The Kris Boyd Question

The interview over, I followed her out of the room, asking as I went, “Is everyone in Edinburgh English?” “Yes,” she replied, “But it’s different in Glasgow.” A Central Belt of two halves, then, and the Kris Boyd affair is another that splits neatly down the middle.

Boyd’s always known his own mind. When he joined Rangers from Kilmarnock, he gave up half of his signing-on fee to the benefit of the Killie’s youth scheme that had brought him to prominence. At Rangers, he came out for Barry Ferguson against Paul Le Guen. There’s passionate feeling there, and loyalty, and not a little courage.

Talent, too: he has always scored goals, and he’s the first Scottish player to be top scorer for two clubs in the same season.

With all that in mind, it doesn’t take much to imagine his feelings on being overlooked in favour of Chris Iwelumo. Iwelumo played well enough, in my view, to justify his place on the Scotland bench, but international football is made for the preternaturally confident, the feisty sorts, and I’d have liked to see Boyd start up front next to James McFadden.

Boyd must surely wonder if it’s worth his while sitting on the bench and pretending, against his better nature, to agree with George Burley that that’s where he should be. But here’s the other side of the coin: George Burley, and no one could have watched his press conference yesterday without feeling a surge of pride:

There is no part of me that can understand his decision to quit international football. When you’re picked for a squad, it’s an honour. As a player, I went to World Cups and didn’t play a game. So you’re disappointed, but it’s your country we’re talking about. (..) When you’re born and bred in the country and you turn your back on it, it’s impossible to understand. (..) Kris Boyd wasn’t showing me enough to convince me that he should be on the field. I know he will have his supporters and that I won’t be everyone’s favourite, but I’m the one whose job it is to make judgments and stand by them. I’ve earned this job and I will make the decisions. (..) Reputations in the past don’t count. It’s not what you did three months or six months ago that count, but what you’re doing now. If past reputations counted, Kenny Dalglish would still be playing for Scotland. (..) I’ve been to see Rangers in big matches, such as Celtic and Hibs this season, the Uefa Cup final in May, and I haven’t seen Kris Boyd. Walter Smith at Rangers is, in my opinion, one of the best managers in Britain and over the past year or so, Boyd hasn’t been a regular. That tells you there’s maybe something that’s not right. There are things he has to work on, he has to get his act together and establish himself with Rangers. (..) Of course, it’s a loss, in the sense that you want him to push on with his club and with his country. You want him coming along and saying, ‘I’m going to be the main man, I’m going to do enough to show I should be the first pick’. (..) I think Scottish fans want people to show the character you need to play for Scotland, no matter what. I think he’s shown a lack of respect for this country and for myself. As I’ve said, it’s not about me or Kris Boyd or any individual, it’s about the country as a whole and trying to make sure you don’t let people down. I’ve also heard people say that Kris Boyd had nothing to prove. Hey, we all have something to prove.

There is here a trace of the Rangers v Scotland problem, largely a myth born of sectarianism..

But Burley’s right. Selection for your country is about more than your career and it’s about more than just sport. It’s about the honour of being chosen as a representative and ambassador for everyone you share your nationhood with, wherever they are in the world. It’s about taking pride in who your countrymen are and giving justice to that pride in your conduct of yourself.

Because of my birth, I could play for either England or Scotland. It won’t happen, of course. Like everyone else, as I grow older I move from identifying with the players to identifying with the managers. In time, I’ll have to start identifying with the owners. And later, with the touchline ashes and the flowers tied to the gates of the grounds.

If it did happen, I’d find at least a hundred ways to make a complete fool of myself, but I’d definitely do it. The idea of not turning up wouldn’t occur to me. I imagine it’s the same for most people reading this.

So where does Boyd stand in relation to the other refuseniks? What about Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher?

It would be stupid and heartless to accuse either Scholes or Carragher of letting anyone down. Do many people think that they have? Carragher’s situation is more or less identical to Boyd’s: he has no desire to be a bit-part international, waiting forever for Terry, or Ferdinand, or Cole or the rest to break legs. At the time of Carragher’s decision, England were in their post-Ericksson death spiral, which is only beginning to flatten out now. In that context, perhaps refusal to play is the opposite of betraying or insulting the country: it’s patriotism through dissent.

