Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Celtic can have no complaints

Aberdeen and Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn is a nominee for the SPFA Player of the Year
Aberdeen and Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn is a nominee for the SPFA Player of the Year

Only in Scottish football would the chief executive of the Players Football Association (SPFA) have to explain the Players Player of the Year voting protocol because there wasn't a Celtic player among the four nominees.

From the outside looking in it was a slap in the face for the four players who their peers judged to have been most impressive in the SPL this season.

Michael Higdon of Motherwell, Andrew Shinnie of Inverness, Leigh Griffiths of Hibernian and Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn at Aberdeen have all had excellent seasons for their respective clubs.

Yet it doesn't seem to have gone down well with some Scottish journalists and Celtic FC that they don't have a nominee. For the first time in 23 years a non-Old Firm player will pick up the prestigious accolade, but it's been slightly tarred by the reaction from some individuals.

There's been talk of a conspiracy and ulterior motives but if you look at the hard facts from previous years, 14 of the past 17 winners have been from Celtic, right back to the great Paolo Di Canio in 1997.

Players are the best people to judge as they play against each other for 10 months so the reaction over the past week or so has been damaging to both the nominees and SPFA.

The four individuals in the running should have been celebrating their wonderful achievement and basking in their moment of glory.

The headlines, though, have been about who should have won it as opposed to who is actually going to win it. Individual awards are a bonus for players and I'm sure the Celtic players won't be as distraught as their manager claims they are. They have won the SPL and have highlights from the past season no-one can ever take away from them.

Celtic in Europe have had their most impressive campaign for a long time and Neil Lennon was right when he proclaimed his club put Scottish football back on the map throughout Europe.

However, domestically, Celtic's league form has been patchy and even if they win their four remaining matches can only equal the lowest points total (84) to have won the championship since the SPL's induction in 1998.

Lennon has also rotated his squad sensibly to keep players fresh for the bigger games and that's hampered some players' consistency. So I agree that Celtic have some top-class players but many of them have had good spells over the season while other players at rival clubs have been in outstanding form on a more regular basis. When you digest all that, there are valid reasons for the player of the year list to be minus a Celtic player.

Scoring goals is the hardest job in football so it didn't surprise me to see the SPL's two leading scorers (Higdon, 24 goals and Griffiths, 20 goals) on the list.

Ask any manager what kind of player they would want in their team and, inevitably, they will say a striker who scores goals on a regular basis as they are invaluable.

Strikers grab the majority of the headlines, command the biggest wages and generally cost the most in transfer fees because they win you football matches.

Higdon's 24 SPL goals have broken a top flight post war record for a Motherwell player, beating the previous record set in 1976. Griffiths' 22 SPL goals to date are more than half of what his entire team have managed all season which is a terrific return in a struggling side.

I feel it's between these two and whether everyone thinks it's the correct decision or not they will have fully deserved the compliments that come their way.

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