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Jan 11, 2012

Strike duo's ex-factor, Allan jumps ship

This week's North of the Border looks at the potential returns of two SPL legends, Scott Allan's move to England and Rangers' continuing financial issues.

GUNS FOR HIRE

Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry they may not be, but the SPL may well see the return of some of its own big hitters of old during January, as exiled internationals seek new employment.

After terminating his contract at Eskisehirspor in Turkey, Kris Boyd is a free agent. He is pursuing his last employer for unpaid wages, so is unlikely to rock up at Hearts, where pay packets can be equally elusive, but both Old Firm managers have confirmed they are intrigued by the challenge of restoring the enigmatic finisher to his prolific prime.

His earning rate had surpassed Scottish football's outer limits when he left Rangers for Middlesbrough 18 months ago. However, it has fallen since, after he failed to transfer his predatory powers to Teesside. After a brief return to some kind of form during a loan spell at Nottingham Forest, he accepted a rich offer to move to Turkey, where he accumulated 76 minutes of game time in half a season before heading home.

Meanwhile, Derek Riordan is training at Kilmarnock after terminating the two-year contract he signed with the Chinese club Shaanxi Chan-ba last July. If Kilmarnock were to sign Riordan as a replacement for Dean Shiels, whose loan from Doncaster Rovers cannot be extended, it would represent a coup, despite the unpredictable nature of Riordan's performances. Other SPL clubs - as well as several further afield - are considering taking a gamble on this impish finisher.

Here is why both he and Boyd represent neat January business for sides desperate for a goalscorer. Both are 28; both are former Scotland internationals; Boyd is the all-time SPL top scorer, with 101 from 118 starts at Rangers and 63 in 106 at Kilmarnock, while Riordan is behind only Boyd and Henrik Larsson on the list, with all bar five of his 95 goals scored for a Hibs team that was not always a reliable source of chances.

Boyd is a nerveless penalty-box striker. Riordan can hit them from anywhere and with either foot. Neither has a reputation for sacrificing himself for the good of the team, but - even on a short-term contract until the end of the season - they can still be a game-changing force for any team in Scotland and remain far beyond the budget of most.

TOO MUCH, TOO YOUNG?

West Bromwich Albion this week finalised the signing of Scott Allan from Dundee United, completing the fastest rise of any young Scottish footballer in recent times.

Allan, 20, was loaned to Forfar Athletic in the third tier of Scottish football last season and has played only seven times for the first team. Yet scouts from clubs in the English Premier League were all over him shortly after he emerged in the early-season Europa League qualifiers.

He would have clocked up far more minutes had he not been sent to cool down in the reserves by his manager, Peter Houston, after he rejected the offer of an extended contract and requested a salary that would have made him one of the top earners at the club. He was never quite as explosive after he came back in to the team, but perhaps his mind was already on the next chapter of his young career.

United received around £400,000 for their rookie, who was in the final year of his contract. That may seem like a steal if Allan delivers on the potential he displayed in those brief early glimpses. However, there have been plenty like him who have failed to live up to such promise, and his decision to leave a team where he would be assured experience and responsibility - albeit not at the same level or for the same pay as he will receive in England - contains potential risk as well as reward for a fine young footballer who is far from the finished article.

MAKING UP THE NUMBERS

In the cloudy collision between football and the real world that is Rangers' continuing tax case, what should we make of the fact that shares in the club were this week suspended from trading on the Plus Stock Exchange?

The club PR'd the news pretty sharply, with a statement from the owner, Craig Whyte, who was wondering if there was any point in being on the Plus when 85% of stock was safely under his mattress at home. Individuals could still buy and sell their shares, he said, and directors would still be held accountable. It kind of sounded like it was Rangers' decision.

However, the reason for the suspension was the Gers' failure to file their accounts on time. The club cited the tax case as the reason for the delay in posting the figures, which were due by the end of 2011. They claim they will be filed by the end of January but, until they are, it must be a concern that the full extent of their financial position - and the effect upon it of the tax case and the asset freeze that has preceded it - remains unknown.

CUP CAMEOS

The fourth round of the Scottish Cup, the first to feature the clubs of the SPL, produced absolutely no upsets. There were wins for every SPL team who faced lower-league opposition and only Hearts, the weekend's heaviest favourites to progress, were given a real scare - remaining tied 0-0 at home to junior league side Auchinleck Talbot until the 84th minute.

Instead, we had to wait until Monday for the real cup shock. That was the arrival at Hampden of Andre Villas-Boas and Marcello Lippi for the draw for the next round. These managers, who between them have won the World Cup, the Champions League and the Europa League, were pictured with a hand each on the Scottish Cup. It cannot be a trophy either man has lost sleep over in the past and, sadly, it is likely to be their only encounter with it.

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