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North of the Border

Rangers sub-Championship bargaining technique and an early reminder of last season's soap opera catch our eye in the first edition of North of the Border.

The price is wrong

There was a time when a sentence including the words 'Rangers', 'Murray', 'transfer' and 'fee' would throw up some pretty crazy numbers. Under their former owner, Sir David Murray, Rangers paid £5 million or more for players five times over a four-year period to 2002, including the landmark, or rather the monstrous carbuncle, that is the £12 million deal for Chelsea's Tore Andre Flo in 2000.

The first transfer window under the stewardship of Craig Whyte, the new owner, has been filled with moves that haven't quite happened. Their embarrassment in the market may have as much to do with their failure to keep negotiations private as their failure to close deals: the fact they can no longer outgun even some English Championship teams means they have to go in early for sought-after players such as David Goodwillie, for whom they had a second bid knocked back on Monday.

However, when it comes to their courtship of St Johnstone's Murray Davidson, there can be no excuse. Rangers' bid of £150,000 rising to £250,000 was described by Davidson's manager, Derek McInnes, as "ridiculous". He said he "had to look twice at the offer", presumably because he thought he must have missed a zero. The St Johnstone chairman, Geoff Brown, rightly raised the example of Lee Wallace, who left Hearts to join Rangers in a £1.5 million deal last week. Rangers had opened with a bid of £300,000 for the Scotland left-back.

Wallace is more valuable than Davidson, as Brown admitted, but both players are the same age - 23. While Wallace is an international, Davidson has been named in the last two Scotland squads and the old-fashioned, gnarly, box-to-box midfielder has two seasons under his belt in the SPL. What's more, while Hearts got a good price for a player in the final season of his contract, Davidson is tied to St Johnstone until 2013.

Rangers, in their determination to secure one Scottish player entering his peak years, have created a precedent they are trying to ignore in their pursuit of another.

You'll win nothing with kids

The Scottish Football Association this week launched a scheme that rewards clubs for fielding Under-21 players in their first teams, which is an admirable principle. However, it also underlies the outrageous divide between the Scottish Premier League and the three lower divisions operated by the Scottish Football League.

Teams in the top division will receive £750 if they start a match with two youth players and £1,000 if three or more make the team. Teams in all three lower leagues will get £75 and £100 under the same conditions.

After a shameful failure to break ground in league reconstruction talks aimed at, among other things, widening the channel between the SPL and the First Division, this highlights why some of the teams in the SPL would rather it remained European football's great closed shop, with only one relegation place and no play-offs from a 12-team league.

Worse still, it places equal value on the First Division clubs, including full-time organisations with their own academies, and those in the Third Division, who operate on minute budgets and for whom that big £100 jackpot could be used to pay two or three players' weekly wages.

Promoting youths does not need to be incentivised in the SFL, where most clubs regularly surpass the SFA quotas through financial necessity, but the structure of this scheme reflects a divide that is harmful to the balance of Scotland's professional teams.

That joke isn't funny anymore

If you slept through last season in Scotland, well, you can be forgiven, but if it's soap opera-style melodrama that floats your boat, the SPL was prime time. And try as we might to put behind us a season that included bomb threats, a referees' strike, a referee's lies and a referee's sacking, fans fighting with managers, managers fighting with managers and managers fighting with chairmen, the hangover remains.

This week, Hugh Dallas, once Scotland's top referee and a fourth official at the World Cup final in 2002, settled a case for wrongful dismissal against the Scottish Football Association, who sacked him from his post as head of referee development, one of five officials removed from their positions after being linked to the circulation of an offensive email concerning the Pope's visit to Scotland.

The settlement can be viewed as a victory for Dallas and three of the remaining four sacked officials have since been reinstated. The situation reflects the complex nature of any intersection between football and the real world, in this case employment law. It also speaks to the context in which the email case came to light - right in the middle of a storm of controversy for the SFA, who were under immense pressure from, among others, the Scottish government, the media and the Catholic church, to repair the damage it was doing to its reputation.

The storm appears to have passed now and the SFA looks a little different in its wake. With the settlement of the Dallas case, however you read it, here's hoping the best stories come from between the white lines this season.

You are the manager

Last season, everybody knew the line on St Johnstone: hard to score against, even harder to concede against. In the SPL, no team outside the Old Firm lost fewer goals than they did; no team, outside the Old Firm, scored fewer. Of all the stats that kind of form produces, the scariest one for a chairman trying to sell season tickets was this: 19 league games played at home, ten goals scored.

So, you are in the shoes of Derek McInnes, the hottest manager in the division. What do you do? That's right, you sign five new strikers. One of them, Cillian Sheridan, scored six goals in 16 games for St Johnstone in a half-season loan in season 2009-10. That would have made him top scorer last time out. In, too, come Sean Higgins, Carl Finnigan, and Marcus Haber, a 22-year-old Canadian whose reputation is sullied by the fact that he was on loan at St Johnstone last season.

However, by far the most interesting recruit is the last. Francisco Sandaza joined after St Johnstone's opener at Aberdeen. The only thing that stopped the Spaniard from being one of the most dominant forwards in the SPL during his time with Dundee United was his fitness. Having signed after pre-season, those same concerns may cloud his return to Scotland after a season at Brighton, but if McInnes gets him fit and can pair him regularly with Sheridan, St Johnstone will score more than they did last season and that might be enough to push them towards the European positions.

By the way, the result of that match at Aberdeen? 0-0. No pressure, Francisco.


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