Category: Scotland



Russian outfit Tom Tomsk have completed the signing of former Scotland international Garry O’Connor on a 2-year deal. The 29-year-old, who narrowly avoided jail last month, had been a free agent after his contract with Hibernian had expired on 1 June.

Beginning his career with Hibs in 2000, O’Connor left six years later for Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Despite making 33 appearances in his one-year spell, and scoring the winner in the 2007 Russian Cup final, O’Connor struggled to settle in his new surroundings, and cited family reasons as a major part of his decision to leave the club in June 2007.

O’Connor scored a massive own goal in being caught taking drugs in 2011

It comes as something of a surprise, then, that the former Birmingham striker has chosen to return to Russia after winding down his contract with Hibs, who finished second-bottom in the SPL in 2011 – especially as a number of British clubs were rumoured to be interested in O’Connor.

The change of scenery could be part of a bid to escape an ugly situation at home: O’Connor was arrested in May 2011 after being spotted snorting cocaine in the back of a car. Attempts to mislead officers by giving a false name hilariously backfired – claiming to be “Mr. Johnstone”, O’Connor’s cover was blown when he failed to spell the name correctly: he managed a mightily impressive “J…O…S..” before cutting his losses and attempting to outrun officers.

Although he escaped a prison sentence in June 2012 – instead being ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work – O’Connor may well feel he has to leave the country to resurrect his threatened career. Prior to rejoining Hibs in 2011, O’Connor had failed to reach double figures for any one club for 5 years, with unimpressive spells in England at Birmingham City and Barnsley.

The 16-cap Scotland international, only forced into international retirement by his off-field antics, will become only the fifth foreign player in Tom Tomsk’s largely homegrown squad. The financially-troubled club were only spared bankruptcy in 2009 thanks to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s cojoling of local businesses, and were relegated in 2011-12 after finishing second-bottom of the 16-team top-flight.

With Tom Tomsk having sold top-scorer Pavel Golyshev, the pressure will be on O’Connor to grab the goals that earn promotion next season. Incredibly, the club’s current goal-shy forwards have scored just one goal for Tomsk between the five them in a combined 55 league outings.

Unsurprisingly, the Belo-Zelyonye were the Russian Premier League’s lowest scorers in 2011-12, netting just 19 times in 30 games in the season’s first stage and recording a measly 30 goals in 44 matches overall.

 

Image: http://thesoccerroom.com

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Everton have completed the signing of Rangers forward Steven Naismith on a free transfer, with the Scot becoming the club’s first signing this summer.

The 25-year-old was one of a number of Gers players looking to leave the Glasweigan giants following the club’s extensive financial problems, which has led to an attempt to transfer all player contracts to Charles Green’s newco. Naismith’s transfer – coming just days after fellow forward Kyle Lafferty’s departure to Swiss side FC Sion – became inevitable, with several Premier League teams keen to secure his services.

As well as Everton’s interest, fellow top-flight sides Stoke City, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic are believed to have made contact with the former Kilmarnock forward, but Everton’s Scottish contingent, combined with having finished in the highest league position of the four clubs in 2011-12, is thought to have clinched the deal for the Toffees.

Everton fans will hope Naismith’s previous partnership with Jelavic will benefit their club

Manager David Moyes, a former Celtic and Dunfermline player himself, inherited a squad containing a number of Scottish players upon taking charge at Goodison in 2002, including Duncan Ferguson, David Weir, Gary Naysmith and Scott Gemmill. The club’s backroom staff also has a distinctly Scottish feel to it, with Moyes’ first-team coach Jimmy Lumsden, academy manager Alan Irvine and reserve team player-coach David Weir all hailing from north of the border.

Naismith with also link up with former Rangers team-mate Nikica Jelavic, who has made a terrific start to his Everton career: the Croat has netted 9 times in just 13 league games since joining in January, and Blues’ fans will be hoping the pair can rekindle their goalscoring partnership developed at Ibrox.

With Scottish international Naismith – who has played for his country from the age of 19 – being ruled out for much of the season due after damaging cruciate knee ligaments against Aberdeen in October, Everton unsurprisingly ran a series of thorough medicals before completing the deal.

Manager Moyes was clearly happy to have got his man, calling Naismith “an established international who can play in a number of positions. He has a flexibility we always like in our players and which will hopefully prove to be very useful for us.” Although primarily a forward, Naismith can also play behind the main striker or on the wing, a versatility likely to be key in Everton’s traditionally small squads.

The player himself was also pleased to have escaped Rangers’ nightmare preparations for the 2012-13 season – including just 13 players turning up for pre-season training – and to have joined a Premier League club. He told Everton’s website: “It is a great honour to be joining a club of Everton’s wonderful history and to have the chance to play with such a talented group of players in the world’s best league: the Barclays Premier League, in front of such a passionate group of fans”.

With Jelavic playing up front on his own for many of his games for the club, it remains to be seen whether Naismith will be thrust straight into Everton’s starting XI or used as an impact substitute as opposition defenders begin to tire, with his pace being used to get in behind defences or threaten from the wing.

Everton fans will also be hoping to secure the signature of popular playmaker Steven Pienaar, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at the club last season. Although contracted to Tottenham Hotspur, the Toffees will hope the London club’s new manager Andre Villas-Boas will be willing to allow the South African captain to rejoin Everton on a season-long loan for 2012-13.

