Scottish football mailbag: SPFL without Old Firm | Strachan ignoring Griffiths | Jim Goodwin

Celtic and Rangers may be looking to join a new Atlantic League. Picture: John Devlin
Celtic and Rangers may be looking to join a new Atlantic League. Picture: John Devlin
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Craig Fowler answers your questions on Scottish football.

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@CGrassam: How many goals would Leigh Griffiths have to score this season to be Strachan’s first choice striker? 50, 60 or 70?

It’s hard to say, because you thought 40 would have been enough. I’ve mentioned before about how Griffiths didn’t perform all that well under Strachan when he was picked to play against the likes of Croatia and Belgium. It seems to have completely put Strachan off. But that was three years ago. He’s a greatly improved player since then and not just in terms of goalscoring. You saw it in his substitute appearances against Lithuania and Slovakia. He adds a dynamism to Scotland’s attack that makes up for his deficiencies with regards to holding the ball up – compared to Chris Martin or Steven Fletcher. Either Strachan is blind to it, or he resents the constant calls for Griffiths to start and is just being stubborn.

@MarkPockets: Is the North Atlantic league a viable and/or good idea? Would it leave a competitive Premiership? Would it suck interest out?

Good idea? It’s certainly a viable idea for those clubs pushing it forward. It will still be a league below the standard of the EPL, La Liga and probably the Bundesliga and Serie A too. However, the combining of TV interest, and therefore revenue, from all the different countries would bump it up and enable it to challenge those leagues in time.

Premiership? With no safe route to the Champions League for the title winners, it would certainly leave a competitive top flight in Scotland. Had this happened in the days where the Scottish champions gained automatic qualification to the group stages, then you’d suddenly have a club like Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs injected with £15 million. They would then use that cash to dominate the domestic scene for a few years, thereby creating a new monopoly/duopoly. Without such a cash cow, it will allow a level playing field and the opportunity for just about every club in the top flight to have a run at the title. These last couple of years – with Aberdeen finishing best of the rest on two successive occasions and Hearts coming straight back up into third place – have actually been at odds with what we’ve come to expect from the league table places directly below the Old Firm in the last 20 years. Before Motherwell did it, no side had finished best of the best in consecutive years (outside of Hearts) since the early 90s. Imagine that kind of parity with the title race. It would be a breath of fresh air for 50 per cent of the football fans in Scotland.

Interest? There is no doubt revenue would decline and it would hit some clubs hard, but the notion that we’d turn into the League of Ireland is completely ridiculous. There are 14 Scottish clubs outside of Celtic and Rangers who average attendances higher than Cork City, who have drawn the biggest crowds in the League of Ireland this term. It’s highly patronising and, quite frankly, insulting to suggest all these people are turning up to games because they play in the same division as the Old Firm. Would the league drop in standard? Yes, but it wouldn’t go part-time. And who knows, maybe the increased competition would generate bigger crowds. Imagine if Motherwell had the chance of winning the title, you don’t think more people would come through the gate at Fir Park?

@RJB__29: Will this “Atlantic league” (including the Old Firm) actually happen?

No. This kind of talk has been around since the late 90s. And that’s all it stays. Talk.

@DuncMcKay: Can you think of a good reason *not* to appoint Sam Allardyce as Scotland manager?

From a football perspective, no. From a character perspective [lawyer: comment redacted].

@ketaminedrams: Will Edinburgh City win this season? How big is the gap between League Two and the Lowland/Highland leagues?

Yes, of course. Their struggles aren’t as bad as, for example, Fort William in the Highland League last season, where they were getting annihilated every game and ended up with a goal difference of about -300. Of their nine games so far, City have drawn three, lost three more by a single goal and been tanked in the rest. They’ll likely go down, or at least have to fight it out in the play-offs, but they’ll definitely win a game.

I can’t speak with much authority about the Highland or Lowland League, but both of the pyramid play-off finals we’ve had thus far have been close affairs. City’s struggles either say a lot about how bad East Stirlingshire were last year, or how much Brora Rangers really didn’t want to come up the season before.

