and registered by The Rangers until the window opens again in January 2014.

Or can they?

We know from the media that current Kilmarnock goalkeeper Cammy Bell and Dundee United striker/ centre half Jon Daly wish to join The Rangers next season. Now let’s for the moment ignore the question of why two SPL players would see dropping down to the third tier of Scottish football as a good career move. Let’s just look at the contractual position. Both players’ contracts with their current clubs run out over the summer. So Bell and Daly will become free agents meaning that they can sign new contracts with any club at any time – even outside the transfer window.

Now it is important to recognise the difference here between signing a contract of employment with a football club and being registered to play football.

The Rangers can offer employment contracts to anyone they want, be they grounds staff, administrators or footballers. But what they cannot do before 1 September 2013 is register any of their new employees to play football.

Why then employ footballers who cannot play football? (No Kirk Broadfoot jokes please!) Well, you would be taking a chance if you did not sign up these free agents that they would be offered contracts by other clubs – ones who could actually register them immediately as football players. You would be hoping that the players would refuse these offers and sit out the first month of the new season, waiting for the time when The Rangers was in a position to register new players once more.

But there is a way around this it seems. Because there is apparently no ban on The Rangers playing prospective new signings as trialists.

A trialist is, as the name suggests, someone on a trial who is not registered to play for your club. He a player you want to have a close look at, assess in a match situation and then decide whether or not to offer him a contract. It’s a common occurrence in the lower leagues to see the name Tralist on team sheets.

But can someone you have already agreed a contract of employment with be played as a Tralist? How can it be deemed a trial when you have already made the decision to employ the player? And can a player be played as a Tralist where there is a ban that stops him from becoming a registered player?

It seems as if there is nothing in the rules of the Scottish Football League to prevent this from happening. Morally it may be entirely wrong, but by the letter of the law there is nothing to stop it.

There is however a limit on the number of trialists who can be played in a game. SFL Rule 122 states that:

No more than two Trialists from any grade of football may be allowed to play, or be listed as a substitute for any club in any Championship match up to and including 31st March in any season.”

So The Rangers cannot field an entire team of trialists. Just as well: the team sheet would get very confusing for a start.

And Rule 122.1 sets another condition:

Each Trialist may be allowed to play in, or be listed as a substitute for, a maximum of three games for any one club

Now, note that this doesn’t specify three league games, just three games. But given that the parent rule specifies Championship (i.e. league) matches, I have a feeling that’s how it would be interpreted.

How many league games did The Rangers play before 1 September this season? Three.

So it would appear that Bell and Daly could be played as trialists for the opening three league fixtures and then registered as players, meaning that they could play in every league game next season.

The early part of the football calendar in the lower leagues includes matches in cup competitions, which operate under their own rules. A quick look at these shows that trialists cannot take part in Scottish League Cup matches. Rule 8 states that:

Players taking part in the Competition must be registered in terms of Scottish Football League Rules or Scottish Premier League Rules as appropriate

This means that the two unregistered players will miss out on the first round of next season’s competition – and possibly the second round too, should their new team mates make it that far.

The other competition that kicks off early in the season is the Scottish Football League Challenge Cup, otherwise known as the Ramsdens Cup, a competition that excludes SPL clubs to give the smaller teams a chance at glory. The rules of this competition dealing with trialists are interesting. Rule 8.3 states that:

In the First Round only, each Club shall be entitled to play, or list as a named substitute, up to a maximum of two trialists, despite the trialists not being registered in terms of Scottish Football League Rules provided the trialists are otherwise eligible to do so.”

So can Bell and Daly play in the first round? My reading of this rule would be that they are not eligible to be registered, as their club cannot register any players, so therefore no. This means that the new players could miss out on the first round, and again on the second round should The Rangers win its first tie.

But then it could also be argued that the players themselves are eligible for registration. The rule doesn’t mention bans imposed on the club. And it is on such technicalities that lawyers get rich.

So it appears that a “transfer ban” isn’t quite what it seems. The Rangers will be able to circumvent its terms by playing Cammy Bell and Jon Daly as trialists in three league matches, although they will miss out on at least some cup games.

It appears that no consideration to this scenario was given by the footballing authorities last summer when the registration ban was agreed. But then those who run the game in Scotland are not exactly known for foresight and effective administration, are they?

 

 

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