By George, We Need a Real Lift; Scots Key Men: James McFadden and Darren Fletcher

Article excerpt


PERSPECTIVE is a blessing in troubled times. But complacency? Just accepting every 'blip' theory thrown around without digging a little deeper? Now, that's another story.

So, if it's OK with those who blithely proclaim that everything is just hunky-dory, we reserve the right to feel a little concerned by recent European results involving Scottish teams.

And we look to George Burley to muffle some of the internal alarms clanging away with all the peaceshattering impact of a toddler's tantrum; soothing words alone will not be enough to stop the racket.

Scotland must defeat Norway at Hampden on Saturday not only for the sake of our World Cup qualifying chances. They must triumph in order to reassert this nation's treasured and tenuous grip on European middleweight status.

It is all very well for club managers to offer assurances about standards, insisting that the humiliations heaped upon Rangers, Motherwell and Queen of the South, plus lesser injuries to champions Celtic, are not indicative of the game's rude health here in Caledonia. It's their job to argue this case.

They can be forgiven, meanwhile, for pouring some scorn on the much-quoted figure of no wins from 10 European fixtures played by Scottish sides in the early stages of this season, a figure that includes Hibs' laughable and half-hearted Intertoto Cup campaign. Like a drunk uses a lamp post, any fool can use statistics for support, rather than illumination.

Yet how else are we to judge the standard of our footballers, except through international competition between clubs and countries? If we content ourselves merely with a competitive league that produces a few thrills and spills here and there, we risk becoming as closed-minded as the Americans, who revel in a World Series that includes baseball teams from as far afield as Chicago and Boston.

Rangers did brilliantly to reach the UEFA Cup Final last year. Then they sold star performer Carlos Cuellar to Aston Villa.

Celtic's achievement in reaching the last 16 of the Champions League for the second year in succession was remarkable so it shouldn't be a surprise if they run up against reality this season. …