Angelo Alessio, Shelley Kerr & Steve Clarke - wishes for the new season
It's worth taking stock of where we're at with Scottish football right now. In the season just gone, Andy Robertson won a Champions League with Liverpool and reinforced his status as a darling of the Anfield crowd. Alongside him, Virgil van Dijk, a player who cheerily talks about the influence his Celtic years had on him, reinforced his claim to be the world's leading centre-half.
Ryan Fraser was one of the Premier League's most coruscating attacking talents. Scott McTominay broke into the Manchester United team. Norwich fans saluted Kenny McLean as they won promotion to the Premier League.
In becoming the second team to advance to the English top flight, Sheffield United played 46 matches and John Fleck started in 45 of them. Aston Villa fans swooned at the contribution John McGinn made in getting them into the big league next season by way of the play-offs. Liam Henderson won promotion to Serie A with Verona.
Domestically, Celtic won everything again. Arsenal want Kieran Tierney. The price tag is £25m. Most observers would conclude that Callum McGregor is well capable of operating at an established top-10 Premier League club. None of this individual excellence has translated into the international scene, but now that Steve Clarke is in place, there's hope again. There are more decent Scottish footballers out there now than there has been in years.
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Steven Gerrard, one of British football's true greats, is happy here. At Rangers he has a project that is clearly exciting him. Angelo Alessio, an Italian with the kind of quality CV that makes you gulp, is the new Kilmarnock manager. People will take pot shots at Scottish football. If they do it from a position of knowledge then fair enough. If they do it from a point of ignorance - hello Lee Bowyer - then the proper reaction is to laugh and then ignore.
The scene in Scotland is an unending carnival, a non-stop rollercoaster. The Premiership should be sponsored by Alton Towers. The task here is to come up with hopes and dreams before the action begins again in earnest with European ties. If you were given three wishes for the Scottish football season ahead, the first one would probably be spent on wishing for 10 more wishes. Here are mine, in no particular order...
We're constantly told that Rod Petrie, the new president of the Scottish FA, is always the smartest man in the room. Clearly he's not sufficiently clever or sufficiently interested in expressing his views on the state of the game in this country because you'd get more chat out of a rock than you would out of Petrie.
There is a leadership shortage in Scottish football when it comes to dealing with the game's more controversial episodes and Petrie's continuing reluctance to give any sign of a communicative pulse is not going to help the situation. The Scottish FA's chief executive, Ian Maxwell, said that one of the tasks facing him was to "humanise" Petrie in the eyes of football people. That was true but it was also embarrassing that he had to say it.
Petrie needs to stop seeing suspicion around every corner. If he has a vision he needs to get over himself and speak.
The Celtic striker has spoken about his mental health problems and has to be applauded for doing so. Mental health awareness has rocketed in recent years and thank goodness for that. By talking, Griffiths has advanced the cause another step. At his best, he was a ferociously consistent operator for Celtic, a real menace. The wish is that he's gets enough peace in his life to return to excellence on the football field.
More commonsense, less Ifab
The International Football Association Board (Ifab) are the guardians of the laws of the game. Last season, Scottish football tied itself in knots in trying to adhere to their definition of red-card offences. Brutality - an act that is savage, ruthless or deliberately violent - became the buzzword. We know that chewing an opponent's arm off and spitting it at another player is probably a red but, the ways things are going in the disciplinary process, the assailant might fancy his chances on appeal.
Can we now go back to a system where a kick or a stamp or an elbow is a straight red? And from the Scottish FA, can we not have some level of consistency whereby if two different managers slam an official then both get treated the same? Is that too hard?
There are going to be ructions over Ifab's latest brainwave about handball. If referees follow the law to the letter, then truckloads of penalties are going to be awarded for entirely innocuous incidents. Can referees and managers not get together and agree on a commonsense interpretation on this? Anarchy threatens otherwise.
Strachan means business
Championship side Dundee pulled off a coup when agreeing terms with the former Scotland manager to become their technical director. The sound of a genetics laboratory being built will soon be heard in the vicinity of Dens Park. On the face of it, this is a really exciting move. If Strachan is truly on board, lock stock and barrel, then this will be interesting. Strachan can't conduct this project remotely. He can't flit in and out. He's either serious or he's not.
Many players had to overcome hurdles on their way to the top and that's where the talented Motherwell teenager is at now. No move to the Scottish champions, no move to the English Premier League, just a spell on the sidelines recovering from an operation he never knew he needed. He has the talent. The hope is that he also has the mental strength to drive on through the upset.
Leadership on sectarianism
The football authorities are currently being put under the pump by politicians to do something about sectarianism in Scottish football. It's cringe-making to watch. The Scottish FA and the SPFL have had nothing substantial to say on this scourge. They tell us what they don't want - strict liability - but not what they do want. They've been an ideas and leadership vacuum for too long.
Thousands upon thousands of supporters are allowed to engage in rampant bigotry and the governing bodies are unmoved. You get nervous when the politicians get involved but the governing bodies have practically invited them into football by their inaction. They need to wake up and listen up.
End to statement o'clock
Rangers are world leaders in trotting out indignant missives whenever they feel that football is conspiring against them. Celtic fans used to mock them for it, but Celtic are beginning to catch up when it comes to high-minded statements about perceived injustices. Can we not have a truce?
