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Is player churn turning football sour?

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Jack Ross | 09:59 UK time, Monday, 14 March 2011

Every year it would seem that our weather is becoming ever more changeable and difficult to predict - who would have thought that you could say the same about the starting line-ups at football clubs?

In a post-Bosman era and during times when patience is short it is perhaps unsurprising that we witness such dramatic turnovers of players at clubs in Scotland.

I was working at the recent St Mirren-Hibernian match for Sportsound and only seven of the 22 players starting the match had done so in the corresponding fixture just over a year previously.

Similarly, the Aberdeen-Kilmarnock clash on the same weekend had even fewer survivors in personnel, with both matches serving to highlight how quickly a Scottish Premier League starting 11 can change.

The St Mirren and Hibs players shake hands before their league match in February, perhaps to introduce themselves to one another... Photo: SNS.

St Mirren and Hibs players shake hands before their league match in February, perhaps to introduce themselves to one another... Photo: SNS.

As I have already mentioned, there are mitigating circumstances in the modern game which account for such a turnaround and indeed these four clubs also had different managers in charge for the recent matches.

A new managerial appointment usually increases the number of comings and goings at clubs but how much of a risk is it for a manager to try to rebuild completely and on what basis does he sign new players?

Undoubtedly a manager takes a gamble by dramatically altering his playing squad, but in doing so he is able to back his own judgement and ultimately know that, if he fails, at least he did so using his own players rather than those he inherited.

With regards to the type of players a manager will choose to bring to a club, I believe that this is an area which has changed in recent times.

I definitely believe that there is a greater pressure on some gaffers to try to recruit players who have potential for a sell-on value in the future.

Signing players on such a premise is difficult as you may be making a choice based on potential rather than pedigree.

Furthermore, the time required for these types of players to fulfil their promise may be greater than that afforded to a manager to achieve success without the necessary experience in his ranks.

A further dilemma that a reshaping of a team brings is what area of the team to focus on first.

There has always been an argument that you build from the back, that you create a solid foundation on which to build upon.

And if the need to have a strong spine to your side is paramount, are managers nowadays looking for pace throughout their side? Or do some deliberately acquire players of great physical stature knowing they can bully or outmuscle the opposition?

The current trend for shorter-term contracts in our game only adds to the lack of long-serving players at clubs with the debate over players' loyalty almost becoming redundant as everyone accepts that sweeping personnel changes are an annual occurrence at their club.

However, even if we accept that less than a third of players in a match we watch in the coming weeks could be featuring in it the following season, is this another reason why more and more fans are becoming disenchanted with the game and feeling a greater detachment from their side?

I say this because, previously, when players remained at clubs for longer there was undoubtedly relationships and affections built between supporters and players which perhaps made the former feel more a part of their club.

This in turn added to the sense of clubs belonging to the community, something which is disappearing all too rapidly.

When the close season comes around again, I acknowledge that there is a craving for some new signings to be made and a desire for the sense of anticipation to see a new face in action, but would some not prefer a return to the days when players became synonymous with clubs and a reassurance they could get a name on the back of a replica shirt that might last a few years?

My forecasts for next year are the weather will be cold - that's an easy one! As for a team's starting 11, the Lottery numbers might be easier to predict!


  • Comment number 1.

    How much of the change in personnel is due to the lack of finances in the game though? Taking the bottom half of the SPL as an example, too many clubs fear relegation and as such will not offer longterm contracts for fear of carrying them into the 1st division. Also the lack of finances in general means clubs are looking to reduce the wage bill, something Dundee Utd have promised in the close season and something clubs like St Mirren, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock have already done. With teams like Saints signing lower league players on 1 year deals and Kilmarnock signing guys on 1 season loans, as an ex player, what do you think is the future of the SPL Jack?

    It just seems the league lacks reality, as the players wages go down, rather than seeing players take a wage cut, we watch them move south to the lower English leagues.
    So from a fans perspective we now get to see lesser quality players for 20-22 pounds per game. Show me any other business where they drop the quality of the product and still expect the customer to pay an increased price every year?

    So what is the answer, well if you listen to the SPL it's to have a 10 team SPL, that's how you solve a stale league, remove 2 teams and make it more stale!
    Clearly it's not just the fans who have become detached from their teams Jack, it seems the games ruling bodies have also become detached from reality.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think many factors are the cause of this. The main ones that stick out to me are the lack of quality youth, finances and the high demand for success (or fear of failure).
    All these things go hand in hand. If teams produced more quality youth, there would be less need to go out and sign players on short term contracts to "do the job". The short term contracts are imposed due to financial constraints and if a player has a good season, he can get a better deal down south, or has a bad season, is on the scrap heap.
    Producing quality youth is a rarity these days so as soon as a decent offer comes through, they're off. I'd like to see teams rely on youth rather than sign players on 1 year contracts. Give them a reason to get better and hand them long term contracts. We will never see anything similar to the Man Utd class of '92 but this is the type of model that teams need to adopt in order to create some longevity in teams squads.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great blog Jack,
    In my line of work, if I was building a team I'd be looking for attributes away from the actual job in hand. People need the skills to do the job but when it's a team that needs to work together then teamwork becomes just as big a priority.

    Do managers actually know the personalities and different attributes of the players before they sign them? Or are they signed on statistics alone? Are players interviewed before they're signed so a manager can pick out the negatives and the positives? Pro players can all play football at a top level but do they fit into a team?

