STOP the presses. Stuart McCall believes the Scottish Premier League suits have initiated a change that can be considered positive and progressive.
Even if Celtic might rue the fact, the Motherwell manager welcomes his side travelling up to Tannadice tonight for a game they must win to stop the Scottish champions retaining their title two days before they next play.
“People ask me about Friday night football and I know the United game is a wee bit of a travel for our fans, but I think I can speak for my staff and my players when say we would all rather play on Friday night than Saturday or Sunday at 12 o’clock,” said McCall, whose primary concern in chasing a victory this evening is to make it even more difficult for Inverness Caledonian Thistle to dislodge his team from second spot.
“If you look at any games, even England, it is so flat [for these lunchtime kick-offs]. The players are flat, the crowds are flat and you are having pre-match meals so early. I think even the 12.45 kick-offs definitely have a negative impact on both crowd numbers and atmosphere. You can even put a derby game on and it doesn’t make for the spectacle it would otherwise. They seem to be so quiet, and if there are empty spaces that doesn’t help. Friday nights under the lights seems to create a better atmosphere. We have had a couple, and had a great game against St Mirren just before Christmas, even though we lost. That was a good night to play. If the United game was at home, it would be ideal, because I don’t want to seem thoughtless to our fans, who have a long journey to Dundee. Though after finishing work at five, I’m sure they would prefer to have the night out than travel up to Tayside on a Sunday morning, for instance.”
Before anyone should think, though, that yesterday found McCall in cap-doffing mode to the top flight authorities – whose rubbled reconstruction proposals he saw pros and cons in, while having serious misgivings about the “too early” split after 22 games to create three eights from the two leagues of 12 – the Fir Park club’s manager was fizzing over the pickle he has been put in by another change to the SPL structures this season.
The creation of an under-20 league and a rule change preventing players registered in England from appearing in these games as trialists he labelled the “bane” of his life. He said for the past fortnight he has been spending “all” his time attempting to arrange bounce games because this is the only way he can see prospective signings in a match situation he considers to be a must before making a judgement on them.
McCall has allowed a handful of youngsters to go out on loan in order to gain some first-team experience, and with his under-20s playing “forever” till the end of the season because of a backlog of games and the senior side having a tight schedule, he does not have the numbers to organise internal bounce games.
“Mark Wotte pushed for this under-20 league and, while it may have suited other clubs, it hasn’t suited us. You like to get players up for a week, which is costly because you need to put them up in digs but, at the end of that, now all you can say to them is that you’d like to see you in a game or no thank you. A couple of years ago, when we had the under-19s, we saw Adam Cummins in three games before we signed him after he was released by Everton. Zane Francis-Angol came to us after a similar trial on being let go by Spurs and and we signed Steven Hetherington after being a trialist in a competitive game.”
McCall knows it is imperative he replenishes his squad with Darren Randolph, Michael Higdon, Nicky Law and Chris Humphrey all out of contract and likely to move on. Yet, because there are no guarantees, he cannot act over replacements. Contract offers have only been made this week, with the cut-off for these expected to be the start of May. And the absence of guarantees over future involvement even extends to players in the final year of their deals. Shaun Hutchison and Henrik Ojamaa are in that bracket, and McCall is bracing himself for all these players attracting suitors that may see them switch clubs. Yet, the Motherwell manager, who recently signed a new two-year deal, remains sanguine about the seemingly invidious situation he could find himself in.
“I don’t worry about it because if I ever get to that stage of thinking ‘phew, next season’s going to be hard’, I just look at this season when we lost [Tim] Clancy, [Stephen] Craigan and [Steve] Jennings, not only men who played lots of games for us but good in dressing room, and who gave us a hard edge. When I think how well the team has done, I think we’ve just got to do that again and keep going. The crumb of comfort is that all the other managers are going to be in the same position.”
McCall will find his budget cut once more, his board having informed him that only the Scottish Cup fifth-round replay defeat by Aberdeen stood between the club breaking even and posting a small loss.
“I don’t want to get in to depressing talk but that is apparently the situation,” he said.
McCall is to be applauded for keeping any depressing talk to the bare minimum. Certain SPL powerbrokers might want to look to him for a change of approach on that score.