Craig Fowler answers your questions on Scottish football in this, a written version of the Scottish football mailbag.
Would Dundee and Dundee United be better off merging? (@JHWFootball)
The merger argument never makes much sense. Imagine, for example, all four Angus league clubs would merge together, creating Angus FC. If all fans bought into it – which, obviously, wouldn’t happen – then we’d have average gates of 2100, which could rise if this new club reached a higher level. Let’s be generous and say they’d reach 3500 at most. Why are we wiping away the history of four clubs, three of whom date back to the 1800s, to create a new yo-yo club between the top flight and Championship? And again, that’s only in a perfect world where every supporter says: “Ok, I’ll support this club.”
If Dundee and Dundee United merged, at least a third of fans would stay away, never to return, and you’d be left with a team holding a 10,000 average attendance. It would never challenge for a title, though it may occasional get third. Aren’t you salivating with excitement? Sign me up!
Champions League changes. Do fans of clubs other than Celtic see these as a good thing or a bad thing for our game? (@cardiffbhoy)
While I can’t speak for everyone, I know there is a sizeable section of supporters who would rather not see Celtic, and Rangers when they get their act together, profit to the tune of £20 million every season or so, thereby increasing the gap between the Old Firm and the rest and further decreasing every chance of an interloper breaking the duopoly by winning the Ladbrokes Premiership title.
At the same time, money filters down. Clubs get cash straight from Uefa when Celtic make it, while the TV revenue deal would improve if the Glasgow clubs became more successful. It means fans of other clubs can be treated to a better calibre of player with a decreased chance of winning trophies, though they would fare better in Europe themselves.
Most would not be too happy with that deal. It was a similar situation at the turn of the millennium. People agree the league was a higher standard than it is now, but were non-Old Firm fans any happier with the way of things? It’s highly doubtful.
That being said, even if Celtic and Rangers were starved of Champions League cash, their significantly higher crowds would still mean they’d win the title every year, as the rivalry itself would be enough to keep crowds strong enough to dominate.
How can Hearts get more out of the collective talents of their four forwards? (@AndyM1874)
Tony Watt is fine. He’s playing well, getting in good areas, striking the ball well. It’s just not coming off for him at present. There will be a period, at some point in the near future, where he starts banging them in. As for the rest...
I tend to agree with Gary Mackay’s opinion regarding Conor Sammon: he’s there to do much more than score goals. He’s the hard worker and a physical presence that’s supposed to occupy the minds and wear down the bodies of opposing centre backs so the likes of Watt, Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker can exploit the space. However, while that’s all well and good, you want a greater return than one goal in nine domestic games from such a player.
There was a lot of hope surrounding Bjorn Johnsen when he signed and, while the attributes are there, it’s clear he’s a very raw talent. He needs game-time to acclimatise to Scottish football. Unfortunately for him, Hearts will fancy their chances of taking second this season, and the fans are not noted for their patience, so he may not be granted such a grace period.
As for Robbie Muirhead, while he’s impressed in his cameos he’s someone who, similar to Watt, likes to move around the park. Perhaps that’s working against his hopes of getting a regular start as Robbie Neilson may wish his leading striker to stay central. And there’s little chance of him displacing Tony Watt in the free role between attack and midfield.
Despite a relatively strong start to this point, there’s a feeling it’s still to come together for this Hearts attack as Neilson searches for the perfect fit. At the same time, the manager may already coaxing all that he can out of the available talent – Sammon does the work, Watt brings the guile, while the other two provide excellent options off the bench: Johnsen has pace and height, while Muirhead is unpredictable. It’s hard to think of what else he could do.
Sometimes you just have to sit back, cross your fingers, and hope the leading men discover their confidence, which will lead to a scoring touch.
Who’s the first Premiership manager for the chop, and when will they be punted? (@Nareystoepoker)
It’s hard to see past Paul Hartley at present. He’s been dealt a difficult hand by the club selling Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart in one summer, but there’s always a chance you’re going to lose your brightest talents as a Scottish football manager and recruitment becomes a massive part of the job. Besides, Dundee underachieved last season, finishing eighth and failing to make a dent on the cups with those two stars in the squad.
Though there are other contenders around Dundee in the league table, each has a caveat attached. At Killie, there’s a real lack of funds to pay off Lee Clark should things get worse. Hamilton have always indicated they will stick with their manager, even if the teams suffers relegation, because they budget for such a perceived eventuality. While at Partick Thistle, even though they may believe a fresh face is required, there’s a general assumption right now the team will come good with time, as they got off to a similarly weak start last season before finishing well clear of relegation.
Do you think Karamoko Dembele should be promoted through SFA youth squads or is it too much too soon? (@RafaelMac7)
There’s talk he’ll be called up for the squad to play in the Victory Shield soon, and that should be enough for now. While you don’t want to promote someone before they are ready, if he does have the potential to be as good as we’re all imagining right now, we should be actively trying to convince him to pledge his international future with Scotland. One way of doing that is giving him opportunities in the national set-up, as long as it doesn’t get ridiculous.
What are the odds on Joey Barton receiving a ban for betting? (Did you see what I did there?) (@ViewFromGorgie)
I’ll go evens. There’s been a few cases in recent years – Steven Lawless, Michael Moffat and Rangers pair Ian Black and Steve Simonsen – so the SFA may be looking to come down hard on any offender from now on. At the same time, Barton can excuse the bets (if he’s guilty) by claiming he was unaware of rules in Scotland, having only made his SPFL debut two months ago. A one game ban would be my prediction.