KEN McNAB on SPORT

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Greetings. Here is this week’s Sporting Takeaway Plenty to talk about. My guests this week include Alex McLeish, Paul Gascoigne, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric and some bloke called Burns who plays rugby for Bath. Please let me know your thoughts. Good, bad or ugly.

Red October could turn into a November bonfire of the vanities for Scotland and Alex McLeish

McLeish Scotland 4Eight games, six defeats and two wins. Alex McLeish, pictured right,  will need no reminding that he is already damned by statistics in the eight months since he stepped back into the Hampden dugout for a second time.
Translated into the Scottish Premier League ladder, it would place Scotland on the same rung as second bottom St Mirren and only fractionally ahead of Dundee.
St Mirren wasted no time in pressing the nuclear button to get shot of Alan Stubbs when results went south; Neil McCann’s jaiket at Dens Park continues to shake on a rusty nail.  Of course, it’s not like-for-like. International football is light years from the daily cut and thrust of club management. But the song remains the same … it’s a results-driven business.
Clichéd it may be, but McLeish now has two games to save his job. Next month’s Nations League double-header against Albania and Israel will surely be the last roll of the dice to prevent a bonfire of the vanities.
A crap shoot which ends with either a P45 from SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell or a backdoor pass to the European Championships.  There is little ground for optimism.
The ghostly turnout at Hampden for Sunday’s 3-1 friendly defeat to Portugal’s stiffs – can you imagine the damage they might have inflicted had Cristiano Ronaldo rocked up on Glasgow’s south side – did nothing to lift the hangover from Haifa.
Last Thursday’s abject 2-1 Nations League defeat to Israel – a team ranked 55 below us in the FIFA rankings – exposed McLeish to ridicule and rancour.
No one needs a lesson from Shakespeare to understand there is something rotten in the state of Scotland. You can’t kid the fans.  Griffiths LeighSome players have clearly shredded their international call-up papers, preferring instead to hunker down at home rather than being caught in the Tartan Army crossfire as well as running the gauntlet of a trial by media.
Then there was the game of two huffs – the unnecessary fallout between McLeish and Leigh Griffiths, pictured left,  that did neither man any favours.
Compounding matters further was the manager’s inexplicable decision to leave James Forrest, arguably the most in-form player in the camp, out of the starting line-up in Haifa. The same case could be made for Ryan Fraser, a player lighting up the Premiership with unfashionable Bournemouth
Most glaring of all, though, is the manager’s failure to field players in the positions that ensured their call-ups in the first place. Captain Andy Robertson broke ranks to publicly acknowledge that neither he nor Kieran Tierney were happy to be square pegs in round holes in McLeish’s preferred system of a flat back three.
Far from sounding mutinous, it was just a clear statement of fact. Which means something has to give for the make-or-break ties with Albania and Israel. McLeish must bite the bullet and drop one of them for the sake of his team’s balance.
For years, England dithered between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and paid the price as the so-called Golden Generation failed to match the hype.
We don’t have anything as luminous as a Gerrard or a Lampard. But McLeish must still make best use of the players he has available. And get them working in a system that best suits their talents.
McLeish, remember, was not the SFA’s first choice. He answered the call after seeing the SFA distress flares light up the sky when Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said thanks but no thanks to the job.
But his recruitment smacked of an old pals’ pact with his former Hibs gaffer Rod Petrie and SFA president Alan McRae, a quid pro quo that may yet come back to haunt all three men.
And there are plenty of Tartan Army foot soldiers who are quick to point to Big Eck’s early evacuation of the role last time out.
McLeish insists he’s the right man to weather the current storm and prevent the flower of Scotland withering further on the winter vine.
The alternative is a Scottish arcadia tangled up in weeds – and McLeish being placed on more than just gardening leave.

