CONTROVERSY over the Celtic-free PFA Scotland player of the year shortlist continued yesterday with Motherwell manager Stuart McCall insisting that Michael Higdon and his three fellow nominees deserve their place, and Parkhead defender Charlie Mulgrew backing his manager Neil Lennon’s view that it was a snub to the SPL champions.
Lennon described the shortlist as a “smack in the face” for his team and argued none of the quartet, which also includes Leigh Griffiths, Andrew Shinnie and Niall McGinn, would get in his team.
However, McCall believes the lack of Celtic players is down to their consistency across the team and he believes SPL top goalscorer Higdon is a worthy candidate after hitting 25 goals so far this season.
Former Rangers midfielder McCall, whose team host SPL champions Celtic tomorrow, said: “I think the four lads certainly merit it. They have all been fantastic for their clubs. When I managed to nick in there one year, I think it was [Ally] McCoist, [Andy] Goram and John Collins, and Coisty beat me by one vote. That’s what I tell my kids anyway and they still believe me.
“I used to vote for the people that had given me the hardest time that season, be it Paul McStay at Celtic, John Collins, Phil O’Donnell when he was here, Eoin Jess at Aberdeen. We certainly didn’t go in a big group and vote.
“I can understand Celtic being disappointed that none of their players are in, but I wouldn’t be able to pick which one, because they have had consistently good overall performances from a lot of players. And I think that’s why it probably happened.
“If you look at Aberdeen, I’m sure Niall McGinn will win nearly every one of their player-of-the-years [awards], likewise Leigh Griffiths [at Hibernian], probably Michael Higdon here, maybe Lawsy [Nicky Law] pushing him.
“Up at Inverness it will be Andy Shinnie, with probably Billy McKay pushing him.
“For their clubs they have been the best players. Whether they would get in Celtic’s team is a different opinion and I understand that. But you can only vote for one person and I think the people in the top four have fully merited it because they have all had outstanding seasons.”
Mulgrew, however, remains baffled at the absence of Celtic players from the PFA Scotland player of the year award nominations, despite the revelation that seven Parkhead players received votes from their fellow professionals.
Mulgrew, winner of the players’ and the Scottish Football Writers player of the year award last season, said: “I still don’t see how one Celtic player didn’t have enough votes to get into the top four,” he said.
“It has been noted what we have done in the Champions League [reaching last-16] and being so clear in the league, so it’s disappointing. It’s baffling to be honest.
“What did we have to do? Did we have to win the Champions League? Did we have to win the league by 40 points? Did we have to win all the cups? I don’t know. What did they expect?
“I am not saying there is an agenda but, surely, when people are looking at their votes they have to look at who has won the league, who is in finals and who has done well in Europe. Surely you have to pick a player from that.”
The Scotland international dismissed the notion that individual Celtic players suffered from the team being so strong as a unit.
He said: “It has been a team effort, it’s always a team effort with every team, it’s a team sport. But we have some stand-out players this season. Kelvin Wilson has done very well and Gary Hooper scored a lot of goals. The two players for me are Fraser Forster and Victor Wanyama.”
Mulgrew was also dismissive of Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels who, when asked about Lennon’s complaints, said: “Celtic make a song and dance about everything, don’t they? Paranoid FC.”
“It is definitely not paranoia,” said the Celtic utility player, who revealed he had voted for one of the four nominees without saying which one. “I’ve said how I feel about why at least one of our players should be involved in the top four. It is understandable how disappointed the manager is, everyone feels the same.
“The nominations are not tainted at all. They have done very well, four good players who scored a lot of good goals and deserve to be nominated.”
When asked if the Celtic players would be attending the PFA awards dinner, Mulgrew said: “I’m not too sure. It’s not been talked about too much to be honest. As far as I know we are, but I don’t know.”