Too many players, my dear McCoist?
Emperor Joseph II: "That is too fine for my ears - there are too many notes." Mozart: "There are just as many notes as there should be."
I’ve no idea how impressive a collection lurks on the bookshelves of Ally McCoist; nor whether they reach to the ceiling or if they are leather-bound and the library in Casa Ally smells of rich mahogany.
Even a common bibliophile can run into problems of space and suffer great emotional stress when they realise that in order to accommodate more books they need either to build or buy new shelving, get rid of the ginger step-child and/or missus to make room, or, shock horror perhaps some new homes should be found for the unwanted, unvalued or items deemed surplus to requirements.
But you can never really have too many books.
It might look to the untrained eye as if Super Ally is collecting players – or that he’s like a kid writing a Christmas list that receives a personal reply from Santa and his own sleigh and blue-nosed reindeer to boot - but let’s all slow down for a moment.
Clearly, the ongoing effects of the (illegal) embargo/restrictions will cause problems until September and we’ve lost a good number of players the manager had at his disposal throughout last season. Mostly gone and (largely) forgotten. Others will not quite be ready for the start of the season and Alexander won’t be back, with others to follow shortly out the Auchenhowie exit (Goian, Bocanegra etc.)
Okay. Is everybody still here and awake? Good.
What do we need for Division two and what do we – the management – seem to want?
It would be easy to dismiss the butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and part-timers of Division two. And on the park we should be able to do that with a squad now numbering over thirty and including more than half-a-dozen full internationalists and many other promising players and SPL veterans. But this isn’t about winning Division two. It’s about how you chose to tackle the challenge.
Ally clearly wants cover (and then some) at every position. He wants serious competition up front (He wants to sign Kenny Miller and if he does may Satan help him). He today has reiterated a desire for a challenge to keep Cammy Bell on his tip-toes; he likes players who can play in multiple positions; he’s not a fan of Andy Little (gasp all you want, it’s obvious); he’s not that convinced by a number of the youngsters who played a considerable part in stage one last season. But, above all, he wants a large squad, filled with men he has selected, in order to do his job.
And of those he has brought in this summer, so far the balance tends toward the positive. Jesus Daly aside (and more on him later) most of the new recruits are relatively sprightly and most have been rightly welcomed. Nickys Law and Clark have both reaped the reward for a positive season, Cammy Bell is in a sweet zone for goalkeepers, and Arnold Peralta (Spanish for Clark*) should be able to tie his laces without being directed to the nearest hospital. In terms of full-backs, Foster was okay in his first spell and Smith was somewhere south of that in a better side but looks to have recovered from earlier injury problems. Both should have a few good years left in them, especially if we all cross our fingers and toes and anything else that comes to hand and we don’t face Valencia.
But we’re accumulating a lot of men for this arduous stage two. So, to what end?
Firstly, because the manager wants them. Simple as that. Should he be more financially circumspect? Possibly - but managers make lists and directors and executives make deals.
The slightly alarming secondary argument being advanced is that we need more players – more experience, more bodies – to do well in the cups.
Now, with the greatest will in the world, we are already in a position where our annual wage bill – for players and management – dwarves that of every other club in Scotland, bar one. Our manager is on what would be termed a comfortable, middle six-figure annual salary, with well-attended help in terms of coaches and experts.
What do we mean when we spout the notion: “we need to do well in the Cups?”
We need to win one? Well, I’m as optimistic as the next man and believe, with a little bit of luck and a favourable draw - and bearing in mind the departure of Allan Johnston to Kilmarnock Cow Grazing plc. - we could very well manage this year to make the final of the Ramsden’s Cup. The others? Here’s where the arguments takes root – we need many players to negotiate the early rounds of the League Cup, where we will suffer due to the embargo and the vagaries of trialist eligibility and rotation. For two rounds: One of which against a fellow lower-league side.
I’m loathe to accelerate towards ‘who cares’ but let’s be clear what we are proposing or endorsing: a significant increase in player numbers, a further drain on an already excessive wage bill, in order to maybe be able to avoid embarrassment against dozens of other clubs without a sniff of the relative outlay already at our disposal? Such bogus and patronising rubbish to think fans would be happy with the tease, the mere hint of silverware if it meant our financial position was further weakened.
And, frankly, what does it say about the confidence in our players and the competency of our coaching staff?
Of course, we shouldn’t underestimate the tricky nature of those opening weeks where our hand is being blocked by despicable means. We’re almost at the stage of annoyance witnessed in the virgin days of the three-foreigner rule. But, again, let’s not lose perspective.
We have a squad of internationalists, capable pros and some youths with potential – this isn’t a pub five-a-side team hoping Dave’s pal Jim can make it along this week. We cannot simply buy, pay and hope to overwhelm with will and numbers as if that is a satisfactory plan of action for division two and beyond.
Those idealists, dreamers, bloggers, ranters and Rangers fans who hoped the up-side of the horrendous situation we’ve found ourselves in would be the chance to refresh the philosophy and effect root and branch change within Ibrox and Auchenhowie would be better served using their considerable energies and talents to build a Pyramid in the Albion car park or a bouncy castle chocolate cake in Bellahouston Park.
Recourse to logic or aesthetics here is pointless, for there is a clear footballing philosophy on show; it’s just one that we’ve seen before and don’t particularly care to go through again.
The key to whether the moans and grumbles will become more widespread is how Ally manages to jettison the dead-wood this August/September and again in January. Everyone has a list of players they’d like to see leave. Few can provide a sensible case for how this might be achieved, and the overwhelming suspicion is that we may have to pay-off a few and retain some others simply to make up the ‘cover the position’ numbers.
It’s not about hating Ally, or not rating the players or having an unobtainable or irrational wish to see something exciting and long-term being laid out in front of us. It’s simply about balancing or rescuing the slide in the books.
That’s dreary, unexciting and absolutely necessary.
At present, despite the uncertainty and/or secrecy over figures relating to season tickets, how much of the IPO remains and how much each new contract (Puma, Blackthorn) is really worth much of that will soon become clear and in black and white (and red). The numbers won’t lie and won’t save anyone.
This is the season of no excuses. Not a single one should be tolerated.
Do we have too many players? Will this lead to a season to remember or to forget? Can we afford this gamble?
The only true vision we might see is the miracle of the blessed, levitating Daly.
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