Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Can Boyd and McFadden rejuvenate the SPL?

So James McFadden has returned to the SPL with his first club Motherwell, making substitute appearances in Motherwell's back-to-back defeats to Dundee United and Ross County, and looks all set to feature against runaway leaders Celtic tonight. And Kris Boyd has also returned to his roots, to Kenny Shiels' Kilmarnock - and he too could feature tonight, against Hibernian.

Upon learning of the returns of both prodigal sons, I actually got excited. Being a Celtic fan, the domestic season has proved predictably straight-forward (bar the odd slip-up in the odd game). Europe has been a welcome adventure but following Efe Ambrose's capitulation to Juventus at Parkhead that looks set to come to an end next week.

The return of both McFadden and Boyd has the potential to be as beneficial for the SPL as it can be rehabilitative for the careers of the two players. The captures of both players by SPL clubs has added a little bit of glamour to a usually unglamorous league. Not that their home-comings are a surprise given the different stages they currently find themselves in their respective careers.

McFadden has had an unfortunate time in the last few years with injuries, most notably the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered whilst at Birmingham in 2010. A return to training in March 2011 saw him suffer a setback which ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign and, in truth, his career has stalled since then as a return to Everton and a short spell at Sunderland failed to set the pulses racing.

As for Boyd, he has become something of a journeyman since leaving Rangers in 2010. A season in the Championship with both Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest (the later on loan) saw him score 12 goals in 36 games - six for each club, though his record with Forest looks far more impressive given his six goals came in just nine games.

A move to Turkish side Eskişehirspor took a bizarre twist when, in Boyd's own words, he arrived and "the manager and the general manager are in jail. Where do you go from there? It was a difficult period for me. When the financial side came into it, I knew it was time to get out."

The "financial side" he refers to saw Boyd eventually take legal proceedings against the club over unpaid wages. He played only 76 minutes of football in five months before leaving. At this point, Boyd went to the MLS where he caused some more consternation by rejecting an offer from Houston Dynamo - who had exclusive rights to sign him - signing for Portland Timbers instead.

The Timbers were forced to give up their first round MSL SuperDraft pick in exchange for Boyd and it is hard to wonder if they got their money's worth from the Scottish striker. After starting brightly, his head coach John Spencer was sacked and Boyd was no longer the automatic-starter his Designated Player status guaranteed him. He finished the 2012/13 season with a return of seven goals and an assist from 26 games. His contract was mutually cancelled in January.

An alleged move to Panathinaikos allegedly never materialised because, allegedly, he felt he was owed money. I say allegedly because, apart from this article on, I can find no other reference to such a move ever being in the pipeline.

And so, after a tumultuous merry-go-round spanning continents, Boyd, like McFadden, has finally decided to go home. After the contrasting travails suffered by both men, it makes sense to go back to the beginning and remember why they started playing the game in the first place. This is evident from comments each of them made as they were presented by their new-old clubs.

McFadden on Motherwell: "The last wee while people have been questioning my fitness and my ability to play games and get back to the level I was at. Hopefully this is the springboard for me to get a good run of games and let people see I’m fine and over my injury and ready to play."

Boyd on Kilmarnock: "It’s a new challenge for me, yet back where it all started. It was a challenge back then and I got into the team and scored goals, so it’s up to me to do it again. It takes you back to being younger and I feel that’s where I need to be. I’ve said I’ve got two or three months to save my career and I’ll stick by that."

It has to be remembered that both of these lads are 29 years old. They should be at the peak of their careers and it is hard to believe that McFadden, with a near-decade of Premier League experience, and Boyd, the SPL's all-time top-goalscorer, are past it, despite their troubles. The determination of both players burns brightly and a sentence each on their international ambitions is succinct proof.

McFadden: "Obviously I'd love to play for Scotland again."

Boyd: "It would be a lie to say Scotland hasn’t crossed my mind but I’m a long way away from that - the first thing is get into the Killie team."

In the case of McFadden, his words are important given that he notoriously fell out with then Scotland manager Craig Levein after a below-par performance in the narrow 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein in Euro 2012 qualifying. Barely a week later, McFadden ruptured his ligaments and hasn't played for Scotland since. And despite recently opening up about the Levein situation, he clearly feels that he has unfinished business at international level.

It is such determination on the part of both players which makes this mutually beneficial for the SPL and the two players. While Celtic are 21 points clear, there are only three points between Kilmarnock and Motherwell, the latter being only one point off second-placed Inverness. These two signings can serve not only to galvanise the respective clubs but also general interest in the league.

The race for the second and third positions promises to remain tight with Europa League second qualifying round spots up for grabs, while Kilmarnock can perhaps feel quietly confident of progressing from their Scottish Cup Quarter-Final home tie against tonight's SPL opponents Hibernian in early March given their recent five game unbeaten run.

If both Boyd and McFadden can rediscover their best form in the coming months both Shiels and Stuart McCall will reap the rewards of guiding their prodigal sons home. Tonight, both players could feature for their clubs and I am now devastated that I'll be working instead of watching the Motherwell-Celtic game on Sky Sports 1. Not because I'll miss Celtic, but because I'll miss James McFadden.

Now I just wish Craig Gordon could recover from his problems and get back to Hearts.

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