Scholes felt that his body wasn’t up to both club and international football. In this sense, it’s probably significant that both he and Carragher were 29 when they made their decisions. 29 is far from over the hill, these days, but both had unfinished club business. Carragher still does, as witness his telling Gerrard that winning the title with Liverpool would mean a thousand times more to him than winning it with Chelsea.

Kris Boyd is 25 years and two months old. Patriotism through dissent? I think so. But the man he’s dissenting with is a true patriot. Both Boyd and Burley are saying, in their own way, that Scotland matters, to a degree that England fans might envy and wish to see in their own players. But this is where such patriotism can sometimes lead – to the palpable weakening of the Scotland squad at a crucial part of the qualifying campaign.

But surely, the lesson here can’t be that when the going gets tough, the rich primadonnas get going? Can it?

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4 responses to “The Kris Boyd Question

  1. I think it’s difficult in a way for most of us to understand the dynamics of the situation. After all, no-one is going to call me up to perform my job in an international competition, representing England…

    Still, I have strong opinions, perhaps because if I’d had cricket talent (note I have no talent) my Dad might have wanted me to play for India, but I would have chosen England…

    Carragher I have no sympathy with. Threw his toys out of the pram when he realised that he was in fact, not quite the top of the talent tree in England defending. If every player took that approach you’d never have a subs bench. Hard to see it as other than letting your country down. It’s a team game and sometimes you have to sit on the bench. Should Ray Clemence have refused to play for England once it looked like Shilton was first choice?

    Scholes I have more sympathy with, because I think his physical condition was a bigger factor. As big an honour as playing for your country is, I can’t in good conscience ask someone to put their livelihood in jeopardy for it.

    If we’re talking dissent, then one has to mention Roy Keane. Here the question really starts to bite. After all I’m just that kind of person who finds it very hard to stand by and do nothing when things are being done wrong. So I too might have “resigned” from working for a management team who I believed were messing things up.
    [And let’s be clear, a calculated humiliation of your boss is pretty much a signed letter of resignation.]

    And yet… you can’t help but wonder… given how far Ireland got that year without him, the penalties and the way the draw went, with him they might have achieved their best ever result. And was it really honouring your country to deny that possibility?

    So to return to Boyd… I feel that he’s in the Carragher category. Toys from the pram. Let’s put it this way… how would the world react if Michael Owen, tomorrow, said he was retiring from international football? Would he be seen as a patriot?

    Of course, emotions run high because of THAT MISS by Iwelumo… but Iwelumo was good enough to get to the right place at the right time. And Bremner made a big miss too, back in the day.

    If you’re a “patriot” then your duty is to be available to play – barring true matters of conscience. As noted, I’m in two minds whether Roy Keane had good grounds for his decision, it seems to me Boyd has no good grounds at all for his.

  2. As I’ve said on my own blog, if he isn’t starting regularly for Rangers (which the stats do not back up) why is he called up to the squad? Not playing for Rangers is enough to get you on the bench but not into the team? Come off it.

    This idea that it nearly paid off… well, if my aunty had bollocks she’d be my uncle. It didn’t pay off. Burley backed a horse and the horse fell at the simplest fence imaginable.

    I don’t buy this ”my country right or wrong” stuff. Carra was treated abysmally by England. He’d had an awesome season and was then dropped behind Ledley King who had barely played that year… It wasn’t that he was 2nd choice or 3rd choice, it became clear that he was only ever going to be chosen as a sub. Why bother?

  3. Interesting. On the Scholes point I’d also say that I’m not sure international football ever suited Scholes- I’m not sure I would play for England either. I think its partly a matter of the pressure cooker that playing for England is- Scholes has always- unlike Beckham- preferred the cosier atmosphere of Old Trafford (can you imagine him playing anywhere else apart from Oldham), I think psychology plays a bigger part than we give it credit for in that I don’t think Scholes by the end was enjoying England.

  4. And yet… you can’t help but wonder… given how far Ireland got that year without him, the penalties and the way the draw went, with him they might have achieved their best ever result. And was it really honouring your country to deny that possibility?

    I think the fact that Ireland went so far in that competition was proof enough that Keane’s criticism of the management was without merit.