Image: http://www.zimbio.com


Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty has completed the unusual transfer of leaving the Scottish Premier League for FC Sion of Switzerland’s top flight. The move comes following the forward’s belief that he is available for a free transfer due to Rangers’ severe financial woes.

Having joined the Gers from Burnley in 2008, Lafferty achieved a goalscoring rate of almost one goal in every three league games during his 4-year stay at Ibrox. He has also won 31 caps for Northern Ireland, scoring against the likes of Sweden and Poland, and it is clear that Sion are looking to bolster a threadbare forward line which contains just two other strikers over the age of 23.

Sion will hope Lafferty’s international experience can fire them to Swiss Super League glory

Ironically, in leaving penniless Rangers, Lafferty is joining a club that has been similarly scandal-ridden in recent years. Convicted of fielding ineligible players on 12 occasions last season, Sion were deducted 36 points – a figure that turned them from Swiss Super League championship contenders to a team desperately battling against relegation.

In the end, the Stade Tourbillon side only escaped the clutches of the Swiss second division thanks to fellow SSL club Neuchatel Xamax being expelled after going bankrupt in January. Sion still had to overcome a relegation play-off with Challenge League runners-up FC Aarau, which was won 3-1, but Lafferty is by no means joining a club free from controversy.

Having declined to stay at Rangers under Charles Green’s newco, Lafferty and Sion considered the Enniskillen-born forward a free man – something the Glasweigan giants unsurprisingly disagree with. However, Sion chairman Christian Constantin has refused to stump up for Lafferty’s services, saying “I am not surprised to hear that Rangers want some money [for Lafferty]. I’m aware of the problems facing them but there are no problems for me with these players – they are free. There is no contract for the players, there will be no problem with FIFA.”

Although Lafferty is currently the only British player on Sion’s books, he could well be joined by Northern Ireland and ex-Rangers team-mate Steven Davis, who has similarly opted to leave Ibrox. Reports suggest a transfer to Sion is on the cards, but with Premier League side Liverpool also thought to be interested in the midfielder, it is far from a done deal: indeed, as Davis himself has said, ““I am 27 and need to be playing at the highest possible level.” That appears to imply a move to Anfield is the more likely scenario, as the Swiss Super League’s decline in recent years means it is ranked thirteenth in Europe by UEFA, below the likes of Ukraine and Denmark’s top flights.

Having spent all of his previous career at British clubs, it will be interesting to see how Lafferty fares for Sion in the 2012-13 Swiss Super League, set to begin next season. Unusual transfers such as this inevitably transpire to be a huge success or a colossal mistake.

Image: http://www.premiershipticketsonline.com

Easton Heads South


Torquay United have completed the signing of Scottish midfielder Craig Easton, following the 33-year-old’s successful two-week trial at Plainmoor at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Easton had been a free agent after being released by Scottish First Division outfit Dunfermline in January, as the side headed towards relegation from the SPL. While the player is relieved to be hooked up with a new club, Torquay manager Martin Ling similarly pleased to have boosted his midfield options, as the transfer saga surrounding United playmaker Eunan O’Kane’s possible transfer to Crawley Town continues.

However, Ling has stressed that Easton has not be signed as a direct replacement for O’Kane: “I don’t see him as a replacement for Eunan. I’m looking for two centre midfielders if Eunan goes, and hopefully one will be Craig”, the former Cambridge boss revealed on Monday.

Easton playing against Bideford in a reserve fixture last season

Easton had previously played under Ling at Leyton Orient between 2005 and 2007, a past link that has played a large part in the Scot signing for Torquay. Says Ling: “He was a massive part of my successful time at Orient… he was a mainstay in my centre midfield. He was nigh on Player of the Season [in 2005] and I just know that I can trust him.”

Ling’s tendency to stick with what he knows when it comes to signing new players served United well last season, as the club reached the League Two play-offs with the help of defender Brian Saah, who had previously played under Ling at both Leyton Orient and Cambridge.

Although he may find himself initially deputising for United’s midfield lynchpins of last season, Damon Lathrope and captain Lee Mansell, Easton’s impressive CV has fuelled hope that the Scot can provide increased competition in a midfield that virtually picked itself in 2011-12. Craig has taken in spells at Dundee United, where he spent 8 years, and Livingston in his home country, and has experience playing at English clubs Swindon and Southend, as well as earning 22 caps for the Scottish under-21 side between 1998 and 2001.

The man himself was clearly pleased to have won the security of another professional contract under a manager he knows well, taking to his Twitter account to say “Thanks to everyone for the kind messages [about] signing for Torquay. Can’t wait to get involved, bring on the new season!”.

Craig had captained Southend prior to his departure in 2011

Unusually for a footballer, Easton runs his own blog at http://eastonblog.wordpress.com/, covering both football and music. Born in Bellshill, Scotland – the same birthplace as Sir Matt Busby and Ally McCoist – Easton is a sports journalism student, planning ahead for a career after retirement from professional football.

An eventful pre-season has already seen Plainmoor’s revolving door fully put to use, with Ling releasing defenders Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Ed Palmer and Kenyan international Taiwo Atieno, as well as signing Ryan Jarvis and Nathan Craig on permanent deals, following the pair’s temporary stays last season. Midfielders Chris McPhee and Lloyd Macklin have both been transfer-listed, while goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik has joined Championship side Peterborough for £300,000.

Images: Easton vs Bideford – http://www.torquayunited.com; Easton playing for Southend – http://news.bbcimg.co.uk