WHAT would the late, great Dundee United manager Jim McLean, God rest his soul, have made of Scottish football in the year 2024?

McLean could, as his players, opposition players, rival managers, close friends, linesmen, referees, family members, directors, supporters and BBC reporters will all readily testify, be a combustible, irascible and contrary individual at times.

How would he react if a goal was ruled offside by VAR because a video replay had shown, after an interminable wait, that the scorer’s kneecap had been a few inches ahead of a centre half’s big toe when the ball was played through to him? It does not bear thinking about.

“Wee Jim” was, no doubt about it, a visionary, a football genius, a man who was years ahead of his time.

The Herald: But would he have viewed the involvement of new technology in the decision-making process in the modern day game as a positive development? Or would he have regarded it as an abomination? It is hard to imagine him tolerating such shenanigans.

There is every chance he would, too, have taken a dim view of the 21st century trend of rotating players to ensure they are fit and sharp towards the business end of a long, hard season.

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McLean famously played just 14 players more than five times when United won the Premier Division back in the 1982/83 season. He did not see the benefit of leaving Maurice Malpas, David Narey, Richard Gough, Paul Hegarty, Eamonn Bannon, Ralph Milne, Davie Dodds and Paul Sturrock out. Ultimately, he was proved right.

That, though, was then and this is now. Every top level manager these days is acutely aware of the need to pull their key men back from the front line on occasion amid an increasingly punishing schedule of domestic, European and international matches. 

The demands which are placed on leading professionals by both their clubs and their countries are giving players’ unions across the world cause for concern. A FIFPro survey of 1,055 of their members and 92 performance experts in 2022 showed there were widespread fears about fixture congestion, travel burden and overload.

The UNFP, the main union for footballers in France, this month announced they were considering taking legal action against FIFA over the changes to the international calendar – specifically the introduction of the 32 team Club World Cup in the summer of 2025. They have described it as “insane” and claimed it is driven by a “thirst for money”.

Mercifully, in Scotland we have managers who are prepared to give their overplayed stars a much-needed break now and again.

The Herald: Brendan Rodgers at Celtic left Kyogo Furuhashi on the bench for the cinch Premiership games against Hibernian and Kilmarnock in December and started Oh Hyeon-gyu instead after the Japanese striker had struggled to perform at his usual high standard for the Parkhead club in the previous weeks.

Furuhashi has still, despite taking his tally for the 2023/24 campaign to 13 with a first half strike in the Scottish Cup win over St Mirren in Paisley on Sunday, not really got his mojo back. But would he have netted his long-range screamer in the victory against Rangers at the end of last year without getting a welcome breather a few weeks earlier?

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Rodgers, who has used no fewer than 31 players in the Premiership this term, and his Rangers counterpart Philippe Clement, whose club has played 30 men in the league in the past seven months, are both well aware that form will suffer if they ask too much of their squad members.

Yet, Clement, who won the Belgian Pro League in his homeland three years running with Genk and then Club Brugge, has proved himself to be particularly adept at mixing things up and still recording victories in important matches.

Many of the changes he has made have been enforced. He has had to grapple with a lengthy casualty list since he replaced Michael Beale in Govan back in October. The likes of Ryan Jack and Tom Lawrence are not physically capable of playing Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday at the moment.

Still, he has changed no fewer than five outfield players on more than one occasion without it having any detrimental impact on Rangers’ pursuit of silverware at home and abroad. He now has, after strengthening considerably during the January transfer window, options in every position.

He has Cyriel Dessers and Fabio Silva up front, Rabbi Matondo, Oscar Cortes, Ross McCausland and Scott Wright out wide, Todd Cantwell, Mohamed Diomande, Jack, Lawrence, John Lundstram, Nicolas Raskin and Dujon Sterling in the middle of the park, Borna Barisic and Ridvan Yilmaz at left back, James Tavernier and Sterling at right back and Leon Balogun, Ben Davies, Connor Goldson, Leon King and John Souttar at centre half. Danilo, Kieran Dowell, Kemar Roofe, Abdallah Sima are all set to return. He is not afraid to use any of them.

I am not buying in to this narrative that Celtic are in freefall and Rangers, who drew level with their city rivals on points when they beat Ross County 3-1 at Ibrox on Wednesday night, should just be handed the Premiership trophy now.

For my money, the defending champions still have the best defender (Cameron Carter-Vickers), best midfielder (Callum McGregor) and best striker (Furuhashi) in Scotland. They have, too, been comfortably the better side in the last two Old Firm games. In addition, Rodgers has been over the course before. There is still a lot of football to be played.

But could Clement’s readiness to rotate his squad give Rangers a crucial edge over Celtic during the Scottish title run-in and enable him to emulate McLean’s famous achievement come May?

The Herald: