92 clubs favourite players – Hull City – Sone Aluko

Hull City have done quite well so far this season and under Steve Bruce they have a great chance of avoiding relegation this year.

They are certainly not a team of superstars but they work very hard and they have seemed quite organised and this has meant that after eight league games they have picked up 11 points and are currently sitting in ninth place. They made some good signings in the summer that added Premier League experience to the squad including Steve Harper, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore. But my favourite player of the current squad is arguably the most exciting player to watch and is someone that when he is on the pitch will cause Premier League defences problems as he has already shown.

That man is Sone Aluko who already has a goal and two assists in his eight league games this season so he is showing that he can cut it at this level. It was a real shame when he got injured part way through last season and it did show as the team did not look as threatening and in the end it almost cost them automatic promotion. Eight goals in 23 games was a good return for someone that usually plays out wide but with his pace and directness it is not a surprise that Hull City are a better team with him in the side and if they are to be successful this season they need to try and give him as much of the ball as possible.
Aluko
Aluko did start his career in England but it was over in Scotland where he made his name and although his record does not seem too great at Aberdeen where he only scored 12 goals in 118 games, he showed enough quality for Rangers to take a chance on him, although it is worth noting that he did also assist 21 goals at Aberdeen so he was involved in 31 goals at the club. But it was at Rangers when he went to the next level and 12 goals in 23 games showed his qualities and another five assists for them was impressive. I think he would have got even better at Rangers but unfortunately he could not continue his career there because of the club’s much publicised financial problems, so he got a move to England and gaining promotion in his first season must have been a great feeling for him personally.

Steve Bruce was the man that took a chance on him and there must be some trust between the two of them because Bruce was in charge when Aluko was a young player at Birmingham City and gave him a chance in their first team. Aluko is still only 24 and will continue to get better and I am glad that he is getting the chance to show his ability in the top division in England and it would not surprise me if he was linked with a move away from Hull in the next few transfer windows if he keeps developing.

Doncaster Rovers in the Championship

Doncaster Rovers are back in the Championship but will have to try and stay in the division with a new manager.
Doncaster Rovers
Paul Dickov was appointed over the summer and this was a very strange decision in my mind because he is not a very experienced manager and I felt that they needed someone that knew the league and exactly what was needed to avoid relegation. Dickov did have a good playing career where he played in the Premier League for a number of years and also got 10 international caps for Scotland so he will have a lot of knowledge but his time at Oldham Athletic as a manager was certainly nothing special and the FA Cup last season is the only reason why he may have even been given this opportunity. His team beat Liverpool but then he resigned shortly afterwards because of how poor they were doing in the league and this was in the division below the Championship so there has obviously been some negativity about his appointment. It will be very interesting to see if he can perform better at a higher level but I do not have high hopes for them next season and I would be very surprised if they did not finish towards the very bottom of the table.

That is not to say they have a terrible team because I do like quite a few of their players. Tommy Spurr is someone that I believe should never have been playing below the Championship in the first place and was linked with moves to the Premier League earlier in his career. James Husband is another player that I think is good enough for the Championship and with him only being 19 he will get even better and may even get a move to the Premier League in the future.

Spurr previously played for Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship

Spurr previously played for Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship


The standout midfielder from last season, particularly at the beginning of the campaign was David Cotterill. He will have to prove he can make the step up this time because he has had opportunities at Sheffield United and Swansea City in the past and hasn’t quite lived up to his potential. I am surprised that he is still only 25 because he seems to have been around for a very long time. James Coppinger is another that hasn’t quite lived up to his potential in the Championship but with him getting the goal on a remarkable last day of the season his confidence should be sky high and will be looking to make a very positive impression.
Cotterill has played over 250 times in his career

Cotterill has played over 250 times in his career


Scoring goals may be a problem for Doncaster next season because I do not think that Billy Paynter, Chris Brown and Iain Hume have enough goals between them to keep them in the league. I think they will need to buy a new striker to compliment one of these players because I do think any of these would be good enough to partner a prolific striker. Paynter and Brown both got into double figures last season but neither have scored many goals in the Championship throughout their careers.
Paynter has scored 109 goals in his career

Paynter has scored 109 goals in his career

Who will be Scotland’s next manager?

Scotland are looking for a new manager after Craig Levein was sacked after just 24 games in charge.

