Like one of those daring performers able to catch bullets, the other day Graeme Murty did a pretty good job of standing up to the peppering that Jim McInally gave the proposals to allow Celtic and Rangers colt teams to play in League Two.
It was more Colt 45 that came to mind, with the Peterhead manager’s blast at the moves by the Glasgow clubs to have the SPFL vote their youth teams into an expanded fourth tier, which would switch from a ten to 12 strong set-up.
The Ibrox manager was keen to consider an even bigger picture, though. One he has witnessed first hand through his experience as his club’s under-20 manager, from where he was elevated to the top coaching job at Ibrox.
McInally could see no glimpses of merit in the plans being pushed to start next season. They would have no benefits for League Two clubs, he said, accusing Rangers and Celtic of attempting to “bully” their way into the division so that it could be used as they plaything to develop their youth.
The proposals would see the Glasgow sides play all their games away from home and take a minimum of 250 tickets for each so that there would be a financial reward for League Two clubs.
The initiative has been attached to Project Brave, the revamp of Scotland’s youth football, but was McInally withering about that. “Who cares about Project Brave?” he said, stating that if Celtic and Rangers wanted to improve Scottish football they should “stop signing so many foreign players”.
If Murty were so minded, he could have fired back at this barrage. Reflecting his personality, the 43-year-old instead offered a reasoned, cogent and powerful response that was in no way dismissive of McInally’s denouncement.
“I perfectly understand his position and he’s entitled to his opinion,” he said.
“But I firmly believe if we continue to do the same thing in this country as we have always done, we will continue to fail at international level, we will continue to fail our young players, we will continue to fail to give them the best possible opportunity of playing at the highest level.
“If we do that, then you are going to have a lost generation of players that compete at 16s, 17s and 19s but then don’t compete on the international stage after that. If we want to continue to do that as a nation, continue on the same path. But we shouldn’t fear trying to be different, to try and change something and give it a go because our players will benefit, the league will benefit, attendance will benefit and the nation will benefit. But I fully understand that people want us to respect the integrity of the league and their football club. Everyone wants to safeguard their club, I fully understand that. What we are trying to do is make sure we have an environment that can develop not only this generation but generations to come of elite footballers because we have not done it.”
One of the hard sells in the colts proposals is that, in the first instance, it is only Celtic and Rangers who directly stand to gain from any future spin-offs. It is not known whether any other clubs were offered the opportunity to field colts in the senior set-up, but the cost may have been prohibitive. Murty believes that it is important to see beyond any tribal aspects.
“This is not just about safeguarding us, of making sure we get the next Ross McCrorie ready, it’s not,” Murty said. “It’s about making sure that we have a deep pool of talent. Obviously, we are a business and we want to take care of our business but we have an international group of players who are able to compete at the younger ages and we have to find a way to sustain that and push our international level and qualification higher.
“There are some very good models in other European nations that do the same. We would be limiting ourselves not to look at all the available options.”
As it stands, Spain, Germany and Portugal all have league structures in which many clubs operate B teams. Yet, Murty doesn’t pretend that there are simple parallels. There is a question of standards for him. In that, the Rangers manager is perhaps mindful of the fact that in the Challenge Cup, where all Premiership sides have fielded colt teams these past two years, none has made a real impression.
“In Spain they have a level of player commensurate to that level,” he said. “We have to make sure, if we are to do it and it is to be successful, that the players are capable of playing at that level. I understand that managers want a competitive league and players to be competitive, they want good games, so we have to make sure we are respectful of the league and the teams in it.
“If we are fortunate enough to do it, the team we put in has to be capable of sustaining a challenge at that level. I’m confident we can do that but we have to make sure we are respectful of the league while we do that.”