Stuart Bathgate: United right not to sell Goodwillie to Rangers

BY THE time it concluded last midweek, the transfer of David Goodwillie from Dundee United to Blackburn had become an unusually protracted affair, taking on many of the characteristics of a soap opera, but divergng in two salient points.

First, there were far more twists and turns in its closing stages than would be deemed acceptable by any self-respecting script editor; and second, there were no clear-cut good guys and bad eggs, with the heroes and the villains of the piece differing according to the preconceptions of each observer.

Goodie was the baddie, according to some who wanted him to sign for Rangers rather than move to Lancashie. More people of that persuasion, however, preferred to blame United chairman Stephen Thompson, and Tannadice manager Peter Houston, when the striker finally opted to move to Ewood Park rather than Ibrox.

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The simple matter is that, in the end, no matter how much money Rangers offered or how many bids they put in, United chose to sell Goodwillie to Blackburn. Rangers owner Craig Whyte acknowledged that, saying: "Dundee United didn't want to sell to us, which is their prerogative."

But, while that official word from Ibrox showed respectful resignation about the way the saga had ended, others with Rangers' interests at heart did not display quite so much equanimity. Some commentators, for example, failed to see that Thompson's reluctance to do business with Rangers could be motivated by a wholly understandable desire to prevent the strengthening of an SPL rival at his own club's expense. Instead, they saw it, with predictable paranoia, as evidence of a preference for Celtic.

Similarly, United manager Houston was lambasted by some for suggesting that the goldfish bowl of Glasgow was not the best place for a player who finds it hard to lead a quiet life. Would he have said the same thing had Celtic Park been a possible destination for Goodwillie, they asked, thinking they knew the answer.

Well yes, he would. As a Glaswegian himself, Houston knows the city well, and he also knows Goodwillie well. He must be more aware than most of how the player thinks - or at times doesn't think - and he understands the kind of situation which can be problematic. He is not under the illusion that Blackburn is a Shangri-La of serenity, but it is a smaller place, and a one-club town to boot. Goodwillie can still find trouble there if he goes looking for it, but it is less likely to come looking for him.

The type of blinkered criticism directed at both Thompson and Houston, it should be said, is not peculiar to Rangers fans. Some Celtic supporters, too, see every issue in Scottish football through blue-green spectacles, interpreting each event to try to discern whether it has worked in their favour or in that of their rivals. Both groups frequently fail to understand that there can be more than two sides to every story - and, indeed, that there are more than two sides in Scottish football. To everyone else who lives outside the Old Firm bubble, Goodwillie's departure for England rather than Ibrox was a positive move not only for his own old club, but for every team with hopes of putting in a challenge to Rangers and Celtic.

It was also a very good piece of business by Thompson, who had decided some time previously how much money he wanted to get for Goodwillie, and who held his nerve when some suitors tried to get his star asset for less.

It's not the only good piece of business conducted by the club in recent months, either. When they parted company with midfielders Craig Conway, Prince Buaben and Morgaro Gomis, those departures were seen to have weakened Houston's squad, but so far at least, they have not done so. Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels suggested as much before the first match of the season. It was easy to infer then that he was only talking up his team's opening league opponents when he said they had a stronger midfield now, but that verdict has since become more plausible.

John Rankin, for instance, has been solid and dependable after being deemed surplus to needs at Hibernian, showing that a player can ail or thrive according to circumstances. And Scott Allan, to take another example, was man of the match against Hearts last Sunday on his first starting appearance for the team. United will miss Goodwillie's goals, of course, but those of us who thought they would struggle to stay in the top six this season look like being a touch wide of the mark.