Fri, Jul
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COMING to the Edinburgh Fringe this year is a theatrical adaptation of the Odd Couple. And coming to the SPL this afternoon, to run for an entire season, is football's equivalent, starring John Hughes and Russell Latapy.

It is an intriguing prospect: Hughes the big, bruising centre-half as manager, or enforcer, and Latapy, twinkle-toed genius and cheeky assistant, playing off each other in the Falkirk dressing room.

"He's good for me," says Hughes. "I've been known to fly off the handle every now and again, but Russell's got that wee smiley face as if to say, maybe that's what was needed - a smile or a few words."

There has always been more to Latapy than has met the eye, or ended up in the tabloids. He recalls that two summers ago he had a choice. He could return to his former home in Portugal, go back to the beaches of Trinidad, or sign for homeless, First Division Falkirk.

The prospect of sitting on a beach, admits Latapy, "was not a bad option", but after being approached by his old Hibs team-mate Hughes, he chose "to get involved with a programme like Falkirk", which is an interesting and very telling description of what might be called the Falkirk project.

It has involved abortive bids for promotion, including through the courts, the flight from Brockville and a season spent on the road, before the re-birth, a year ago, in a new community stadium.

Latapy, now 37, has been involved in the project since the transitional year in Stenhousemuir, and he was a key factor in last season's success, proving himself still capable of such dazzling skill that it would often appear the team revolved entirely around him. The season ended with him being voted First Division player of the year, and this one starts with him in a new role as a first-team coach for Falkirk's return to the SPL after a ten-year absence.

"He had an outstanding season," says Hughes, his voice rising, "and what annoys me is that at times I really don't think people appreciate exactly what they're watching. He's a genius, an absolute genius."

As a coach, Latapy, whose commitment is underlined by his imminent move to Falkirk from Glasgow, has new responsibilities this season, but he'd rather not be referred to as one of the club's "senior players".

"I enjoy bringing along the younger players, but you never enjoy being a senior player. I think in life, as in football, anything you want you have to work hard for, and the older you get, the harder it becomes."

Hughes' only concern, bizarrely, seems to be that Latapy takes his coaching duties too seriously. "It's important he doesn't get too caught up in it all, because it takes a lot out of you and he'll need to make sure he's getting his rest as well."

Both mention Inverness Caledonian Thistle - their opponents this afternoon - as the blueprint for SPL survival. Hughes, who has signed 19-year-old Irish midfielder Stephen O'Donnell on loan from Arsenal, says that he'd be happy to finish 11th at the end of the season. Latapy flashes a smile and admits this is not what the manager is saying behind closed doors.

Otherwise, the odd couple are on-message. "I've nothing to prove," says Latapy. "I just want to make a positive contribution to this club; I'll work as hard as I can and if I'm called upon to play I'll do my best."