Who’d have thought a few years ago that a 24-man Scotland squad could ever include only four SPL players?
There’s two ways of looking at Craig Levein’s pool for next Wednesday’s friendly in Slovenia. On the negative side, it’s perhaps an indication that the SPL has become too weak to pick from (with the exception of three in-form Celtic players and a proven-quality Rangers goalkeeper). However, if you prefer the glass-half-full outlook, the fact Scotland have so many playing at a decent level in England suggests we are producing decent footballers – it is just that they are, understandably, flocking south for monetary rewards and career-enhancing opportunities.
In an ideal world, I’d rather see more Scots broaden their horizons by moving to big clubs abroad, like John Collins and Paul Lambert did. In the meantime, however, the fact the Scotland squad looks relatively strong in the absence of any outfield Rangers players and without Ross McCormack and Jordan Rhodes has to be seen as a boon ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
• Fair play to Charlie Mulgrew on a deserved Scotland call-up. He has been excellent at both centre-back and left-back for Celtic this season, while centre-backs Christophe Berra, Gary Caldwell and Grant Hanley have had a few ropey moments in the English Premier League.
However, this shouldn’t justify any Glasgow-led clamour for Mulgrew to suddenly earn first-pick status. Playing well for Celtic is not currently comparable to holding your own in the top-flight down south. Plenty defenders have looked assured in the SPL and not been able to hack it in England. Caldwell, Berra and Hanley have. As long as those three are regulars in the EPL, they must remain our three first-choice centre-backs.
• With Arsenal seemingly heading out of the Champions League and dysfunctional Chelsea facing a formidable Napoli side in Italy tonight, there’s a real chance there will be no English representation in the last eight of Europe’s elite competition. While I’d like to see Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger prove their doubters wrong at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, I can’t help but feel that this possible cracking of the money-driven EPL’s stranglehold on the latter stages of the Champions League would be good for European football.
• It’s not often Elgin City figure prominently on my radar but the Third Division side are proving a particularly perplexing lot this season. In short, they’re dynamite at home and desperate away.
It could be said they’re a far more extreme version of Hearts. They’ve got the best home record in the league with nine wins and a draw from their 11 games at Borough Briggs. They are also the top home scorers and have the best home defence in the league, while they have won their last four home games 3-0, 6-1, 4-0 and 3-1. With form like that they should be challenging for the title. Instead they languish in fifth place as a result of having the second-worst away record, with only one victory from 11 games. Their last game on the road – a 1-1 draw – stemmed a run of five straight away defeats (5-2, 6-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1).
It really is astounding that a side can be so good at home yet so abject away. Even the Elgin players have no explanation.