By Ken McNab
Greetings. Here is this week’s Sporting Takeaway, my impartial look at the big issues in Scotland and, occasionally, England. Making the cut are Alfredo Morelos, Steven Gerrard, Peter Lawwell, Mesut Ozil and Gregor Townsend. All feedback warmly welcome.
Stevie Gerrard urging his players on to victory. Pictures by Bill Heaney
Rangers’ boss boxes clever over Morelos
Steven Gerrard says he’s ready to ‘fall out’ with his Ibrox paymasters in order to ringfence Alfredo Morelos.
That’s the kind of fighting talk that suggests the Rangers boss is bracing himself for interested parties to dangle a decent-sized cheque under Dave King’s nose in January to prise the striker away from Govan.
The club continues to haemorrhage cash and Morelos, with eight goals and four assists this season, has emerged as the brass ring asset.
The Colombian is Scotland’s top scorer this season with eight goals and four assists – a strike rate that puts him on a par with Manchester City’s arch-predator Sergio Aguero.
Of course, that’s where all comparisons begin and end.
But Gerrard knows only too well his player’s worth in a tight league where goals are the only currency that matters.
Which is why he seems confident about lacing up the gloves to go toe-to-toe with his chairman in the Blue Room.
On Saturday against Livingston, Rangers were toiling to hold onto a 1-0 lead before Morelos made an instant talismanic impact from the bench late on to quell the jitters.
And therein lies Gerrard’s big conundrum – who else can he rely on to provide the kind of net gains necessary to stay in Celtic’s slipstream at the top of the Premiership?
Skipper James Tavernier and Scott Arfield have pitched in with six and five goals respectively.
Overall, however, it’s hard to find someone who will shoulder the burden of fronting up for Gerrard where it matters most – in front of goal. The player signed a three-year deal last March but it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if a club comes in with plenty of moolah for Morelos’s services. Morelos will be key for Gerrard in Thursday’s vital Europa League clash against Villarreal at Ibrox. Going into the penultimate round of games, Rangers, Spartak Moscow, Rapid Vienna and Villarreal can all still qualify for the Europa League knock-out stages in the new year. But a win for the La Liga side – combined with a home victory for Spartak against Rapid in Moscow on Thursday night – would send Gerrard’s men tumbling out of the tournament.
Morelos, picture right, is also certain to be handed a starting jersey for this Sunday’s tinderbox showdown at Tynecastle against an injury-hit Hearts side in freefall. A win would see Rangers leapfrog Celtic at the top of the Premiership with Brendan Rodgers’ side take on Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup Final at Hampden.
Psychologically, it might provide an edge but there is a long distance left to run in this season’s title race.
Celtic, meanwhile, go into Thursday’s Europa League tie with Rosenborg knowing a win would keep them in contention for a place in the last-32.
And they are odds-on favourites to maintain Rodgers’ 100 per cent trophy rate against an Aberdeen side blunted by inconsistency.,
Back in the fold after a four-week injury lay-off, Leigh Griffiths’ pictured left, goals provide the same kind of dividend as Morelos does at Rangers and represent money in the bank for Celtic.
But if a suitable bid arrived at Parkhead for the striker’s services, it’s hard to imagine Rodgers going 12 rounds with Peter Lawwell to keep the Scotland international on the Parkhead payroll.
Verbal own goal was beneath Lawwell
Peter Lawwell, pictured right, might never see a statue raised in his honour outside Celtic Park but he has earned the right to be placed in the pantheon of Parkhead greats.
For 15 years, the club’s chief executive has steered a prudent and successful course through the choppiest waters of Scottish football.
Under his watch, Celtic have reached a European final, racked up 11 league titles, seven Scottish Cups and five League Cup triumphs.
Lawwell, however, will always cut a divisive figure – inside and outside the Celtic camp. To the fans, he is an autocratic number cruncher who puts the balance sheet before trophies; to others he is the real power behind Scottish football’s game of thrones, wielding undue influence behind the scenes at the SFA and SPFL.
As the public face of the club’s board, however, he has a duty to safeguard Celtic’s reputation. At last week’s AGM, he didn’t pull his punches over the minority of fans who beat the drum of sectarianism. Noting Uefa sanctions, it was, he insisted unacceptable.
A pity then that, in the same instant that he denounced the weekend extremists, he then pandered to the gallery by referring to Celtic’s opponents as ‘enemies’.
Any number of other words would have been less incendiary. But that kind of inflammatory language surrendered what moral high ground Lawwell was standing on. Hard to imagine Brendan Rodgers referring to, for example, Rangers or Aberdeen, in such caustic tones. And if a player did it, they would rightly be walking the green mile to the manager’s office for a dressing down.
Fighting your corner is one thing, but Lawwell should in future mind his language and avoid scoring verbal own goals.
Ozil is the kind of luxury Arsenal can no longer afford.
It’s not a bad life for Mesut Ozil. Trousering £350,000 A WEEK to cool his heels on the bench for Arsenal. Rated too physically fragile by Unai Emery to face Bournemouth. That’s right…Bournemouth.
Not the all-conquering juggernaut of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Or the all-out attacking swagger of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Mediocrity isn’t hard to find
in Ozil, a player who deeply divides his own support. One minute a player of genuine genius. At others someone lost in their own mediocrity. The body language often suggests the German World Cup winner is far from being up for the fight. Especially against the likes of Bournemouth, a team that combines good football with the ability to scrap for every point.
The fact that Arsenal won 2-1 suggests Emery got it right by leaving Ozil to stew on the sidelines. He has shown no inclination to indulge the former Real Madrid star the way former manager Arsene Wenger did. But for the kind of dosh Ozil takes home, it’s an expensive decision.
This weekend Arsenal take on north London rivals Spurs in a derby where blood and snotters will be the order of the day.
It will be a game for hod carriers and heavy lifters. Not exactly the arena for a lightweight like Ozil who is in serious danger of becoming a makeweight.
No more tinkering, Townsend must now deliver
Mr Reliable – Greg Laidlaw, the Scotland captain keeps the heid.
The classroom experiments are over. The time for Gregor Townsend’s tinkering has passed. Next time Scotland take to the rugby field, it will be the real deal of the RBS Six Nations – and the official starting gun for the World Cup in Japan.
Saturday’s scrappy 14-9 win over Argentina never scaled the thrilling heights seen in the defeat to South Africa or the victory over Fiji.
But it surely still answered one or two key questions.
Chief among them is the fact that Finn Russell is a No10 and not a No.12.
Sam Skinner put himself in the box-seat for major involvement in the Six Nations and beyond.
Peter Horne and Huw Jones cemented their places as Murrayfield marauders of the finest pedigree.
And Greig Laidlaw, for me, brought exposure and game-management nous to the captain’s role. There is a lot to admire in Townsend’s squad and, with three home games at Murrayfield, there are sound reasons to be cheerful about what might happen in the Six Nations, which will surely be a proper litmus test of progress and ambition.