AS one of the most high-profile and successful British footballers of the past 20 years, Steven Gerrard isn’t afraid to voice an opinion.

The Rangers manager has always been quite prepared to offer a viewpoint, no matter how outlandish, on any subject, no matter how contentious, since he arrived in Govan two years ago and has never been greatly concerned about who he upsets doing so.

Even his own employers.

When he was asked about the difficulties the group stages of the Betfred Cup are going to present to participants when they get underway next month – lower league clubs will be required, despite the vast expense, to test their players for coronavirus before they take on their top flight rivals - he quickly offered a potential solution that may have caused the bean counters at Ibrox to roll their eyes.

"I don't think the club will thank me for this,” said Gerard. “But the big clubs might need to show some support to the part-time teams or other teams lower down who are not in the same financial position. Just so that we can continue to make sure that these competitions progress and finish and carry on.

“That's the only way I can see things progressing they way we all want them to progress - if the top clubs or the ones who are higher up support the ones who are lower down.”

Rangers, like all their Premiership counterparts, are spending substantial sums of money and a huge amount of time of effort satisfying the stringent Covid-19 safety protocols which the SFA and SPFL Joint Response Group have put in place for the 2020/21 campaign. It is a laborious and complex process.

Are they really in a position to help Annan Athletic, Dumbarton and Partick Thistle fulfil their fixture list and avoid forfeiting games – which the SPFL have announced will happen if they are unwilling to enter a team or fail to provide sufficient negative test results - in the weeks ahead?

Gerrard’s men won’t even enter the competition until the knockout rounds later this year due to their involvement, along with Aberdeen, Celtic and Motherwell, in Europa League qualifying at the moment.

But the fact that Premiership clubs, including Rangers, are prepared to foot the bill for the sides their colts teams will face in the Challenge Cup to undergo swab tests in the coming months strongly suggests that his innovative plan is both logical and workable.

Of course, matters may, with the number of positive coronavirus cases rising across Scotland and lockdown restrictions being reimposed in many areas, be taken out of the governing bodies’ hands by Holyrood. Will the Premiership never mind the Betfred Cup be concluded as scheduled? It is impossible to say that it will with any certainty in these troubled and unprecedented times.

However, the wealthier stakeholders in the game would be well advised to do their bit so that the Betfred Cup can take place as originally intended while matches are still being played despite the considerable challenges they are facing balancing their books. It will pay dividends for them in the long run.

It would be in the interest of Scottish football, of the credibility of the sport in this country as a whole, if they shared their resources and create welcome goodwill. Avoiding the acrimony and chaos that marred the end of last season and ensuring that every competition is played in its entirety would be hugely positive. Further curtailments will do nothing to attract much-needed investment from sponsors.


LIFE without Scott McKenna started rather ominously for Aberdeen yesterday when the Pittodrie club slumped to a heavy Premiership defeat to Motherwell at home.

But if, as looks very likely, McKenna completes a multi-million pound move to English Championship club Nottingham Forest this week the future looks very bright indeed for both the player and for Scotland.

Great things have been anticipated of the centre half since he established himself in Derek McInnes’s side three years ago and forced his way into the national set-up.

Members of the Tartan Army were certainly optimistic he could fill what had been a problem position for the country for some time and help them to end their long wait to reach the finals of a major tournament.

McKenna has featured on a regular basis since; his appearance in the Nations League match against the Czech Republic in Olomouc earlier this month was his 16th at international level.

However, has the 6ft 2in 23-year-old ever really lived up to expectations when he has donned a dark blue jersey? It is hard to remember a game that he dominated and completely convinced in.

The former Ayr United and Alloa Athletic loanee is an impressive athlete who is comfortable with the physical demands of the modern game, poses a threat at set pieces and can break upfield at pace.

But he can improve his decision making, his positional sense and his play on the ball. Moving down south and performing in front of big crowds on a weekly basis at a higher level against a far superior standard of opponents should enable him to do exactly that.

Scotland, who take on Israel in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final at Hampden next month, will reap the rewards of his involvement with Forest going forward.