@itzdrk: Jack Ross, will he make it out of Greenhill Road alive? #BOOO

Nobody makes it out of historic Paisley 2021 Stadium with their reputation intact. It’s a graveyard for promising young managers (and Tommy Craig).

@ShaughanM: Is Jim Goodwin’s appointment as Alloa boss the best option, or the cheap option?

Is there such a thing as an expensive option in League One?

I wouldn’t be too worried if I were an Alloa fan. Sure, it could go down the Colin Nish route, but they had great success with Paul Hartley going into his first job in management, while Hartley’s former player Darren Young has been doing a terrific job at Albion Rovers since moving to Cliftonhill as an unproven boss.

He’s also taken the decision to keep playing himself, which is the right call because he’s one of the stronger talents in the dressing room. I find it curious when a young manager, previous top flight star, drops down to a lower level but refuses to keep playing. I get their thinking, they want to prove themselves as a manager without the aid of their football talents. The way I see it, the best way to prove yourself a good manager is to pick the best players available, regardless of whether that includes you.

@Scotsmo: David Marshall has been involved in most of Scotland’s recent pumpings. Just how poor is he?

He’s fine. I’m not his biggest fan but changing the goalkeeper would be akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It’s far from our biggest problem and it won’t solve the current malaise. Besides, Craig Gordon was dropped from the Celtic team earlier this season and Allan McGregor has struggled with injury issues these past couple of years (and is, indeed, injured right now). While the likes of Jack Hamilton, Zander Clark and Scott Bain have bright futures, they’re not better than Marshall right now. So with all of that in mind, what are we to do? Replace Marshall with Gordon? Whoopee.

@killjoy1869: Which current SPFL manager has the best football pedigree and which one now would you want in your 5s team?

It’s one of Neil Lennon, Mark McGhee, Barry Ferguson, Lee Clark and Gary Naysmith. They all, aside from Clark, succeeded both north and south of the border. None of them were big stars for their respective sides in the English top flight, but they were good first-team players. Clark would probably get the nod for playing consistently at the top level for 15 years, though Lennon, Ferguson and McGhee all featured in European finals. McGhee even won his. Gun to my head, forced to pick one, I’ll go for Ferguson. He commanded the highest transfer fee and was captain of Scotland at a time when that was actually something to be proud of.

As for five-a-side, the answer is Paul Hartley. He was always a very up-and-at-them player, but one who had great pace, could finish and had football ability. All in all, the perfect five-a-side player.

@FinlayReid: Does any manager currently in the SPFL deserve to be considered for the national job if and when Gordon Strachan leaves?

National team managers, generally, are more experienced campaigners. They have excelled at more than one club at the highest level. In the Scottish top flight at present are a number of younger managers, which is why there are very few calls for one of them to take over the role. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Derek McInnes, Tommy Wright (he’s Northern Irish but he may be up for it) or Robbie Neilson were offered the role, but we should be aiming higher than that.

@kerr_davidson: What will Gordon Dalziel bring to Airdrie?

While he brings a wealth of knowledge in the game, particularly in the Scottish leagues, his role is a curious one. He’s overseeing football operations from Monday to Friday which leaves out one particularly important day in any given football week. Airdrie have done some bizarre things for many years now, so it’s easy enough to imagine this ending in tears.

@JHWFootball: Would a league reconstruction of Premiership with 20 teams, Championship with 22, make sense? If not, how would you do it.

I’m actually not opposed to the current set-up. The split adds a bit of drama that wouldn’t be there without it. So, while the calls for bigger leagues are understandable, therefore reducing the number of times you play a single opponent in any one season, with limited places for Europe available (top three or four) we’d need to do something to break up the monotony of the mid-table as the season gets beyond the New Year. If someone can come up with a 16-team league that enables fewer games against certain teams, retains mid-table excitement and isn’t a complete farce like that previous proposal of three divisions of eight, then I’d be for it.

@MarcJWallace: Were you on my roof last night stealing my weathervane?

This Mailbag is over!

READ MORE - Rumour Mill: Celtic and Rangers could quit SPFL | Warburton planning for January | Dembele going nowhere

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