“I’ve learned that the best political reporters never make predictions.”
This snippet of inarguable insight comes from New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor, and could easily be adapted to fit football or sports in general.
For a writer, predictions are a fools’ errand. They serve very little purpose. When we are right there is no reward; when we’re wrong we look like complete idiots. And yet, we can’t help but make them. For me, this comes at the start of every Scottish football season.
Just yesterday I went back to the predictions I made for The Terrace Podcast in late July. These included a 1-12 league table, player of the year winner, manager of the year winner, cup winners, top goalscorer and first manager to leave his job. It was grim (and ridiculous) reading.
I swung for the fences and, instead of knocking it out of the park, twisted right around and caught myself full in the face with the baseball bat.
Here are the worst of the worst...
LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: RANGERS
This was a classic case of over-thinking things. Or applying no thought at all. You can decide.
As I’ve written in several other articles (including here) one side of the Old Firm can have stronger squad and not win the title. The resources available to both means they’re capable of consistently beating the rest of the league, even when there’s a significant gulf in quality between the two rivals.
Unfortunately, I overestimated Rangers on three fronts:
1) Their summer spending (Joey Barton, anyone?)
2) The Championship-winning squad
3) Mark Warburton
There was also the idea that Brendan Rodgers maybe wasn’t quite as good as advertised, with his struggles at Reading often cited. I know, I know. Idiot.
To be completely honest, there’s also an element of contrarianism at play here. Playing devil’s advocate is one of my favourite pastimes. Everyone was picking Celtic, I picked Rangers to make the point that it wasn’t going to be as straight-forward as it seemed.
That worked out well.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: MARK WARBURTON
Oh dear (part two).
Because when you’re going to make a complete fool of yourself, you may as well double down.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: KOLO TOURE
This was a little unlucky. Going by Toure’s performances in the opening few months of the season, had he continued to play at the heart of the Celtic defence there’s every chance he’d be in contention.
Instead, he’s started one game since October.
Rodgers has, quite rightly, decided to concentrate on improving younger defenders at the club and put the 36-year-old Ivorian in charge of post-title dancing.
TOP GOALSCORER: LEIGH GRIFFITHS
Again, there’s a degree of misfortune with this pick. Had Griffiths played every game then surely he would have been the league’s top goalscorer. After all, his average of a goal every 108 minutes ranks alongside club-mate Moussa Dembele as the best in the league.
The error here was failing to foresee Dembele instantly becoming a ridiculously good player.
SIXTH PLACE: INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
Many observers picked the Caley Jags to finish bottom purely on the basis that replacing John Hughes with Richie Foran was a massive mistake.
My counter-argument pointed to the strength of the ICT squad, believing a unit of Gary Warren, Josh Meekings, Ross Draper and Greg Tansey in the spine of the team was too strong to be relegated.
I clearly underestimated the effect poor management can have.
BOTTOM PLACE: KILMARNOCK
Like the Griffiths selection, at least I can console myself with this being a popular pick among my peers.
Lee Clark’s scattergun approach to transfer signings looked downright foolhardy, especially as most of the new recruits were under the age of 22 and Kilmarnock were already one of the league’s youngest squad.
The prediction looked even stronger when Josh Magennis, arguably their best player last season, left for Charlton Athletic.
In fairness, this might have come true if Clark stuck around, as they always seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster, partially due to the bottom seven teams being seperated by a cigarette paper for most of the season. However, since Lee McCulloch has replaced Clark, who bolted for Bury of all places, they looked much more organised, disciplined and highly unlikely to suffer relegation.
And there you have it.
When the time comes around to make predictions for the 2017/18 season, I’ll be sure to delete the email and forget about the whole thing.
Unfortunately, that’s probably the most foolish prediction of the lot.