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Sometimes the-better-the-devil-you-know approach really is the best course of action

When Kevin Ratcliffe popped up on Radio 5 Live the other day, I could just about recall the resolute central defender who led Everton to an FA Cup triumph in 1984, two English top-flight titles over the next couple of years and a UEFA Cup victory - over Rapid Vienna, just in case it slipped your mind - for good measure.

Alan Solomons has cleared his squad of top Scottish players. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS
Alan Solomons has cleared his squad of top Scottish players. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS

When asked to pass judgment on the recent success of Liverpool, who have surged into pole position in this season's Barclay's Premier League title race, he made a fascinating comment on the revival of the side which last rose to the top of English football in 1990.

In essence, Ratcliffe said that new manager Brendan Rodgers' masterstroke had been to embrace the Anfield club's past, to cherish the traditions that made Liverpool the dominant force it once was.

Ratcliffe's point was that too many managers, at too many clubs, seem to think that the only way they can stamp their authority is by wiping the slate clean, dismissing the achievements of the past as irrelevant to the future of their team. Rodgers, he argued, had recognised the possibility of inspiring the players of today by drawing their attention to what the team of the 1980s - the team he grew up watching - had done.

He also acknowledged the potent emotional force of Liverpool's support, especially at a time when the bitter memories of Hillsborough are being revived yet again.

In short, Rodgers has recognised the importance of continuity. Yesterday, as David Moyes cleared his desk at Manchester United's Carrington training ground, the consensus among supporters of the Old Trafford club was that his greatest single error was to ignore that factor. When Moyes took over from Sir Alex Ferguson last summer, almost his first act was to clear out his fellow Scot's backroom staff, sending assistants Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen on their way. In some quarters, it was viewed as a decisive move by a manager determined to remake the club in his own image; today, it looks like an act of folly.

Moyes' actions left United rudderless. They had had the odd success this season, but the general impression has been of a side that is drifting. They have lost contact with where they came from.

A little like Edinburgh rugby club, in fact. When Alan Solomons took over at Murrayfield last summer, he acquired control of a side that was struggling, but which most observers believed could be put back on track without much difficulty.

Edinburgh had good enough players, and Solomons' obligation was to make them the sum of their parts again. On the evidence of their feeble capitulation to Zebre last weekend - they lost 26-13 to the RaboDirect PRO12's bottom-placed side - it was clear that Solomons, like his side, is coming up short.

Of course, nobody expected Solomons to turn underachieving Edinburgh around in the space of a few weeks. In the space of nine months, however, fans could fairly expect to see at least a few signs of progress as far as team-building is concerned. Yet the overriding impression is that the South African has busied himself on a demolition project, with construction matters rather less important in his thinking.

Of course, Solomons has made major changes to personnel, most obviously with his controversial recruitment of a host of southern-hemisphere players, few of whom were ever in danger of rising to great prominence in their own countries. While this has gone on, though, he has also hollowed out Edinburgh as a Scottish side filled predominantly by top Scottish players.

Geoff Cross and Lee Jones have been farmed out to Glasgow. Ross Rennie and Stuart McInally have been loaned to Bristol. Nikki Walker has been persona non grata at Murrayfield and has spent almost the entire season playing for Hawick. Three Scottish-qualified fly-halves - Gregor Hunter, Piers Francis and Harry Leonard - have been released. Scotland regulars Nick De Luca and Greig Laidlaw are heading to Biarritz and Gloucester respectively.

A few of those moves and loan deals might make sense. In the recent past, Scottish sides have been held back by too many players enjoying comfortable sinecures, virtually guaranteed their places in the team, in European competition and in a domestic league with no relegation concerns. New blood has rarely been a bad thing.

Yet the rootlessness of Edinburgh is now striking. Rattling around in the soulless barn of Murrayfield, with a roster of players who could just as easily be plying their trades in Pretoria, Perth or Port Elizabeth, the capital side seems to have lost touch with its surroundings.

This is not a parochial plea for having more Scottish players on the payroll, rather a warning that a club that does not have its feet on solid ground can have no idea of what it actually represents.

The contrast with Glasgow is illuminating. Yes, Gregor Townsend's side has been bolstered by the arrival of players such as Sean Maitland, Josh Strauss and Niko Matawalu, but there is a powerful sense of place about the team and a powerful identity between the side and its fans. At Edinburgh, that link seems to weaken by the week.

Saturday's 1872 Cup match between the two sides at Scotstoun might narrow the gap, fuelled as it ought to be by internecine rivalry. Without that factor, however, you would probably back Glasgow to win by 30 points.

In the meantime, Solomons still has the backing of his employers. But then, it's not so long since Moyes enjoyed the trust of his paymasters at Old Trafford as well.

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