Kris Boyd, the SPL’s all-time leading goal scorer, cut a frustrated figure at the final whistle of Portland’s recent MLS Regular Season defeat to Chivas USA. In the 21 games he’s represented the Rose City, he’s scored 7 goals. A return nowhere near the heights he hit at the now defunct Glasgow Rangers. He burst onto the scene as the archetypical Scottish number 9, bustling, vociferous and with a seemingly innate ability to find the back of the net in any which way. The poacher Boyd was ‘Gers response to the cultured Henrik Larsson.
The story of his first season at Portland seems to have been touched by the same fickle finger of fate that marred his “big” move to England, and then Turkey. Fellow Scot, John Spencer (yes, that ex-Chelsea striker), was relieved of managerial duties due to philosophical differences with the owner. In reality, that translates to a poor run of form that left Portland loitering around the bottom of the Western Conference, without a win (and only 2 goals) on the road.
What happened to the man who once banged 5 goals in a 7-1 defeat of Dundee United to break Henrik Larsson’s SPL scoring record? Does the much derided top tier of Scottish Football fail to match up in quality compared to the MLS or the English Championship? Or simply, do old-school poachers fail to resonate in a modern day game built around assuming the individual holds pure athletic ability?
Rangers took Kris Boyd from Kilmarnock on January 1st 2006, for £400k (Boyd waving half of his £40k signing-on fee, giving it back to the Killie Youth Setup). A paltry sum, given the 22 year old had already bagged a healthy 63 goals in 153 games, as well as equalling the SPL record of 5 goals in one game. Boyd had Scottish Football on the tip of his big toe. The move to Rangers only built on Boyd’s momentum, seeing him score a debut hat-trick in the 5-0 Scottish Cup win against Peterhead. Boyd continued his perfect opening season at Ibrox, finishing as top scorer for both Kilmarnock (17 goals) and Rangers (20) – a unique feat in itself – and taking the European Golden Boot.
Boyd’s Rangers career continued in the ascendancy, finishing top scorer in every season he played for them. During his time there, he was accountable for 35% of all Rangers’ goals. He won 2 SPL titles, 2 Scottish cups and 2 Scottish League cups. Not even a public spat with then Scotland manager George Burley prevented Boyd from banging them in. We were afforded a brief glimpse into the psyche of Boyd when he furiously withdrew himself from any further Burley-lead squads after being left on the bench during a drab 0-0 draw with Norway. A war of words ensued, Burley hinting that Boyd’s priorities were skewed, stating “They come in, stay at five-star hotels, in this day and age they have massive wages. How much do you care? You don’t need to like everybody. This is your country.”
In the lead-up to the 2010/11 season, Newcastle United, Birmingham City and even Celtic (as if) were linked with the now free-agent. None of the moves materialised, the £30k a week wages proving a stumbling block. With Middlesbrough still trying to chuck bags of money at their relegation woes, ex-Celtic man Gordon Strachan took Boyd to Teesside.
The move to ‘Boro never worked out. Fans bemoaned his work-rate, and when he didn’t score, his inability to affect the game in anyway. Only scoring 6 goals in 27 games, he’d gone from head above the clouds of Glasgow, to wading through the smog of the Tees Valley. Beginning what seems to be an unbreakable cycle, Gordon Strachan was shown the door three and a half months after signing him. Austerity measures were brought in by cash-strapped owner Steve Gibson, headed by a less than affectionate Tony Mowbray. Six months and 3 goals later, Boyd was farmed out to Championship rivals Nottingham Forest
Under another Scot, Billy Davies, Boyd’s form picked up at the City Ground. Scoring 6 goals in 9 games, he helped propel Forest into the Championship Playoff Semi-Final loss to eventual promotion winners, Swansea City. Unfortunately for Boyd, Davies’ was sacked following the loss, and his preferred move to Nottingham never happened. With Mowbray actively slashing Boro’s bloated wage-bill, Boyd’s £30k bubble was the first to burst. However “mutual” both parties declared the deal to be, one thing was certain, Boyd’s much anticipated move to England had failed.
His wages were upped to a reported £40k in what seemed like a perfect move to Turkey and Eskişehirspor. Away from the cross-armed English critics expecting the Scottish “legend” to fail, and the weight of flying the SPL flag under the ever-watching glare of the Scottish media, the move to Turkey was meant to be a new start.
Signed by Bulent Uygun, within a matter of weeks, the curse had struck again. His manager was carted off in a Police van charged with match-fixing. German Michael Skibbe was appointed new manager, and he promptly let Boyd know he preferred to deploy a lone striker. Unfortunately for Boyd, that lone striker was someone else. Boyd was accused of taking his sizeable wages for granted, this time by the club Owner. His stay in Turkey was short-lived after that. Angry words were exchanged, wages left unpaid, contracts were ripped up.
