Scottish football mailbag: Scott Brown's U-turn | Judging Hartley's signings | What next for Rangers?

Craig Fowler answers your questions on Scottish football, including Scott Brown's potential return to the Scotland set-up, Paul Hartley's signings at Dundee, and where next for Rangers.

Having walked away, should Scott Brown come back? Picture: John Devlin

@odneJ: Here goes: Scott Brown should stay retired. Discuss.

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In a word: yeah.

Who benefits from this? Scotland will be better with him in the team, but not significantly better. Instead of a 3-0 defeat at Wembley, it might now be 2-0 or 2-1. The chances of us pulling off an upset have increased from, like, 10 per cent to 15. Is that enough for him to come out of retirement?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the whole retiring from international football thing. However, as evidenced by the likes of Paul Scholes, it can add years on to a club career. Choosing not to play for your country is a selfish move, but footballers have the right to make that decision. They only get one chance at a career and even if they’re really good it’s over before they’re 40. International careers don’t add to the retirement fund. Quite the opposite, in some instances.

Brown said he felt his body wasn’t getting sufficient time to rest and that’s why he chose to quit Scotland. The season so far has proved his theory correct. He does a power of work on and off the ball and if he’s not at 100 per cent, his game can really struggle. Besides, if he goes back to the form he showed last season, including his appearances for Scotland, then the national team shouldn’t want him in the side anyway.

With or without Brown, Scotland aren’t making it to Russia. If he really believes playing with the national team is a hindrance to his club career, he’s better off staying retired.

@RossP_ICT: With the #banteryears showing no sign of halting - what can we expect to see next from Rangers on and off the pitch?

Off the pitch, I have no idea. Call me a pathetic excuse for a journalist, but the thought of poring over Rangers’ accounts for hours seems like my idea of hell. I’d rather watch the full 90 minutes of their game with St Johnstone, looking at their shape and tactical approach, because I’m super-cool like that.

On the pitch, it’s still difficult to judge. They won’t get anywhere close to Celtic this season. It just isn’t happening. The quality of their squad is similar to the likes of Aberdeen and Hearts, while Brendan Rodgers’ side are in a league of their own. However, I still believe they can finish second if they somehow figure out a consistent starting XI. They’re only two points off Aberdeen despite failing to play particularly well in any game this season. It’s more than likely the Dons have already shown their best hand in terms of squad selection, at least until January. If Rangers can hang around long enough until they discover some cohesion in attack, they could go on a run that will take them into second.

The issue with making such a presumption is that they’ve played 10 league games to this point, more than a quarter of the season, and don’t look any closer to solving the puzzle. If Warburton continues to chop and change, and the slow, ponderous play of Wednesday night remains a consistent theme, then they’ll continue to look upwards at Hearts, Aberdeen and possibly St Johnstone, and may well make a change of manager.

EckStevson: Why do pundits almost never criticise and actually stick up for clueless managers but tear into referees?

There are three reasons:

1) You never need a referee for a story.

Though not as often as press journalists, pundits will sometimes have to interact with managers. Any human being will tell you, it’s hard to slaughter someone once you’ve had a face-to-face interaction with them, or you’re going to have one in the future. There’s rarely a scenario where pundits will have to talk to referees as part of their job.

2) They’re old pals.

Nepotism is rife within football, particularly Scottish football. If a pundit knows the manager in question, say they used to play together, they’re not going to criticise their old mate. There’s also the pundits who believe it’s disrespectful to undermine professionals, yet think nothing of taking money from the public to say nothing of interest.

3) Lack of knowledge.

Pundits see headlines like “Dundee sell Hemmings and Stewart” and make a snap judgement. “How are they supposed to succeed when the club is selling their best players?” they’ll ask. In the United instance, there was even the “young team” narrative, even though some of the opponents beating them had a younger average age.

@jimdou77: Kenny McLean - under-rated metronome in the Dons midfield, or under-achieving 6/10 regular?

Do you know what? I really don’t know. I go back and forth on McLean just about every month, and it’s probably got something to do with his position in the Aberdeen team. Mainly, he hasn’t got one.

