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Dec 24, 2009

SPL bosses: Winners and losers of 2009

It has been an eventful few months in the Scottish Premier League and, as we head ever nearer towards the turn of the year, it's time to take at look at some of the managerial winners and losers in 2009.

New Scotland boss Craig Levein's managerial stock has risen considerably in the wake of his excellent work at Dundee United. The former Hearts, Leicester City and Raith Rovers boss will now look to take his career to a new level since being installed in the Hampden hotseat.

But there's little doubt he owes the Tannadice chiefs a real debt of gratitude as they handed him a platform to rebuild his career. And the 45-year-old grabbed that in emphatic style by initially steadying a wayward United ship before turning them into a tough nut to crack.

Levein's emergence has now taken him to the international stage where he'll be faced with an even tougher test. However, he's served his apprenticeship on the club ladder and certainly leaves the Tangerines in a far healthier state than when he first took charge on Tayside.

The United board now face the difficult task of trying to source a candidate to replace Levein. But if you feel for the United board then spare a thought for Levein's predecessor, George Burley, who will be glad to see the back of 2009.

It's been a tough year for Burley and his reign as Scotland boss finally came to an undignified end in November. The Dark Blues were humbled in Cardiff by a rampant Wales side and that result proved to be the last straw for the Scottish Football Association who ended Burley's spell at the helm.

It almost looked as if he was a relieved man as the former Ipswich Town and Hearts boss always appeared to have the hopes of the nation on his shoulders. He'll now be looking forward to a new challenge in 2010 as he looks to revitalise his career; although he's yet to be approached by any potential new employers.

However, another former Scotland boss Walter Smith has enjoyed something of a quiet renaissance at Ibrox. The Rangers manager might well be preparing to work without a contract when his current deal expires next month but that's not a slight on his ability.

In fact it should be further reason to admire the man who has been forced to work under extremely difficult circumstances.

The Light Blues are in big financial trouble and there's little doubt Smith will be expected to cash in on the club's more valuable assets when the transfer window reopens at the start of January.

The veteran boss might still be smarting following a dreadful Champions League campaign, but he still has reason to smile following the domestic displays. Rangers currently top the table and are four points ahead of arch rivals Celtic and, if Smith can land another title, it could prove to be his most satisfying championship success yet.

But while Smith battles for glory at the top of the table, Eddie May, in only his first season as a boss, faces a different fight. His Falkirk side prop up the SPL table and are one point adrift of Kilmarnock so it's proving to be a stiff learning curve for the managerial rookie with the Bairns.

May has so far refused to be downbeat about the future and will also be hoping that the New Year can be the start of a new run of form for his side. There's little doubt Falkirk will need to dig deep but if they can get off to a positive start at the beginning of 2010 it could just provide them with the catalyst to win their survival fight.

Contrast May's fortunes with those of the man he replaced at Falkirk, John Hughes, who is now in charge of high flying Hibs.

The Easter Road men are providing the Old Firm with a real challenge at the top - thanks largely to Hughes. He's got his side playing an attractive brand of free flowing football that has seen them win plenty of points and even more admirers; while strikers Anthony Stokes and Derek Riordan are providing Hibs with the goals they need to sustain their challenge.

Hughes has always won praise for his managerial style, particularly with the way he nurtured young talent in his last position at Falkirk, but now he's enhancing his reputation at Hibs and will be eager to ensure that their bid for glory doesn't fizzle out in the New Year.

One man hoping for a changing of fortunes once the bells ring in the start of 2010 is Jimmy Calderwood.

The charismatic boss has suffered a torrid 2009 since he was sacked as the Aberdeen manager in the close season. He had been tipped to make a quick return to the managerial arena but has been forced to be patient in the search for a new club. Still, with the managerial merry-go-round ready to start up again, Calderwood is likely to force his way back on to the circuit.

Whatever happens in 2010 is sure to hold a few more surprises for the managers north of the border.

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