Alan Pattullo: SPFL needs vibrancy and imagination

The single league body advocated by Henry McLeish's independent review has taken four years to implement. Picture: SNS
The single league body advocated by Henry McLeish's independent review has taken four years to implement. Picture: SNS
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Although the process was actually completed overnight, the creation of a new Scottish Professional Football League was a far from rushed affair.

Empires have fallen in the time it has taken to implement one of the key pillars in Henry McLeish’s independent review, which was commissioned by the Scottish Football Association as long ago as 2009.

The second part of the review was delivered a year later, and in it McLeish, whose CV includes stints as a defender for East Fife and First Minister, among other things, proposed the forming of one league body as a cure for at least some of Scottish football’s many ills. And now, finally, it is here.

So why were so many of Scottish football’s club owners, chief executives and chairmen stumbling out of Hampden Park last Thursday night/Friday morning looking so downcast? Clearly, being forced to spend 15 hours in a stuffy lecture theatre cannot have been a very enjoyable experience, with their only nourishment being the greasy pizzas that were phoned in from a local takeaway.

You just hope that they were able to be more imaginative with their toppings than they look set to be with the names of the top two divisions. It is possibly significant that it looks as though the names of the two lower tiers will be an afterthought.

With a crushing lack of originality, it seems league officials are intent on naming the second tier “the Championship”, in the hope, perhaps, that some of what they have in England can rub off in Scotland. There is also – horror of horrors – talk of something called “the Premiership”, despite its link to the death of football’s soul south of the Border, although, of course, there is also its association with lots of lovely lucre to consider.

Whether greatly increased income comes Scottish football’s way remains to be seen. Barr’s Irn Bru is said to be preparing to be installed as title sponsor of the new set-up, so hopefully the firm with a reputation for being somewhat off the wall can insist upon something a little more original when it comes to the names of each tier – or, how about, something completely zany, like First, Second, Third and Fourth Division?

Make no mistake, having one league body is a step in the right direction, and if it leads to an operation that is more streamlined, efficient and coherent – words used by McLeish several years ago, when contemplating a merger – then so much the better. However, there are many in the old Scottish Football League whom you hope and pray won’t be casualties of this new set-up, since they have forgotten more about the Scottish game than certain others who are in line for executive positions will ever know.

So it isn’t all good, far from it. The financial re-distribution is worth little to clubs in the bottom two tiers, who might make a few thousand pounds more, but could, in the final analysis, lose out by the same amount. One club official described the atmosphere at last week’s meeting as being “like a wake”. The feeling is that many Scottish Football League [RIP] clubs outwith the old First Division were pushed into bringing this new body into being, compelled to vote in favour due to the threat that these First Division sides would simply break away, leaving little but a rump league behind them. Understandably, many officials were also concerned how they might be depicted if they again stood in the way of what is being interpreted as progress, with patience beginning to get very thin indeed among the press, supporters and other onlookers.

Youth football, meanwhile, did not feature high on the list of priorities in the creation of the new set-up, something that is the only hope for Scottish football as we begin the countdown to another Scotland-less World Cup.

England’s travails in both the Under-21 European Championships and the Under-20 World Cup finals, where their side were eliminated at the first hurdle once again over the weekend, proves that a vibrant league is no guarantee of success on the international front, although no-one is using the word “vibrant” in connection with the Scottish Professional Football League. Not yet, at least.

What will come of the long day’s journey into the night last week remains to be seen, but it has been a cautious welcome so far.

Rooney at top of Moyes’ new job to-do list

a significant day comes to pass this morning at Old Trafford, when David Moyes officially clocks on for work at Manchester United.

For the first time since 5 November 1986, when Ron Atkinson learned his services were no longer required after returning to Manchester following a 4-1 League Cup defeat to Southampton, there will be someone other than Alex Ferguson in the managerial seat.

By the time you read this, Moyes, I suspect, will have been hard at work for a few hours. It was one of Ferguson’s many admirable traits to be first into the Carrington training ground each morning.

Moyes will not want to encourage whispers regarding his productivity by comparison, so will likely ensure he is in position long before the first members of his star-studded squad amble through the door, with tales from the beach at Torremolinos – or, more likely, exclusive resorts in Barbados and, in Wayne Rooney’s case, Glastonbury.

The appearance of Rooney will remind Moyes of his perhaps most pressing task – sorting out the player’s future.

It is a different quality of headache to those he perhaps endured at Everton, when he managed to ensure that a decent squad kept fighting above its weight. The pair have some history of course, from their often fractious time together at Goodison Park, with Moyes suing Rooney for something derogatory that the player wrote in his autobiography My Story So Far, written when the player was just 20 years old.

In order for him to agree to stay, it has been reported that Rooney wants an apology from Sir Alex Ferguson, or at least the club, for stating that the player was dropped from the team last season because he had “asked away”.

According to Rooney’s people, this is not so. It is a difficult one for Moyes to approach, given that Ferguson will still have a considerable presence at Old Trafford, in his role as club ambassador.

Perhaps Sir Alex will make things a little easier for Moyes, and back down to Rooney. After all, the former manager’s authority is not such an issue now. But given Ferguson’s desire to stay away from such football matters, the problem of an unhappy Rooney is an awkward one for him – and Moyes – to resolve. Still, problem solving like this is what the new manager is being paid for. And at least Moyes has stolen an early march on slothful rivals Manchester City, who don’t return to training until next week.