To some fans though 24 was too many and I am sure a lot would have been happier if he had been replaced sooner. He actually won 10 of his games in charge so he doesn’t actually have such a bad record, however, everyone knows that winning percentages in international football don’t really matter because there are a lot of teams around the world that simply are just not good enough and teams like Scotland, who have a full team of professionals, should be able to brush them aside. It is very unlikely they will qualify from their group now, with only two points from their four games so the SFA have obviously acted now so the new man has time to build a squad ready for the next qualifying campaign. They were beaten by both Belgium and Wales in the last two games and even though these results won’t have helped, personally I believe it was the 1-1 draw against Macedonia that really signalled the end for Levein. I don’t know why he was given the extra two games but he was and now their campaign is over, so who should take charge.

The favourite for the job is currently Gordon Strachan, and this would be an interesting choice as he has not had a job since leaving Middlesbrough in 2010. He was very hit and miss at the North East club and a lot of their fans weren’t happy with the type of football he wanted the team to play. But, throughout the rest of his career, he has been largely successful, especially at Celtic, where he won 122 of his 182 games. As a player he won a lot of trophies and played 50 times for Scotland so he would hopefully bring a winning mentality back to the squad.

Alex McLeish may be tempted to come back and finish off a job that he did superbly in the first time round? If they could get him back then I certainly think they should give him the job because he has a fantastic record internationally, winning seven of his 10 games in charge. It may not have gone too well for him at Aston Villa but maybe he wasn’t given a fair chance by the fans and at least with Scotland he will get the backing from the crowd.

Finally, recently sacked Owen Coyle is a name that has been mentioned and this would be remarkable. Coyle, spent most of his playing career in Scotland and managed Falkirk and St Johnstone, however, he decided to play internationally for Republic of Ireland, so would this go down well with the Scotland fans? But, he does have a good record for the most part and although his time at Bolton Wanderers ended miserably he did still take them to an FA Cup semi final. In all honesty I can’t see Coyle getting the job but if given the chance he could do a good job.

Other names linked with the job are Joe Jordan, Walter Smith, Ally McCoist and Billy Davies. So who would you like to see in charge?

How important is Darren Fletcher to Manchester United?

Darren Fletcher made his return for Manchester United against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup so will his return help the club win trophies this season.

Obviously he has only played one game so it is too early to see whether he will be able to play on a regular basis but it is a good sign that he was back on the pitch. Fletcher has been a vital part of the United side for a number of years now and has almost always been an automatic choice for the big games in Europe and Premier League. But why is he so important? I am going to compare the Scotland international with some of the other options Alex Ferguson has.

His rivals for the central midfielder spot are Shinji Kagawa, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Nick Powell, could also be considered in the central role but he won’t be starting many games and will be utilised a lot from the bench if he does get the chance to shine. So, let’s start with the summer signing, Kagawa. This is a tough one to call because Kagawa has already proved that he can be very creative and make things happen but if they only play two central midfielders then he may be a liability if he doesn’t stick to his defensive responsibilities. So, in the bigger games I believe Fletcher will start over Kagawa if he is fit unless either Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie are dropped and they switch to three in the centre of midfield. But, in other games, particularly at home when they are expected to have a lot of possession, this could be the perfect combination as we all know Fletcher will work himself into the ground and let Kagawa dictate play.

In the big games I could see Fletcher starting alongside Michael Carrick as both are decent passers and like to keep the ball ticking over, so they will be vital in keeping possession, especially away from home in Europe. But, if these two lined up against a bottom half Premier League team it would be a shock as neither have got that many goals over the years, however, at times Fletcher has proved he can grab vital goals so this tactic could work. Paul Scholes shocked us all when he returned from his retirement part way through last season and I think out of the options his preferred partner would actually be Fletcher because of his work rate and determination, allowing him to play his natural game and control the tempo of the game while also being safe in the knowledge that Fletcher will cover enough ground for the both of them.

Onto the two players that I believe will once again find themselves far down the pecking order, Tom Cleverley and Anderson. The Brazilian has flattered to deceive at Old Trafford and nobody is really sure at what he is all about, even though he has been at the club for a while now. This because he isn’t disciplined enough to play the holding role and leaves big gaps in front of the back four and when he is played in the advanced role he doesn’t influence games enough, so if Fletcher can regain form and fitness then this could be the last season Anderson is at the club in my opinion. As for Cleverely, I am still not convinced by him for exactly the same reasons but he is definitely improving and if he played next to someone like Fletcher he would get even better because he would have to exert as much energy in defending when playing with someone like Anderson, Kagawa or even Scholes. In my opinion, he has also struggled slightly playing alongside Carrick because all of the creative responsibility is on him, and that is a lot of pressure for someone his age.

So, the good thing about Fletcher is that he can compliment any of his fellow midfielders and a lot of his good work goes unnoticed but the management team and his teammates will understand what he does and it is clear to see that they are all very happy to see him on the road to recovery.