McLean, in my opinion, was at his best with St Mirren as a No.8 in a 4-4-2, tasked with contributing to both ends of the attack. There was an onus on him to make things happen as he was, arguably, the most talented player in the dressing room. At Aberdeen there’s less emphasis to take games by the scruff of the neck and I’m not sure it’s brought the best out of him.

He doesn’t score enough goals from open play to be a top class No.10. Further back he can do the screener role, keeping possession ticking over, but it limits what he can bring to a team. He has looked better recently, playing alongside Graeme Shinnie as the sitting-midfield duo. Shinnie does a lot of the dirty work, which allows McLean to use his range of passing and break forward when the opportunity arises. Perhaps they’ve finally found his role within the team, though the return of Ryan Jack already puts such a prognosis in jeopardy.

@albinoanaconda: My question is: how many of Paul Hartley’s 40+ signings for Dundee have been a success?

These guys: Darren O’Dea, Kane Hemmings, Greg Stewart, Paul McGinn, Stephen McGinn, Gary Harkins, Paul McGowan, David Clarkson, Scott Bain, James McPake

There’s a couple in there that are getting the benefit of the doubt, while Stephen McGinn was a short-term signing who quickly returned to England when a better offer came in. So, it’s 10 out of 43. You could maybe include Kevin Gomis, who does have something about him and is potentially being dragged down by his team-mates, though his form has been poor in recent weeks.

It’s eerily similar to Jackie McNamara’s time at Dundee United. Takes over midway through one season, signs a couple of terrific players that summer (three in Hartley’s case – Bain being the other), enjoys unexpected success, comes back down to earth a little the following campaign, then the stars leave and the house of cards come crashing down.

There is no doubt Dundee would not be struggling to this extent if they still had Hemmings and Stewart. But Scottish football is all about rebuilding. Teams lose their best players most seasons. Recruitment is vital and, overall, Hartley has struggled in that regard.

@RFBorthwick: Has Tony Watt’s ability to score goals been magically extracted from him like the NBA stars in Space Jam?

Tony Watt has never really been much of a regular goalscorer throughout his career, other than his initial spell in Belgium. A more intriguing question could be whether Conor Sammon became a member of The Monstars for six months back in 2010/11, and whose talents did he steal before Lionel Messi gave it back via a magic football?

@MichaelWood_SJ: Giving that the Jags have been in no threat of relegation since being promoted: Is Alan Archibald underrated as a manager?

He’s maybe a little underrated. He gets his fair share of credit for getting Thistle to the top flight and keeping them there, which was something I thought only John Lambie was capable of prior to Archibald’s tenure.

He’s never reached the top six, however, which puts him behind the likes of Tommy Wright in the overachieving stakes, and he’s failed to make a series impact on the cup competitions through his tenure. Success in knockout competitions is never a great way to judge a manager, as it’s such a small sample size compared with the main body of work, but that seems to be the way English clubs are usually alerted to our managers. Therefore, he’s more underrated south of the border, where you’re unlikely to meet an average fan who’s ever heard of Alan Archibald.

@MidasForTheGold: Dearest Dr Craig, should managers who are about to be sacked be allowed to sign tall strikers with no ability?

It’s a difficult situation. On one hand, if you have a manager who’s struggled in the transfer market, it seems bewildering to allow him to sign more players when his job is on the line. On the other hand, if you’re stopping a manager from signing a player, if there’s room in the budget to bring them in, you may as well sack them right there and then. Whether or not it’s right for the chairman to keep faith in the manager is irrelevant, if they believe the boss can still turn it around, they have to back them when it comes to player recruitment.

@MarcJWallace: Which manager will go first? McGhee or Hartley?

If you’re a betting man, you’d have to go with Hartley. He’s already under severe pressure. Although, you do raise an interesting possibility. Motherwell have struggled so far this season. The loss of Marvin Johnson has forced Mark McGhee into returning to the drawing board as he attempts to come up with a new system.

Last term, they struggled, even after McGhee replaced Iain Baraclough, until they began to use the 4-3-3 with Scott McDonald, Louis Moult and Johnson as an interchangeable front three. They’ve tried it this campaign with summer signing Ryan Bowman coming in, but they miss Johnson’s drive. Currently sitting second bottom in the table, if results don’t improve soon then pressure will switch to the Motherwell boss.

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