Greetings everyone. Here is this week’s sporting takeaway, my impartial look at what’s making the headlines after the weekend dust has settled. Thank you so much to everyone who reacted so well to my first offering last week. I was very grateful. As usual, feedback is always welcome…the good, the bad and the ugly (within reason). Up for the bantz but keep it civil.
RODGERS CAN’T PAPER OVER THE CRACKS BY BLAMING THE MEDIA
Brendan Rodgers’ contention that “some people” are trying to dismantle his relationship with the Celtic board does not stand up to fair scrutiny. It’s fair to assume he’s not pointing the finger to someone in-house. But you cannot put the Scottish Mainstream Media in the dock for accurately reporting what you say in press conferences. It wasn’t the SMSM who used words like “terminado” or sentences like: “It’s too late when the rot sets in, it’s too late.” He’s an extremely intelligent man. He knew what he was saying and how his words would be interpreted. Rodgers, pictured left, is understandably sore over Celtic’s disappointing exit from the Champions League. It will cost his club a lot of mullah. And see his own managerial stock slip back on football’s equivalent of the FTSE 100 index. It’s also another nail in the coffin of Scotland’s European co-efficient. But the media is always a convenient shield when you’re trying to deflect the blame from where it really should be apportioned. Football managers are commonly quick to climb the pulpit of humbug to defend themselves. Meanwhile, Saturday’s 3-1 Betfred Cup victory over Partick Thistle, while hardly free-flowing, at least got Celtic back on the winning track and showed hopeful green shoots of recovery after the first two back-to-back defeats of Rodgers’ reign. This week’s Europa League first leg qualifier away to Suduva in Lithuania is now of paramount importance. But victory for Celtic over the two legs would be a massive confidence boost ahead of a certain derby match a week on Sunday.
MORELOS MUST LEARN TO PLAY IT COOL
Alfredo Morelos looks like he could be a manager’s dream ¬ or his worst nightmare. Steven Gerrard, not surprisingly, bigged up the Rangers striker’s value after he showed all his predatory instincts to bag a hat-trick at the weekend against Kilmarnock. No argument there. That’s his job just in case someone wafts a giant cheque under his nose to try to woo the striker to more lucrative pastures.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard deserves kudos from fans.
Or invites him to board a Sampan to the South China Sea. But suspicions remain that the hot-headed Colombian could easily lose his cool in the heat of Old Firm battle. There were a couple of instances on Sunday when he looked close to giving in to his Latin instincts. Morelos was sent off against Aberdeen for having a kick at Scott McKenna, a misdemeanor later downgraded on appeal to a yellow card. But the signs are already there that he has a combustible temperament. Without question, he will be a priority target for Celtic wind-up merchants like Scott Brown when Rangers rock up at Parkhead a week this Sunday. Morelos might not speak much English but he won’t need a translator to understand the Celtic captain’s Fife brogue. Gerrard deserves huge kudos for the way he has managed Morelos so far. But it will require all his diplomatic skills to remind his player to make sure he has the final say on derby day.
PLASTIC IS DRASTIC FOR PLAYERS AND FANS
Plastic pitches are in danger of making the Scottish game look like Bambi on ice. Players are now at risk of serious injury. Rangers’ Jamie Murphy is the latest casualty of Kilmarnock’s absolutely shocking synthetic surface. Last season Brendan Rodgers lost the services of Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer BEFORE half-time as the Rugby Park pitch made twisting for any defender hazardous. Murphy now faces a sweat over the scans that will reveal the severity of the injury to his knee while mulling over the prospect of several months on the sidelines. Steven Gerrard will be deprived of the services of a key player. And the fans, once again, have been short changed. That’s simply not good enough. For any team. Pictures of Livingston’s home match against Motherwell showed tiny black, rubber pellets rising in clusters from the ground every time a player made a tackle. Pellets like these are, incidentally, now at the centre of a major US study striving to determine whether they expose players to cancer-causing chemicals. Earlier this year, Hamilton’s 4G surface was condemned by players as the worst in the country. Twelve of Scotland’s SPFL clubs play on plastic pitches. Just less than a third. Which is farcical. Of course, it’s all about money, football’s Great Satan. But Holland has already ripped up its 4G surfaces, deciding that player safety – and the spectacle of decent football – was worth more than a few scheckles in the bank. Down south, the Premier League rightly won’t touch them. The Scottish Players Union has repeatedly warned of the inherent dangers. Insisting that players of every club are genuinely worried about the risk to their livelihoods these pitches present. Yet the game’s rulers up here turn a deaf ear and are happy to fly in the face of logic by refusing to do the right thing: BAN THEM. So forget the notion that the game up here is played on a level playing field. That would require more than artificial intelligence and make any counter-arguments groundless.
ENGLISH SPORTING HYPOCRISY LEAVES A BITTER STENCH
Danny Cipriani, the one-time poster boy of English rugby, is fined two grand for common assault and resisting arrest after going on the lash at a nightclub in Jersey. He’s also ordered to pay £250 to a woman cop he assaulted during his booze-filled rammy. His club, Gloucester, call it a “minor incident” despite hitting him with an additional £2000 fine. A drop in the financial bucket, incidentally, to a player on an eye-watering salary. But here’s the real rub. The fly-half was welcomed back into the England fold in June after a ten-year absence following a series of disciplinary issues. And you can bet the welcome mat will be rolled out again for the Autumn Tests. Meanwhile, Ben Stokes strides out like a preening peacock at Lord’s for the opening day third Test against India days after walking free from a court of law, absolved of a charge of affray. (He should have been charged with assault. A reminder: He knocked two men unconscious, leaving one of them with a broken eye socket. At least, however, the crowd reception was rightly muted) But you can always rely on the English rugby and cricket establishment to circle the sweet chariots to protect those who deserve scorn not sympathy. The same self-righteous individuals who are quick to become judge and jury when footballers fall from grace. The stench of sporting hypocrisy gets right up my nose.