Scotland has become a foreign region

A Swede, an Argentine, a Frenchman and a Trinidadian. The shortlist for the Player of the Year award may not include any native talent, but it certainly highlights the colour and diversity of the SPL this season.

The Swede, inevitably, is Henrik Larsson of Celtic, an odds-on favourite to pick up the award at the Scottish Professional Footballers Association dinner in Glasgow on Sunday week.

The Argentine, just as predictably, is Claudio Caniggia of Dundee, who may effectively be Claudio Caniggia of Some Other Club by the time the gongs are handed out.

The Frenchman is Frank Sauzee and the Caribbean islander is Russell Latapy - double recognition of the contribution made to the season by Scottish Cup finalists Hibernian.

The positions of the players say as much about the current state of the game in Scotland as their nationalities do. Larsson and Caniggia are strikers; Latapy is an attacking midfielder; and Sauzee, while playing at sweeper, is just as forward-thinking as the other three.

So no cloggers. No balding midfield battlers. No beasts of burden.

We are not suggesting that every defensive player is devoid of creativity, but it is reassuring that Scotland’s professionals should recognise the foreign talent in their midst.

The next step, of course, is to emulate that talent, but at least taking notice of it is a start. And it has, needless to say, been difficult not to take notice of Larsson, to name just one of the quartet, this season.

Enough has been said about the Swedish striker by now. As Martin O’Neill stated after seeing the player score two of the goals which took Celtic past Dundee United in the Scottish Cup semi-final last Sunday, "Larsson’s Larsson".

Artful descriptions of his craft are now redundant. One statistic suffices - and on this occasion at least, the statistic does not lie. Larsson’s tally of 49 goals this season is over three times greater than his closest rival, Juan Sara of Dundee.

Would it be too simplistic to say that means Larsson is three times better than any other striker in the division? Maybe, but if everyone in the SPL was suddenly put up for sale, the Celtic man would surely command a fee significantly higher than, if not exactly treble, anyone else’s.

Caniggia in his heyday would have been more valuable on the world market but, at 33, the former World Cup star is likely to be released from his two-year contract by Dundee if another club offers to stump up a million or two.

Even more so than Larsson, Caniggia exemplifies the exotic tinge that has so enhanced the SPL this campaign. The Swede, after all, was a respected but unspectacular performer when Wim Jansen brought him to Glasgow from PSV Eindhoven. Caniggia, conversely, was a snorting, cavorting legend of a man long before he touched down at Dens Park six a scarcely credible months ago.

Which brings us to the only downside of the players’ union list. For all that we admire these imports, we still have enough of an inferiority complex about us to ask: If they’re quite as good as they’re cracked up to be, why on earth are they plying their trade in Scotland?

Larsson answered that very question recently, claiming, to the incredulity of his admirers, that he was not good enough to thrive as he does here were he to move to one of Europe’s major leagues.

To the extent that he would be unlikely to rattle in a half-century of goals in a season in Serie A or Spain’s La Liga, he is right. But rather than amounting to a serious lack of self-esteem, Larsson’s statement was more probably a polite way of saying why he plans to see out his career at Celtic Park.

He likes it here, and so do the Frenchmen and the South American. They may well be big fish in a small pond, but at least they are big, stripy and luminous fish, with the admiration of the many minnows with whom they share a habitat.

At the moment, Latapy is the only one who seems likely to be playing in a different country next season. While Larsson and Sauzee are staying put, and Caniggia still seems set to move to Rangers, the Trinidadian is keen on a move to England.

Latapy may get more money there, and he may improve as a player, but he will surely run the risk of lapsing into anonymity. He better make the most of the adulation he gets next Sunday evening.

In contrast to the main award, Scots make up three quarters of the shortlist in the Young Player of the Year category, the odd man out being Stilian Petrov of Celtic. The Bulgarian’s rivals for the title are Keigan Parker of St Johnstone, Gavin Rae of Dundee and Mark Kerr of Falkirk.

Rae, recently called up to the Scotland squad for the first time, must be favourite on current form. Had the vote been taken four months ago, Parker would have had a walkover, but he has been quieter since Christmas.

Inverness Caley Thistle have two representatives in the First Division nominations - Paul Sheerin and Dennis Wyness. The others are David Bingham of Livingston and Gary Teale of Ayr United.

A pair of Partick players - Scott McLean and Martin Hardie - feature in the Second Division list, recognition of the Maryhill club’s winning of the title. Isaac English of Stenhousemuir and Peter Weatherson of Queen of the South are the other two in the running.

Four clubs are represented in the Third Division nominations - Cowdenbeath by Mark Bradley, Dumbarton by Andy Brown, Brechin by Roddy Grant, and East Stirling by Steve Hislop.


SPL Player of the Year: Claudio Caniggia (Dundee), Russell Latapy (Hibernian), Henrik Larsson (Celtic), Franck Sauzee (Hibs).

Young Player of the Year: Mark Kerr (Falkirk), Kiegan Parker (St Johnstone), Stilian Petrov (Celtic), Gavin Rae (Dundee).

First Division Player of the Year: David Bingham (Livingston), Paul Sheerin (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Gary Teale (Ayr United), Dennis Wyness (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).

Second Division Player of the Year: Isaac English (Stenhousemuir), Martin Hardie (Partick Thistle), Scott McLean (Partick Thistle), Peter Weatherson (Queen of the South).

Third Division Player of the Year: Mark Bradley (Cowdenbeath), Andy Brown (Dumbarton), Roddy Grant (Brechin City), Steve Hislop (East Stirlingshire).