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Gascoigne didn’t deserve to be thrown under a bus – but Hall of Fame night could have been a car crash

Venables Terry and Gazza

Hypocrisy and football are old friends. And nobody operates this buddy system better than the movers and shakers of the Scottish game.
Paul Gascoigne, pictured left in his heyday with Terry Venables,  is the latest and shameful victim of this ineptitude. Hung out to dry after becoming the innocent victim self-serving politics. Extolled as a peerless footballer whose skills unquestionably enhanced the standing of the Scottish game worldwide when he agreed to pull on a Rangers jersey.
But guilty as charged for the crime of being an imperfect human being. And he is. A flawed man whose mercurial behaviour on and off the pitch cannot be excused or condoned. by anyone.
But the decision to nominate him for Scottish Football’s Hall of Fame and then rip up the invite 24 hours later was cack-handed even by our standards of incompetence. The fact that they so publicly threw him under the bus 24 hours after World Mental Health Day only adds to the embarrassment.
The Hall of Fame is an apotheosis of a man’s blindingly brilliant talent as a footballer. If we start to censor those who are invited to step into its portals on the grounds of all-too-human frailties, several names might have to be redacted.
Gascoigne is embroiled in a fight for his very sanity every day. His mind dulled by alcoholism and his very wellbeing clouded in mental health issues. It’s a sad story by any standard and, yes, there is an argument that much of it is self-inflicted. But how many of us have known friends, colleagues, wrestling with these dark issues every minute of every day?
Which is why the decision to nominate him, irrespective of well-founded motivations, should perhaps have been better thought through. The flip side is this: Gascoigne turns up on the night to receive his honour.
By its very nature, it’s a night of unbuttoned camaraderie. Old friendships are rekindled, well-thumbed anecdotes recalled and everyone enjoys a swally. Flashbulbs pop and Gascoigne is asked for his thoughts on Steven Gerrard and all things Rangers.
Exactly the kind of occasion that is seductively dangerous for a man like Paul Gascoigne.
Imagine, then, if he succumbed to the age-old temptations and is caught in the full glare of the media spotlight? The upshot is Gascoigne, feeling no pain, sprawled over the front pages and the Hall of Fame rightly coruscated for its failure to spot that this was a car crash waiting to happen.
But the worst thing you can do is to throw a drowning man a straw. Why break a butterfly on a wheel?

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Who will ascend to football’s throne when Messi and Ronaldo abdicate?

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Jane Heaney and Ben Morton. Whose jersey will they be wearing this year?

They think it’s all over…it might be now. Football may about to undergo a rare changing of the guard at the top of the world player order.
For the last decade, Cristiano Ronald and Lionel Messi have dominated the Ballon d’Or – the annual bauble given to the players largely reckoned to reign supreme on Planet Football.
This year, though, the smart money is on them both being toppled and suffering the ignominy of being sent down from football’s Mount Olympus to breathe the same air as ordinary mortals.
But it raises an interesting question. Who has the cohones to fill their boots? Luka Modric was named the best player in the world by FIFA on account of a season of scintillating form.
No question Modric raised his game last season. He was a vital cog in the engine that drove Real Madrid to Champions League glory in June.
And he carried his form onto the world stage with Croatia, his crafty skills helping them to defeat England on the way top the World Cup final where they eventually lost to an excellent France side.
But he’s not in the same league as Messi or Ronaldo and, at 33, is in the autumn of his career. Neither is Kevin De Bruyne or Eden Hazard. At least not yet.
Liverpool’s Mo Salah last season was pure box-office, the one player I felt provided the wow factor of English football, but he is already suffering from the weight of expectation this term.
Kylian MBappe looks the obvious long-term heir to the throne, a player whose ability actually matches the box-office billing.
We are entering a post-Ronaldo and a post-Messi world. (Though Messi’s display against Spurs the other week was a throwback to a footballing genius raging against the light).
So here’s a question. Who would be your best world XI, a team with five-star pedigree in every position? And you can’t have Messi or Ronaldo. Answers on a stamped undressed elephant to the usual place thanks.

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Ready Freddie Doh! Burns’ night backfires

Doh! The laugh-out-loud moment from the weekend was provided by Mr Burns of Bath Rugby Club. The bold Freddie’s ran behind the posts, blowing a kiss and touching the badge on his jersey. All he had to do was touch down. 
But he failed to spot an opponent coming in behind to knock the ball out of his hand, a fumble that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Toulouse. 
It capped a nightmare few minutes for Burns, who had only just missed a straightforward penalty, and ultimately cost Bath dearly with the French edging home 22-20. Touché monsieur. More Freddy Krueger than anything you might find in The Simpsons.
Admit it, though, we all love those moments when smugness replaces smarts. Especially where an England international is concerned.
As fluffed open goals go, it was hilarious.
Just don’t mention Chris Iwelumo…

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