With three Italian sides in the last 16 and a couple of representatives each from Russia, Germany and France, perhaps this can be the season it regains some allure in the eyes of those whose world doesn’t revolve around the elite super-clubs. As one of those who hankers for the early Nineties when Serie A ruled the European roost, I’d love to see Napoli humble the aristocrats.
2011 was a pretty wretched year for the two Edinburgh clubs, with Hibs hitting a low ebb on the park and Hearts ending it as an off-field basket case. I fancy Pat Fenlon to improve things for Hibs once he gets his own players in, while a new owner would give Hearts much-needed stability. The whole Edinburgh football fraternity would get a lift if we could somehow – as unlikely as it may seem at present – get back to the way it was in 2005/06 when both sides finished in the top four.
I HOLD no allegiance to the Gunners, but I admire the way Arsene Wenger goes about his business and it would vindicate his principles brilliantly if he were able to guide his side into the top four, or somehow even back into title contention, despite his top-four rivals spending far more money.
This tournament may never be as highly regarded as the UEFA Cup or the Cup Winners’ Cup, but it’s still a competition most clubs outwith the elite few who play regularly in the latter stages of the Champions League want to do well in. You only have to look at the way Udinese and Wisla Krakow celebrated when they got through the group stage, as well as Celtic and Fulham’s despair when they got knocked out, to see that the tournament still holds appeal. The at-times sneering English media, who are used to covering the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in the Champions League, would do well to remember that, for most football fans outwith Europe’s dozen or so established Champions League clubs, the Europa League is their best hope of a memorable continental adventure.
Barry BANNAN’S early-season form has tailed off since his drink-driving shame, while David Goodwillie has had to play second fiddle to Yakubu at Blackburn, but I’d love to see these two back at their best by the time Scotland kick off their World Cup 2014 bid in September. Many may disagree, but I find plenty to get excited about with this Scotland squad, especially if we can somehow have the two Fletchers available. The whole country would get a lift if Darren, pictured, can recover from his illness, while his namesake Steven – although he has acted like a petulant brat – is probably worth Craig Levein swallowing his pride for, even if we do have a raft of other decent forwards down south in Miller, Mackie, Rhodes, Goodwillie, McCormack and Mackail-Smith.
Is there anything more tedious in football than the week-long analysis that follows any contentious decision made by match officials? Refs view incidents in the blink of an eye and have to make an honest decision based on what they see in that instant, so it’s impossible to get every call right.
Contrary to popular belief, though, I’d argue that most referees still get the vast majority of their big decisions spot-on and have far less of an impact on a team’s league position than the players and management themselves.
Rangers manager Ally McCoist showed the way forward when he magnanimously accepted that the ref had no way of knowing that Lee Wallace’s effort had crossed the line during last week’s Old Firm derby. It was a refreshing view but, sadly, all too rare. It’s high time everyone accepted that, as long as they are human, refs will always make mistakes.
The wretched sense of entitlement among some supporters, which sees them call for a manager’s head as soon as things show signs of not going to plan, is one of my biggest bugbears in football.
Thankfully, the Steve Kean saga seems to have acted as a watershed moment, as many football fans have united in sympathy for the Blackburn manager, who has been subjected to unprecedented levels of vitriol from his own club’s support. On a lesser scale, the likes of Arsene Wenger, Neil Lennon, Peter Houston and Steven Pressley all survived tough periods last year to prove that they are actually decent managers.
I wouldn’t bet against the likes of Fabio Capello, Craig Levein, Andre Villas-Boas and Ally McCoist all proving their numerous detracttors wrong this year.
WHAT those in football have been tweeting...
“Come on Pat you can do it.” – Hibs kid Adam Mitter isn’t referring to Pat Fenlon – he’s rooting for outgoing Eastenders legend, Pat Butcher.
“If you were a nugget in 2011, likelihood is you’ll still be a nugget in 2012. Have a lovely night and enjoy waking up as a hungover nugget. Bye.” – Joey Barton