Stuart McCall wants Motherwell to seize big Champions League chance
AS FAR as Motherwell manager Stuart McCall is concerned, there is little point in receiving a slice of good fortune if you don’t do your utmost to make the most of it.
The Lanarkshire club may have been handed their momentous Champions League involvement as a direct consequence of Rangers’ financial implosion, but McCall is in no mood to simply appreciate the novelty of the occasion which will unfold at Fir Park tonight.
He will demand his players approach the first leg of the third qualifying round tie against Panathinaikos with a conviction they can make the kind of progress in Europe this season which could provide a lucrative and timely financial boost.
McCall revealed yesterday that his squad have been offered one of the biggest bonuses in the club’s history to overcome their Greek opponents, a result which would guarantee group stage football in either the Champions League or Europa League for Motherwell this season.
The flip side of benefiting from Rangers’ demise is the reduction in domestic broadcasting income Motherwell must adjust to in the coming months. That could be compensated for if McCall can guide his team to an historic achievement.
“It’s not just about being in the tournament and enjoying it,” said McCall.
“I’m not getting carried away and thinking we have a great chance of going further, but you have to have belief.
“Outwith our own dressing room, the expectation levels are low and I don’t think anyone expects us to do anything in the tournament. But I’m fully aware of the financial incentives and implications for the club if we progress. They are massive.
“Everyone knows the state of Scottish football at the moment. It would be nice to think I would see some of the money if we were to win this game but I realise there is a bigger picture at Motherwell, we need to look towards the future.
“We let ten first-team squad players go in the summer and we’ve only brought one in, so I’d obviously welcome any additions.
“But there is still uncertainty around and we have to look to the future and how we are going to cope without the kind of money we would previously have expected to get. We are probably going to be under pressure in the near future to sell players. So to get through this round might stave that off for a wee while.
“The lads are on a good bonus to win, it’s up there with what they were on to win the Scottish Cup final in 2011. The club have always been fair in that regard, because you pay for success. If we win, they maybe won’t all be quitting and moving to the south of France, but it’s a good bonus.
“Hopefully the luck will be with us against Panathinaikos because on our pitch, with the crowd behind us, I honestly believe we can give anybody a game, regardless of the competition.
“We need to believe we can keep the tie alive by getting a result here at home. It would be massive if we could win the game, of course it would, but I just want the tie to be alive going into the second leg.”
McCall has limited options in terms of personnel, even though Steven Saunders is the only one of his players unavailable because of injury. It means Motherwell will have to rely on a previously untested central defensive partnership of Shaun Hutchinson and solitary summer signing Simon Ramsden.
“There is an element of concern about that,” admitted McCall. “They’ve only played together for 30 minutes in a bounce game and this will be completely different. They’ll just need to get on with it.
“The preparations haven’t been ideal and it’s difficult to play your first competitive game of the season with so much at stake. But Panathinaikos haven’t started their domestic season either, so we’re both at the same stage.”
Panathinaikos’ own financial problems have heightened their need to reach the Champions League group stage this season, a factor McCall is hopeful might work in Motherwell’s favour.
“Listen, Panathinaikos are under tremendous pressure going into this game,” he said. “They are not the team they were five or six years ago. I’ve read their defender Jean-Alain Boumsong’s comments that the players haven’t been paid in a couple of weeks. So, as a club, they will feel they must reach the group stage.
“From a manager’s point of view, it’s the biggest challenge of my career. I’m trying to work out how Panathinaikos are going to go about it, which is difficult because they have only played behind closed doors games so far this season.
“I’m not sure how they are going to approach it, whether they will sit in for the first 20 minutes or so and have a look at us, or whether they will come at us and try to wipe us out early on.
“But I think it would have been an even bigger task if we had been away from home first of all. This way, I believe we have a chance. You just don’t want the first leg to be a disaster. If we are in it going away from home then we have a chance.”
For new Motherwell captain Keith Lasley, who inherited the armband from Stephen Craigan in the summer following his retirement, tonight represents a scenario which at one time would have come from the realms of sheer fantasy.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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