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Traynor: Huff And Nonsense; Bosses need talk therapy.

Byline: Jim Traynor

HERE'S the way it will work this season. If Martin O'Neill or Alex McLeish call tell them I'm in a meeting.

I'll probably be too busy to speak to either of them. Besides, what do they ever say that you haven't heard a million times before?

Think I'll just deal with managers who haven't yet been consumed by self- importance or backed into corners by their own fears.

The managers of our biggest clubs seem to think everybody is out to trip them up, that they are being pursued relentlessly by a slavering press pack with the smell of blood in their nostrils when, in fact, the poor hacks are only trying to gather information.

Admittedly, there are some in our profession who should never at any time be left alone in the same room with a keyboard - Marvin Andrews for Rangers? Need I say more? - but by and large the paper business isn't out to bring down either McLeish or O'Neill, who nevertheless seem to have decided they will do as little as possible to help forge relations.

Frankly, I don't have a huge problem with that. It's a free world, managers can speak or not, it's entirely up to them, but when they choose to sever lines of communication they should at least have the decency and honesty to be up front about their reasons.

They shouldn't try to make it appear as though they have been terribly wronged in some way. A favourite is to make it look as though the papers are persecuting one of their players, a notion currently being peddled by Celtic over Chris Sutton.

O'Neill seems to believe his striker has become an innocent victim of a press campaign and while I find that stance extremely insulting, as well as wildly inaccurate, let's try to forget Sutton's unfortunate words about Dunfermline.

However, if a manager doesn't want to talk to the press because he doesn't like them or can't be bothered then he should be bold enough to say.

What really bothers me is that managers of the bigger clubs think they have it harder than anyone else, which really is a ridiculous state of affairs and says more about their attitudes than reality.

You know, it would do one or two of them the world of good to spend some time at Glebe Park or Cappielow with Dick Campbell or John McCormack.

Two more enthusiastic and passionate football men you'll struggle to meet but do you hear them complaining about their lot?

Course you don't because men like this never forget they are privileged to be part of the game even though they know they are operating at the cold pie end of the business. You don't even have to ask and they don't need to explain but you just know they absolutely love their sport.

And if you take time to think about it you might come to realise it will be people like Campbell and McCormack who will save this game of ours.

It will be players at their levels who will keep the faith rather than the so- called big-timers, who take without giving too much in return.

Fair enough, Celtic thrilled us all during their run to the UEFA Cup Final and Rangers' domestic challenge provided excitement right down to the closing seconds of the last game on the last day of the season but there is something grudging about the Old Firm. Many of the players are surly and seem to think 90 minutes on a Saturday is all they have to give.

They behave as though they are above doing press conferences when they should be falling over themselves as they rush to platforms to share their joy with fans through the various media outlets.

Usually, though, they have to be coaxed and persuaded to do interviews but not only do their clubs let them throw tantrums like spoiled children they actually encourage them.

There's just way too much greed, too much take with hardly any giving at the top level and the people the Old Firm regard as bit-part players put them all to shame, especially at a time when the game is in the process of healing itself after more than a decade of reckless spending.

Football's finances are in a terrible state with bigger debts than some of the world's poorest nations and players are being thrown off the gravy train on to the dole as clubs struggle to cope.

A cruel reality is kicking in and over the last couple of weeks I've listened to Roddy McKenzie, a goalkeeper in search of a safety net, and Andy McLaren, a wayward winger still trying to find a club willing to believe he is worth a contract, and both spoke openly of their fears. Their words were poignant and summed up the uncertainty which is swirling around many pros trying to earn a crust in a poverty-stricken business.

They can only hope they'll find work somewhere but it would be slightly comforting to believe their plight is registering at higher levels and bringing a sense of reality home to the big earners.

Unfortunately I fear it may be a difficult season for us because the top players and managers are unlikely to relax or change much and the usual accusations of bias and persecution will be exploding all around us. Welcome back.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 4, 2003
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