After being linked with moves back to (both halves of) Glasgow and England, we move into the present. Boyd signed with Major League Soccer, turning down a contract with Houston Dynamo to link-up with fellow Scot and feisty ex-center forward, John Spencer in Portland. A new start in a league that has extended and reinvigorated the careers of strikers such as Juan Pablo Angel and John Spencer himself, seemed like a perfect match. Unveiled as one of Portland’s Designated Players (MLS clubs are only allowed 3 players on a salary of over $4k per week), Boyd joined the ranks of fellow DP’s David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Landon Donovan. Since he’s joined the league, more designated players have joined, Boyd now rubbing shoulders with Marco Di Vaio at Montreal, Tim Cahill at New York Red Bulls, and compatriots Kenny Miller and Barry Robson at Vancouver Whitecaps.
Yet again, the lightning struck. The man who brought Kris Boyd in was sacked. Four times has Boyd heard the eerie ring of the managerial death knell. Even towards the end of Spencer’s tenure, Boyd’s body language has been that of a frustrated man, low on confidence. Particularly in the 1-0 away loss to Chivas USA, Portland attempted 25 crosses, only 3 of them successful, Boyd only having 1 shot all game – a wayward shot off target.
What can you attribute to Boyd’s fall from grace? Walter Smith opened up the debate on Boyd’s post-Glasgow career:“He is one of those boys who will be your top goal scorer in a good team. But the team has to support him a great deal of the time” claimed Smith not long after his Eskişehirspor contract came to an abrupt end. “That’s what we did at Rangers. The better the level of team he plays for, the more he will get the opportunity to score goals and I think that some of those teams find it hard to have someone who is solely a goal scorer. Rangers made enough chances for him.” Smith appreciates Boyd’s talent for finding the net, that’s evident. However, in his final year at Rangers, Boyd was frequently left out of the starting XI; Nacho Novo and Kenny Miller the preferred partnership. In the Champions League, Boyd only started 2 games that season. He felt aggrieved. Understandable to some, no less the Ibrox faithful, why would Smith leave out the SPL’s record goal scorer and darling of Ibrox? Boyd felt his strong CV would give him opportunities at bigger clubs in leagues held in higher esteem. Based on statistical evidence, this assumption wasn’t just created by an over-inflated ego.
What Boyd didn’t take into consideration was firstly, the exchange rate on his SPL currency. Yes, he scored a shed-load in the league, but he never proved he could score at European level – a level that can be used to show the real value of a player. Secondly, he didn’t foresee the expectations his future clubs would have on his style of play. Boyd is an old-fashioned poacher, who was incorrectly utilised at the tip of a 4-5-1 formation. A position that his main beneficiary, Walter Smith, was (rightly) reluctant to play him. He didn’t play him in European games because he knew that Rangers would be up against (on the main) superior opposition, opposition that would require hard-working, involved strikers, able to drop deep when required or even fall into the wide channels. Walter Smith saw that Boyd was a limited striker, not the free-scoring all-encompassing forward that Boro’, and to some extent, Portland think he is.
Look at someone like Andy Cole, a fantastic player in his pomp, but he was an in-box striker who played (as Smith said about Boyd) “better in a better team”. He was largely unknown at Arsenal; showed flashes of potential at Bristol City, and was devastating in Kevin Keegan’s team quick, counter-attacking Newcastle. Cole, however, built his career around the time spent at Manchester United, racking up an impressive 1 goal every 2 games ratio. His goals were largely in the box, and although he did possess speed, it was often his ability to get around the back of defenders that yielded best results. These chances were created by the brilliant Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Yorke, Sheringham and Beckham. At the age of 30, his career tailed off after leaving Man Utd. Albeit a couple of years older than Boyd, too much was expected of him at lesser clubs, the quality of service was not as tailored as Sir Alex would’ve have stitched, and his goal scoring ability duly subsided.
It’s difficult to say whether or not Kris Boyd can emulate the types of success he saw in Scotland. He’s still only 28, and for a striker, he should be hitting his peak. What he had at Rangers was the same sort of adulation Andy Carroll received at Newcastle United, and to some extent, Fernando Torres’ initial years at Liverpool. Not only does this boost a player’s performance, but that sort of fan pressure usually forces the manager’s hand in building play around that focal point. Much like the aforementioned, who have both subsequently struggled after moving to different teams and different systems.
Boyd and Portland (currently sitting as worst team in the MLS) are in danger of missing a trick. They both need goals, which Boyd can deliver. It’ll only happen if they recognise that he doesn’t have the legs of Robbie Keane, he’s won’t get the service afforded to (ex-Fulham, now Seattle) Eddie Johnson, and he doesn’t have the all-round talent of Thierry Henry. However, if his current club recognise his natural ability to score, and mould a system around him, a career can be resurrected Domestically and Internationally. Let’s just hope his new manager can see that.