Football finds itself in the midst of a succession crisis with the co-reigns of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as best players in the world nearing their end.

Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Mo Salah have been names floated as possible successors but none have truly convinced nor scorched their names across Europe’s skies in the manner of Messi and Ronaldo.

Perhaps a new star will come from the east and specifically the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. In the past week, Rangers and Celtic have struggled to contain Kvitcha Kvaratskhelia, and Mykhaylo Mudryk in their Champions League encounters against Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk.

The former was the subject of interest from Juventus and a number of Premier League clubs last summer before Napoli announced they had secured a deal for the fleet-footed winger in July. The 21-year-old is blessed with electrifying pace and an elastic-like ability to swerve hips and shoulders in such a manner as to utterly bamboozle defenders.

Mudryk is more subtle but no less effective and, as his goal and all-round performance against Celtic testify it is surely only a matter of time before he gets his move. His rise to prominence has been all the more marked considering what has been going on in Ukraine since the Russian invasion and the fact Shakhtar have been displaced from the Donbass region since 2014.

Mudryk’s performances – he has won five caps for Ukraine and made an eye-catching appearance off the bench in the 3-1 win over Scotland at Hampden in the World Cup play-off in June – have earned him the nickname the Ukrainian Neymar, but it is a moniker he rejects.

“It’s not the Ukrainian Neymar. It’s Ukrainian Mudryk. This sounds better,” said Mudryk. “I think the nickname and the comparison with Neymar is a big compliment. But I am my own player. I work hard every day. My vision hasn’t changed. I need to keep improving my individual game and working hard if I want to earn that praise and be compared to top players.”

Scotland will get another taste of Mudryk’s flair when he returns to Hampden on Wednesday night. The worrying news for Steve Clarke and Co is that Mudryk – heavily linked with Arsenal, Everton and Brentford during the transfer window – already looks a more accomplished player than he did on his last visit four months ago.

Scotland have a chance to make amends

It’s not just Ukraine that Scotland are scheduled to face during this international break. Saturday brings the return leg against a Republic of Ireland side who utterly humbled Steve Clarke’s men in Dublin in June.

It was an afternoon that brought the first real question marks over whether Clarke, pictured, had taken Scotland as far as he could, so while the Ukraine game 72 hours earlier presents a chance to gain some revenge – no matter how unlikely that ambition might seem – the Ireland game will take on greater symbolic significance.

Stephen Kenny’s side were coming off the back of a dreadful run of form but Scotland’s players looked apathetic and turned in a performance that stunk out the Aviva Stadium.

That display could be explained away, perhaps, by the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup but a similar no-show at Hampden at the weekend will ramp up the pressure on Clarke.

How young is too young for a football debut?

It has been a week for young teenagers making the headlines as they appear on the benches for their respective teams. First there was the 13-year-old Christopher Atherton making his debut as a second-half substitute for Glenavon in a Northern Irish League Cup tie.

Then, the 15-year-old attacker Ethan Nwaneri, pictured, was a sub for Arsenal in their 3-0 win over Brentford in the Premier League yesterday.

There are two ways of looking at this: the first is to say “well done” to the players in question and applaud their ability; the second is to question whether there is a duty of care to these young boys on the respective clubs’ part.

The dangers, to this observer, seem two-fold: there is the obvious risk of the player sustaining a serious injury – those who argue in favour of giving kids a chance if they are ready might say that risk is the same for any player – but perhaps of more concern might be the weight of expectation it saddles said youngster with for the rest of his career.

Timoney making the right noises at Gladiators

The recent takeover and renaming of the Scottish Rocks as the Caledonian Gladiators by Steven and Alison Timoney presents a bold new future for the sport in Scotland.

Speaking recently, Timoney said he wanted to establish his new club as one of the best in the country and envisions challenging rugby as the second sport in Scotland behind football.

Intriguingly, he is borrowing an American strategy as the cornerstone of his plan and that is to secure a dedicated facility for the Gladiators to play out of.

Too often, the so-called minority sports have had to play second fiddle to more established ones – a point Timoney found out about when the Rocks’ first game of the season had to be cancelled because the Davis Cup was on at the Emirates Arena.

Rugby’s lack of foresight

As one eagle-eyed reader recently pointed out, rugby is not the Monday kick-off’s first sport but that doesn’t preclude me from wading into the relevant issues of the day with all the finesse of a rhino in a busy car park.

For a sport that always appears so sanctimoniously smug with itself, there aren’t half a lot of stupid things which go on in rugby. The Monday kick-off is, of course, referring to Glasgow Warriors’ woefully inadequate preparations for the start of the new BKT United Rugby Championship.

Having lost twice to Benetton in recent visits to Treviso it was perhaps predictable – and even understandable – that Franco Smith’s debut ended in disaster on Friday evening.

The South African noted a lack of minutes in the legs but what’s less understandable is just why Glasgow were so inadequately prepared for the start of the new season.

Yes, two of their friendlies fell down against Worcester Warriors and Ulster.

But that only prompts the rather obvious question of why they had only arranged two matches in the first place?

As ever in rugby, the explanation seems to be “because it’s always been that way”.


The number of people who turned up to watch St Mirren beat Celtic 2-0. The Paisley outfit were criticised for offering only one side of the ground to the Old Firm clubs this season – and there were plenty of empty seats in the home sections – but if it softens the atmosphere made by the away fans and they end up taking full points, more will come to future games.