Women's game advances
Yes, their involvement ended in the most jaw-dropping way, but Scotland's women's team certainly captured the imagination of many at the World Cup in France. Viewing figures for their games were strong. The players are recognisable now. They laid foundations and they have to be built upon. The Scottish FA should set up a heavy-hitting brains trust to explore ways of bringing the women's game forward on and off the pitch. There is a window of opportunity here but it won't stay open forever.
The landscape looks so much brighter when Scottish teams do well in Europe. Celtic and Rangers have a fighting chance of making the group stages in the Champions League and Europa League. Kilmarnock have a fiendishly tough tie against Partizan Belgrade should they get past Connah's Quay, but if Angelo Alessio carries on where Steve Clarke left off then you never know.
Aberdeen? It's been 12 years since they made the group stages of a European competition. In their last four attempts they have lost qualifiers to Burnley (4-2 on aggregate), Apoel Limassol (3-2), Maribor (2-1) and Kairat Almaty (3-2). Can they crack it this time? Odds against, but you live in hope.
Give kids a chance
More than any other club, Hearts continue to give Scottish teenagers first-team action. Seven of them saw game-time in the league last season. The Old Firm need to do a whole lot better than they're doing. There's huge pressure on them to win every week, but nobody can argue with any logic that they don't have to opportunity to give young talent a chance on given days.
Celtic have promising kids, but if Brendan Rodgers had a failing as manager it was not in giving them a fair shake. He played his go-to men almost to a standstill. Did Callum McGregor really need to play 59 games last season and 55 the season before? Did James Forrest really need to play 56 and 58? They've both played 114 matches in two seasons for their club. Obviously it worked like a dream because they hoovered up trophies, but it did nothing for the development of the Mikey Johnstons and the Ewan Hendersons and others. These boys look ready to play. You hope that they get more of a chance.
Rangers gave league game-time to just one Scottish teenager last season - Glenn Middleton. Ross McCrorie, who turned 21 in March, saw less action in the league than he did the season before. Rangers is a harder team to get into now, but where are their young Scottish kids? Do they not have them or are they just not willing to gamble on them?
Clarke finds the answers
Those of us who have long since held the view that Scotland has the players to qualify for a major championship have had that optimism bolstered by the appointment of a respected and formidable manager. Clarke has the rest of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign to ready his team for the Nations League play-offs next spring. There's pressure but there also has to be relative confidence. Scotland will not be playing stellar outfits and the one-leg semi-final will be at Hampden. This is the moment. It has to be.
Old Firm settle row
This childish spat between Rangers and Celtic about reduced away ticket allocation for Old Firm games has gone on too long. Rangers started it by lowering Celtic's numbers at Ibrox from about 7,000 to around 800. Instead of rising above it and being the bigger club, Celtic responded - presumably under ferocious pressure from their own support - and did the same.
It's playground stuff from organisations that profess to be about more than football. Both clubs must know that the status of the fixture is diminished with virtually no visiting support - indeed Celtic have said so in public - but the rammy carries on. One of them could find themselves atop the moral high ground if they changed their view. The other lot would be almost embarrassed into following suit.
Kilmarnock dream continues
How on earth is a club supposed to get over the loss of a totemic manager like Clarke? By appointing from left field a manager who has coached at a stratospherically high level, a guy whose CV reads like the kind of thing that would excite clubs with far more financial muscle than Kilmarnock.
Angelo Alessio has coached at Napoli, Juventus, the Italian national team and then Chelsea. Much of that time was served as assistant to his mate, Antonio Conte. His appointment by Kilmarnock is one of the most audacious moves in Scottish football since, er, Clarke was appointed. Who knows how it's going to pan out, but in pedigree terms Alessio is an outstanding recruit.
Everybody who watched in awe as the Rugby Park club was transformed under Clarke wants this story to carry on and on. Forza Angelo.
A song for Hampden
Whether you love it or loathe it, the old place is staying. Hampden will remain the home of the national team but it's staid and in desperate need of modernising. The problem is that there's no money. The Scottish FA are practically potless.
An all-day concert would raise some millions. Not just any concert, an epic concert featuring the greatest living Scottish artists, a rollicking celebration of the nation's musical genius to help kick-start the revitalisation of the old lady of Mount Florida. Maybe corporate Scotland might want to get on board. What about it Rod? Stewart, that is. Not Petrie.
Genuine barn-burning title race
The real deal, the kind of race that goes to the wire. Rangers improved under Gerrard and you have to assume that if there is a challenge to Celtic then that's where it will come from. As much as neutrals want there to be a showdown at the top, it's all been a bit manufactured thus far. Celtic won an eighth league in a row while missing some key men for chunks of the season, while having their manager walk out, while having some turbulence behind the scenes surrounding limp transfer business. They still took the title with relative ease.
Rangers are signing players all over the place, but what about their calibre? There is a sense among their own people that this is their greatest chance to stop Celtic's bid for 10-in-a row. There's no Rodgers anymore and Gerrard is a year wiser. Celtic are deserved odds-on favourites to make it nine. It would be a shock if they didn't. The hope is that they're at least made to sweat for it.