  • Comment number 4.

    Post no1 sums it up perfectly.

    Surely a 10 team Premier League can only make things worse.

  • Comment number 5.

    Post No1

    Get your facts right, most SPL players leave the league to a higher standard of football in the Championship.Boyd and the 6 other SPL so called top players have struggled at Boro all season, because it is a higher standard.

    Miller left to play in the Turkish league which is ranked 11th compared with the SPL which is ranked 16th in Europe.

    St Johnstone,Inverness CT play each other 4 times a season no wonder the SPL is so poor

  • Comment number 6.

    I think it is one of several things that is turning many fans off the sport, or a least encouraging them to look elsewhere for their 'fitba' fix'. Like to the Juniors for example.

    I even know of several who have all but given up on the round ball game and it is only the lack of success of the Glasgow and Scottish rugby teams that has dampened a bit of their initial enthusiasm for that sport.

    The continuing predictability of the SPL, the fact that there is as much, if not more, written and talked about the game off the field than there is about the action on it, the ever increasing number of clubs the length and breadth of Britain becoming no more than feeder fodder for the "big money clubs" in England and elsewhere and the idiotic off-field (and on-field) antics of players and certain managers, are other factors that are contributing to keeping fans at home or in pursuit of other and more entertaining and rewarding pursuits.

  • Comment number 7.

    It is a shame there isn't more player loyalty to one club, but similarly the problem is with clubs failing to be loyal to the players.

  • Comment number 8.

    Post no.5 - Wrong. If you were to take the time and go through the squads of teams playing in league 1, league 2 and the conference, you will find a host of ex SPL players. An example of this would be Will Haining, formerly of St.Mirren. He rejected a contract extension at Saints to sign for Morecambe of league 2 and i'm sure he will be on much better money than our top teams can offer. If league 2 teams can offer better money, then for the SPL to stay competetive whilst offering value for money is near impossible.

    Post no.6 - Correct. I'm a season ticket holder at St.Mirren and it is evident that whilst we are paying more each season, the quality is declining rapidly. I don't go to all the away games due to the costs so recently i have been attending junior football games and i must say i was impressed with what i saw. These guys have the same lifestyle as the average Joe but give 110% every time they step out on the park. The quality of the football is good and you get to see goals. A fiver to get in, £1 for a pie and you get to stand and enjoy the game without over zealous stewards telling you what to do. Junior football is excellent value for money and i'm seriously considering going back next season and giving up on the SPL or wherever we decide to vote ourselves into.

    Basically the SPL need to do more to attract fans back to the senior game. Pay at the gate, standing, lower ticket prices - attracting the fans back mean safer revenue streams and the ability to offer longer contracts. The SPL need to take one step backward to take two forward but they don't understand the concept of this.

  • Comment number 9.

    in response to those that have commented about a 10 team spl, i received direct contact from the spl on this issue. they acknowledge that a 16 team league is the most popular set up amongst fans and managers alike. theysay however for a variety of financial reasons an immediate change to that cannot be implimented and that the current proposal of a 10-12 set up is a stepping stone towards a future 16 team set up. they also highlighted to me for a range of practical reasons a 14 team set up couldn't work. i highleghted in response that fans desire greater transparency on this and would be reassured if the spl could outline their longer term plan to move to a 16 team leage and how it is to be achieved. anyone reading this should email the spl and ask for this transparency.

    sadly though i think we in scotland have to admit that no amount of re branding, re structuring or anything else could facilitate us to even compete with most teams in the english championship on wages never mind the epl. our place in the big money era is not of buying clubs but selling. if we are to survive youth development will be a must have. the teams as they already are will be comprised of future scottish players, bosmans and has beens. but hey i'd rather turn up to see our future stars before they move on than try to copy the big money buying route that we can't compete on and see teams full of never were's and never will be's!

  • Comment number 10.


    Interesting correspondence.

    They'll be lucky if they have an agreement in place just yet never mind any longer-term plan.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you for your comments.

    Gus_McPherson_Fan, forecasting what the future of the SPL is difficult. I have blogged previously on my preference for a bigger league but that is with my players hat on. Fans it would seem agree but those who should know best, in terms of knowing the full financial facts, feel that a smaller ten team league is the best option. For me, the pricing structure is a big obstacle to keeping fans and attracting new ones as admission prices are too high.

    Frustrated Buddie, one of the points you made re stewarding is very valid as there is no question that football fans are tarred with the same brush and treated poorly at stadiums. There are few other events/sports that treat it's paying customers in such a way.

    1867_waddle, in Scottish football the community is fairly small and close knit so most players reputations, character etc are known or can be uncovered fairly easily. Although I do agree that some players are signed on ability alone with little thought as to how they would fit into a side.

  • Comment number 12.

    ALL player contracts should be of three years' duration, and any trading will only be of the unexpired portion thereof.

    Two years in, a player (through an agent or otherwise) can begin to seek out a new contract - also of three years - to commence once his current period expires.

    Logically, clubs would aim to have roughly one third of their contracts expiring at the end of each season.

    Or, another alternative would be that every contract should be a one year rolling contract - if a club wants rid of a player, they have to pay one year's salary in compensation; if a player ewants to go, he has to pay the greater of one year at his current rate or one year at the rate paid by any new club he joins.

    But the first step must be: bin the transfer window; such a restraint on trade is almost certainly illegal and certainly immoral!

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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