 

Who will Steven Naismith sign for?

Steven Naismith has left Rangers on a free transfer and will be looking for a move to the Premier League.

The striker is just one of many players that will leave the club this summer but he could be the one that gets the most offers especially from Premier League clubs. After signing for Rangers in 2007 from Kilmarnock he hasn’t been a prolific scorer but has still won three SPL titles, one Scottish Cup and two League cups while at the club. Last season, he was having his best season but it was unfortunately cut short by injury which ended his season in October, but he still managed to get nine goals last season in just 15 games. It will be interesting to see if he can cope in the Premier League because he has got a lot of admirers, however, his stats don’t really show his talents, in his years at Rangers he only scored 33 goals in 140 games and when you play for a team that has won the league three times in that spell you do expect him to have scored more. Naismith, has also represented his country on 13 occasions and scored two goals against Spain and Lithuania. One thing that will make him a good signing is his versatility, as he has played on the wings a lot for Rangers and could easily play there in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.

Naismith has scored 68 goals in his career

So who would be interested in signing him? Everton are surely interested in him as they don’t have a lot of money and someone with Naismith’s talents on a free transfer will interest manager David Moyes a lot. Everton now have Nikica Jelavic who was scoring goals for fun at the end of last season and obviously him and Naismith have played together before so surely they will have a good understanding straight away and get the best out of each other. They do sometimes lack goals in their side but they do have a lot of good passers in their midfield and a lot of creativity so Naismith could thrive in that side and just add another little bit of quality upfront.

Fulham are another club that I believe should be taking a look at him because they have already lost Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andy Johnson this summer so they do need a replacement and also they didn’t get any money for these two so a cheap replacement may be needed. Also, a few players have been linked away, for example, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele so they are losing a lot of goals and talent and will need to replace them quickly. If Fulham do lose these players then they may be pulled into a relegation scrap with Orlando Sa and Bryan Ruiz in particular being very inconsistent so someone like Naismith could just get them the goals to make sure they are comfortably in midtable at least.

Finally, Newcastle United could be looking at him as he does fit into the way the club play as he can be a winger or a striker and with Demba Ba’s future uncertain at the minute, Mike Ashley may just be hoping that another free transfer can work out as well as the Senegalese striker. I think Newcastle may be looking for someone slightly better but if they can’t get their first choices then he wouldn’t be a bad backup player at least. With Peter Lovenkrands also leaving this summer they do need one more striker in my opinion especially with Leon Best linked with a move away.

Who will Craig Gordon sign for?

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon has been released by Sunderland after losing his place as their number one this season.

Craig Gordon has played 40 times for Scotland

The Scotland international was signed for £9 million in 2007 which at the time was the highest fee a British club had paid for a goalkeeper and to begin with it looked as though he was worth every penny. But soon things started going wrong as he was dropped to the bench after conceding seven goals against Everton. His first season at the club he played the most games in his Sunderland career and eventually Simon Mignolet took his place permanently and towards the end of last season it was obvious that he wasn’t going to get a new contract. However, one of the finest moments of his career must have been his save against Bolton Wanderers in 2010 which was voted the best save at the Premier League 20 seasons awards.

He does still have his admirers and I’m sure a lot of clubs will be hoping to convince him to sign for them. Surprisingly though, Tottenham Hotspur are linked with him and I was really shocked by this as they have a very good number one in Brad Friedel who is very consistent and plays in every league game, even though he is getting towards the end of his career, it doesn’t look like he is planning to retire anytime soon with some very impressive saves last season. However, if Gordon is willing to wait for at least a season he could become Spurs’ number one in a few years time and in the meantime he will still be playing Europa League and cup football which is something that he didn’t even get at Sunderland. So if the interest is genuine then I could see this transfer happening.

A more realistic transfer could be to Celtic as he has already proven that he is one of the best ever in the Scottish Premier League when he played for Hearts as he was inducted into their hall of fame at the age of only 24, which makes him the youngest player to receive this honour. Celtic may need a goalkeeper too as Fraser Forster was only on loan from Newcastle United last season and even though his contract has expired there, compensation will still need to paid which could be up to £2 million. With Gordon being a free, I think he would be a much better option anyway as I have never been convinced by Forster.

Finally, another team I have seen linked with goalkeeper is Wigan Athletic and this does not seem likely to me either unless they are losing Ali Al Habsi in the summer because Al-Habsi proved time and time again last season that he is too good for Wigan and should be playing for a team that is challenging for Europe. So if Al Habsi leaves then yes I think Gordon would be an adequate replacement but I cannot see him becoming their number one if the Oman international stays at the DW.

