Sam Wallace: Strachan envies the neighbours but Old Firm are not based on fair trade

There is a lot that Scottish football could learn from the likes of Hull and Stoke City
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The money awash in the English Premier League is not always to be savoured. It can be crass, its players can embarrass themselves with conspicuous displays of wealth and, yes, certain clubs have wasted serious amounts on real duds. But never has a sporting institution attracted the kind of delusional, mind-boggling jealousy that is the lot of English football's precocious 17-year-old, £2.7bn-budget, 20-club creation.

Faced with this envy, even those of us who wince at the foibles of England's global league occasionally have to defend it. And the Premier League certainly needs defending from Gordon Strachan whose complaints about the wealth of the English last week was so extraordinary that halfway through reading it, you had to check that he was actually still the Celtic manager. Or rather that he was still manager of a club that is one half of an institution with a chokehold on its own domestic league unprecedented anywhere else in Europe.

This is what Strachan had to say about this January's transfer window: "The market is horrendous. The English league is killing everything. Everybody wants to go to England. And you can't get anyone to leave there. I think what will happen eventually is that it will implode and it will get back to reality.

"[Then] Celtic, Rangers and the rest of the Scottish league will come back into play for some players. About seven years ago, Celtic had the fifth-biggest wage bill in British football. Now we can't compete with Hull or Stoke. In England, it will implode and you just wait for the fallout then."

Reality? Reality in Scotland is a league that has not been won by a side outside of Celtic and Rangers' Old Firm for 24 years, the same Old Firm who carve up the majority of the domestic television revenue – and that from the Champions League – in a great self-perpetuating dictatorship. In short, to be lectured on fairness by a member of Scottish football's comfortable elite is rather like being given a sermon on financial prudence by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Strachan's squad is mostly an all-star cast of the Scottish Premier League's best players cherry-picked from his rival clubs. Such as Scott Brown (formerly Hibernian's best player), Gary Caldwell (formerly Hibs captain), Scott McDonald (formerly Motherwell's best striker), Barry Robson (formerly Dundee United's best player), Mark Brown (ex-Inverness first-choice goalkeeper, now No 2 at Celtic), Chris Killen (once a regular Hibs striker, now loaned by Celtic to Norwich) and, as of last week, Willo Flood (on loan at Dundee United from Cardiff City).

That, to paraphrase Strachan, is a horrendous market to be in if you do not happen to be part of the Old Firm. In fact, the manner in which Celtic went about signing Flood left such a bitter taste in the mouth that the player himself criticised his new club's modus operandi in the days before he signed.

Here is a new reality for Scottish football: their £125m, four-year television contract that begins in 2010 is exactly what they are worth. That the SPL get a small sum compared to the Premier League's £2.7bn, three-year deal is not English football's fault. On their budget, Scottish clubs are not able to compete for players with Premier League clubs anymore than PSV Eindhoven or Sporting Lisbon can. But then why should they? What makes them any different to the Dutch or Portuguese leagues?

The twist of the knife came when Strachan picked on Hull City and Stoke City with the implied disbelief that players would want to join those clubs instead of his own. But there is a lot that Scottish football could learn from Hull and Stoke who have both made it to the Premier League without accruing a penny of debt. They may not be fashionable but they are much-better run than those SPL clubs like Dundee and Dunfermline who almost went to the wall during the spending frenzy earlier this decade.

Strachan's Celtic have managed their finances better than most of their peers, their most recent accounts revealed a profit of £15m with debts around £5m. Not so Rangers, whose frantic attempts to sell players this January have led many to wonder exactly what the size of their liability could be. In June, Rangers' debt was £20.8m but this is expected to have increased. They failed to make it into the Champions League group stages this season, a major blow, and owner Sir David Murray wants to sell up.

It is for that reason that Rangers have hawked Kris Boyd, second-highest goalscorer in the history of the SPL, to English clubs. No takers so far. John Fleck, the highly-rated 17-year-old striker, has been promoted to the first team recently with the suspicion that Rangers are trying to cash in on him, just as they did with Alan Hutton last year. The £9m for Hutton from Tottenham was as crucial to Rangers' finances as the £9m Sunderland paid in 2007 for Craig Gordon to his club Hearts, a fiscal basketcase.

In that context the cross-border trade in players is not as debilitating as Strachan thinks when it comes to this English league whose "implosion" he anticipates with such relish. No doubt should an appealing job come up at a Premier League club in the near future, Strachan will turn it down in order to avoid the coming collapse.

You have to wonder how long it will be until that tiresome campaign begins anew to give Celtic and Rangers a free pass into the Premier League. They are welcome to try their luck in the top English division but just for form's sake they should earn their place the same way as the likes of Hull and Stoke have done. That would mean starting at the bottom of the football hierarchy, a rather more harsh reality than the one to which they are accustomed.

Stop losing your shirt at half-time

A new blight is creeping into English football that first reared its head in Euro 2008: the practice of swapping shirts with opponents at half-time. Or rather, sidling up to the opposition's star player as the teams come off at the break to get his shirt before any of your team-mates, as Borja Valero did with Carlos Tevez when West Bromwich Albion played Manchester United on Tuesday.

Pathetic behaviour. If Valero wants a Tevez shirt he can get one in the Old Trafford megastore. In the meantime he should be concentrating on playing for his team, not considering what his souvenir of the night will be.

Chelsea raise the standard when it comes to contriving supporters' devotion

Those banners at Stamford Bridge. Those hailing "Super Frankie Lampard" and "JT – captain, leader, legend". They have – how to put this? – a somewhat contrived feel to them. As if they have been designed by some bright spark in the club's commercial department rather than the fans. Like the crease ironed into the jeans of the would-be teen rebel, they tell a story of a club that would love to be "edgy" but does not quite know how to be.

Adams and Ince fail to get a result

When Tony Adams departs Portsmouth, and it seems like a case of when not if, it will be sad to see a great former player's managerial career end so early. But let's not have the same wailing about young English managers not getting a chance that accompanied Paul Ince's sacking at Blackburn Rovers. Both men put their careers in peril because their results were terrible.