Entertainment, Sports

Diallo can outshine world class names at Rangers and a big week for Scotland in The Monday Kick-off

World-class names have been in short supply in Scottish football in recent seasons, especially those arriving here in their pomp. Of course, there was the Dutch contingent at Rangers and the Keanes, Roy and Robbie, at Celtic. Henrik Larsson blossomed into a superstar in Scotland as did a slew of other names such as Dalglish, Baxter, Miller, McLeish and Strachan. But that’s going back into the archives.

Since then there have been any number of ersatz world stars in our game: Seedorf (Clarence’s distant relation Sherwin), Pogba (Paul’s sibling Mathias), Aubameyang (Willy, of course, not Pierre-Emerick), Hasselbaink (Jimmy Floyd’s estranged cousin Nigel) and Silva (David but no relation to the Spain World Cup winner David – a Portuguese winger who played for Kilmarnock).

It has been a fallow period made up of Football Manager regens and guys signed following an eight-minute YouTube video that fails to show the six-yard sitters, bouncy-castle-like touch and concrete-footed turn of speed.

The last truly world-class player to strut his stuff in Scottish football’s top flight was Virgil van Dijk but even at that point it wasn’t immediately apparent just how high his stock would rise. Van Dijk’s early months at Southampton were characterised by the kind of uncharacteristic mistakes we hadn’t seen from him during his time at Celtic. Only in retrospect is it possible to claim that we all knew that the Dutchman was going to become the best in the world in his position.

Amad Diallo’s arrival at Rangers offers a novel shift on the Van Dijk paradigm.

Here is a kid widely considered to be among the top young players on the planet. To his credit, the 19-year-old seems up for the challenge citing his desire to improve and to win trophies even if it appears that he needed some convincing to make the switch north – and with good reason.

He will be held to a different standard than almost every other player in the league which will, of course, bring pressure. And, in turn, it will be a good barometer for the Scottish game. Above all, for those who have no skin in the game, it should be a fun watch. His early cameo at Ross County is a promising start.

Sibbick duty-bound to join Hearts

What a breath of fresh air it was to hear Toby Sibbick’s rationale for turning down Hibernian when he was announced by Hearts on Friday. The one-time Barnsley defender had a spell at Tynecastle in 2020 and revealed during his press conference that supporters of the club had remained in near-constant contact with him when he returned to England. For Sibbick, the most natural thing in the world was to reciprocate that goodwill when Hearts came calling a second time and that meant saying no to Hibs.

“I just don’t think it would’ve been right considering the history between the two clubs. The type of person I am, I couldn’t do that to a club like Hearts. I’ve played for a fan-owned club before in Wimbledon, so I know what it means for the fans especially; they give the club everything so, us as players, should give it back to them.”

Winters of discontent for Ojabo

A little more than a month ago, David Ojabo – the Michigan Wolverine from Aberdeen who declared for the NFL draft at the start of this month told me he wanted to go “somewhere hot” when his name was called in April. Ojabo left Nigeria at the age of eight and has been living in cold climates ever since. But a quick perusal of the early mock draft boards that proliferate at this time of year suggest he should not be too hasty at chucking out his snood and gloves. The experts have Ojabo, who left Scotland for New York at the age of 15 to pursue a scholarship opportunity in basketball before switching to football a year later, mocked to go anywhere between 5th in the draft and 28th. The bad news for Ojabo? The most common destinations seem to be New York (average daytime temperature of six degrees in winter), Philadelphia (0) and Green Bay (a daily high of -2). Meanwhile, his former Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who might be another very interested party come draft day, is expected to take over the reins at the Minnesota Vikings (who play in the fourth coldest state in the US) any day now.

It’s a big week for Scotland rugby

The Six Nations is upon us once more and optimism is rising that this will finally be the year that Scotland end their long, arduous wait for a first Six Nations crown. Of course, the last time the Scots won the tournament it was competed for by five teams not six, so it’s asking for a few trends to be bucked.

Sir Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup winning head coach, has touted Scotland as his team to win the tournament, ahead of this weekend’s Calcutta Cup match.

In bygone eras, much anticipation would greet the start of the championship with all and sundry predicting that this would be Scotland’s year, only for the ball to burst after the first round of matches which would usually end in the kind of sobering defeat that not only provided a reality check but triggered an existential crisis.

So often, hopes have been undone due to slow starts. In the past decade Scotland have won just three of their 10 opening matches, albeit those wins have all come since 2017 – a sign of the progress made in recent years. There can be no repeat of past failures time around if Woodward’s prediction is to be proved correct.

Value to be had in Ireland

It promises to be one of the busiest deadline days in recent memory and don’t be surprised if there are few further deals between Scottish and Irish clubs during that time. St Johnstone have already brought in Dan Cleary and James Mahon from Dundalk and Sligo Rovers respectively, Celtic signed another talent Sligo youngster in Johnny Kenny (adding to summer signing Liam Scales) while, in the Championship, Hamilton Accies snapped up experienced centre-back Dan O’Reilly from Drogheda United. Meanwhile, Rangers midfielder Jake Hastie went the other way, joining Linfield on loan over the weekend. It represents a changing attitude towards the northern and southern leagues, where increasing wages and full-time football has raised standards and good value can be found.

“I’d have to say that at the top end of our league, the best players would be comfortable in the SPFL,” Sligo Rovers academy coach Conor O’Grady told me recently. “I think sometimes they look over here and think ‘it’s not that good of a league’.”

That no longer appears to be the case.

76

The number of goals scored by Kyle Lafferty during five different spells in Scottish football with Rangers, Kilmarnock and Hearts. A tally that is 31 more than he has managed for his 11 other clubs.  

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