Graham Alexander retires from football

Graham Alexander has retired from professional football after a fantastic career which has seen him play for four different clubs as well as represent his country.

Alexander took penalties with the outside of his foot which is quite unorthodox

Alexander also became only the second outfield player to play over 1000 professional games during his career. For every club he played for he played a minimum of 150 league games which just shows how brilliant and consistent he has been since his debut for Scunthorpe United in the 1990-91 season. Remarkably, in the very next season he became a first team regular and was virtually an ever present for the team for the next four seasons. Even though he was usually deployed as a right back or a holding midfielder he could also score goals and in his 159 league games he got 18 goals.

Luton Town was the next club he signed for and continued to play in most games for them too. His £100,000 price tag did not faze him and there was no doubting his commitment for the cause with him playing 152 league games and added 15 goals to his career tally. Although his first season ended in relegation he stayed with the club in the old Second Division and played over 50 games for the first time in his career, the first year they were down in the Second Division.

Unfortunately for him and the club he could not help them get promoted and joined Preston North End in the 1998-99 season. In his second season at the club he helped the club gain promotion to Division One after scoring 10 goals in 58 appearances. It is not very often you get a player that can score that amount of goals from the positions he played for the club. After securing Preston’s place in the league for a number of years, he was appointed club captain and was taking all of their set pieces including penalties which accounted for many of his goals. During his eight years he did not suffer many injuries and was able to play in most of the games and was one of the first names on the team sheet. He made exactly 400 appearances for the club and was named in the PFA Championship’s Team of the Year in the 2004-05.

But he did eventually leave the club for rivals Burnley which was seen as slightly controversial and a little strange after he had turned them down earlier in his career. The transfer was completed for £200,000 so Preston could not really complain after all the years of service he had given them. At the age of 37 he gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time in his career and played in an amazing 61 games in all competitions that season and in the next season became the oldest player to make his Premier League debut. In his only season in the Premier League he scored seven goals in 33 games and was one of their better players in a season which ultimately ended in relegation. For Burnley, he played in his 1000th professional game when he came on as a sub in a game against Swansea City.

He left Burnley and returned to Preston North End where he has ended his career. To make it even more special in his very last game in his career he scored against Charlton Athletic which both supporters applauded.

It was a fantastic career and he will be proud of every moment of it and I am sure the fans will have some wonderful memories of his time at their club. Alexander will also be proud of his 40 international caps for Scotland and his only disappointed will be that he didn’t score for his country.

If Rangers die, Scottish football dies too

Defending champions of the SPL Rangers, have entered administration and this could spell disaster for Scottish football. There have been financial worries for quite some time but surely not many people expected this outcome at all. They are, alongside Celtic by far the biggest club in Scotland and if the situation gets worse who knows what is going to happen north of the border.

Celtic fans may be laughing at their arch rivals but in my opinion they won’t be in a few years or maybe even months because they too will face serious financial implications if Rangers are forced to close down. The SPL is a very average league and there will be no competition if both of the Glasgow clubs are not challenging for the title as Celtic will walk the league and it could put certain businesses off sponsoring the SPL. How many games a season are shown live that don’t include either Celtic or Rangers? I can’t imagine it being very high therefore they would probably lose a lot of revenue from television companies.

It will severely affect other teams in the SPL because they probably only fill their grounds when Rangers and Celtic play them and they will make money from playing away to these teams as they have huge stadiums and supporters will want to go visit these grounds. It may allow them to challenge for Europe and the title more but would this feel as good if they only had this opportunity because Rangers weren’t allowed to play in the Scottish league anymore?

A big discussion is whether they should have moved Rangers and Celtic to England and maybe this could have saved Rangers and now it could force the authorities to push through Celtic joining the English leagues as they will soon feel the financial pain that Rangers are suffering currently. So, ultimately Rangers could be helping Celtic here without even knowing it, because I can’t imagine the SPL will continue with Celtic being the only team that have any chance of winning the title.

Rangers need to survive so Scottish football survives because it doesn’t have a lot going for it right now and does not need this to be happening right now but owner Craig Whyte is confident they can pull through this and I for one hope they do because they have massive support all over the world and it would be a tragedy to not get to see anymore Old Firm derbies because they are arguably the most fierce in the world because it is about more than football.

I honestly don’t think that Rangers will be allowed to go under, they will get saved somehow and their supporters do not deserve this as no football fan should lose their team as we have seen in the past. But they will need to learn, football is changing and teams need to start looking at their finances and making sure they are making profits and not paying for players they cannot afford.

Scottish football needs Rangers and even Celtic fans will be hoping they pull through this even though they may not admit it.