Removing the emotion and looking to the future

Yesterday was awful. A flat performance and an opportunity to open up a 10 point gap at the top of the league blown. Celtic were subdued creatively, and quite frankly never looked like getting the winner against Aberdeen.

After the shock upheaval in the dark of the night almost two weeks ago, it seemed like sheer desire and adrenaline drove us on through two incredibly tricky fixtures in Edinburgh, giving the entire club a much needed boost after what must have been a distressing 48 hours for the players and staff.

Following those victories over Hearts & Hibs there have been many calls, both within the media and amongst elements of the support, to give Neil Lennon the job beyond the summer. After all, actions speak louder than words and Lenny has shown time and again that he truly cares about the club in a way that only a genuine supporter understands. His passion for Celtic is unquestionable.

Yesterday’s match, however, has perhaps induced a sense of clarity upon some supporters concerning the club’s requirements for the future. And a backlash against Neil Lennon has followed.

The performance reflected the turgid displays often on show during Lennon’s final season in charge first time around, and whilst there have been no drastic changes to personnel and shape over the previous three games, a couple of the manager’s decisions yesterday were questionable; namely the introduction of the slight-of-frame Johnston at half time when it appeared the physicality and organisation of Aberdeen’s defence was proving our greatest hurdle. Hindsight, as always, is a wonderful thing though, and it was refreshing to see Lennon being proactive at the interval following such a pedestrian first forty-five.

The key decision over the direction of our club though must not be made off the back of any individual result, it must be an informed, thought-out, and thorough one. Cries for an immediate appointment to be made should be ignored. For the remainder of the 2018/19 campaign we have our man for the job. The board should be congratulated (there’s a first for everything on here) for acting so swiftly in this regard, ensuring some stability at a time of potential turmoil. However, the appointment of our next permanent manager must not be a reactionary decision. Just as Neil Lennon is no less suitable to becoming the next permanent Celtic manager today than he was yesterday morning, he did not become any more suitable following those two victories in the capital.

Whilst many consider these next few months as an audition for Lennon similarly to back in 2010, the powers that be must look beyond a potential treble treble as the determining factor over who gets the role.

To coin a phrase from the king of the hollow motto Celtic must ‘remove the emotion’ from their next selection process.

In 2010, Neil Lennon took over a club in crisis and, just as he promised, brought the thunder back to paradise. Today’s circumstances are in stark contrast. Although the abruptness of Rodgers et al.’s departures had the potential to derail our season, we have been a club progressing on an upward trajectory over the past two and a half years.

In spite of all his now-evident human flaws, predominately it transpiring that he is in actual fact a rat, Brendan Rodgers is a fantastic football coach and was an incredible manager for Celtic.

It was not just the clean sweep of domestic honours that deserved acclaim, but most significantly the transformation of the behind-the-scenes culture which allowed for such unprecedented success.

Last week Neil Lennon discussed the evolution he’s observed at Celtic since he left almost five years ago, in terms of the make-up of the club; the support staff, the technology available, the analysis conducted, and the overall organisation and professionalism deployed throughout the club.

Although our previous manager attempted to rip out this entire infrastructure and take every member of our backroom staff with him down to Leicester, as well as leaving our playing squad in a need of serious re-investment this summer, it is clear from Lennon’s comments that the culture instilled by Rodgers is still very much in place at Lennoxtown.

These are the foundations we must look to build upon if we have serious ambitions of improving not just domestically but also in European football.

Ten in a row may be the holy grail for every supporter but to truly develop as a club we cannot rip up the manual and start from scratch every time a manager follows their dream to the Midlands. Continuity and stability in our style and application are fundamental going forward.

Last week Ajax inspired every supporter of a big club outside the commercial leagues to dream big again in European football, with their victory over Real Madrid providing a rare reminder that money does not always guarantee success. But such victory does not happen by chance. Ajax have a clearly defined structure which allows for fluidity in their style of play regardless of any change at management level. This continuity does not necessarily translate to certain on-field triumph, with Ajax having failed to win the Eredivisie since 2014, however it has allowed the club to preserve their identity in a way not possible if each new manager attempts to implement their own ethos at a club.

Further examples can be seen throughout European football. The Red Bull Salzburg side who swarmed over and cut through Celtic at pace in Glasgow back in 2014 were no different to the side who did likewise a few months ago despite experiencing four managerial changes since, and having just two players remain from, their initial visit.

Even amongst the upper echelons of the money leagues the desire to instil a lasting working model can be recognised. Borussia Dortmund, for example, have maintained an enduring style of play and business plan throughout the last decade, attempting to replace both players & managers with likeminded successors. While Manchester City, with their (entirely legitimate – nothing to see here) bottomless pit of cash, appointed former Barcelona Directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to their board in 2012 in an attempt to replicate the FCB blueprint, heavily investing in the City academy alongside the first team squad, and ultimately enticing Pep Guardiola to Manchester.

Having listened to the recent discussion on the 90 Minute Cynic regarding the future structure at Celtic, with Christian Wulff championing the implementation of a Director of Football/Technical Director to oversee all footballing matters, it must be noted that all of the aforementioned clubs, as is commonplace on the continent, work under this model. Ajax have had former heroes Edwin van der Sar, now CEO, and Marc Overmars (Technical Director) ensuring the Johan Cruyff mantra is adhered to since 2012; Manchester City have the previously discussed former Barcelona duo at the reins; Gerard Houllier has been the Head of Global Football for the Red Bull Group since 2012; and, Michael Zorc has held the position of Director of Football at Dortmund for an incredible twenty years following his retirement as a player in 1998.

This has allowed each of these clubs to develop their identity and maintain a stable ideology in spite of managerial changes and mass player sales. The difficulty for Celtic adopting this model is less to do with the culture of British football, as is often cited, but more the problematic task of discovering a suitable and capable candidate, particularly alongside our Chief Executive who frequently appears to believe he is befitting of the role.

Whether our next manager is given full-scale background control as Rodgers initially appeared to have, or we see the introduction of a Technical Director at boardroom level to oversee all footballing matters, the most decisive factor in our next appointment must be concerning continuity.

You need only look a few hundred miles south of Celtic Park for examples of clubs who have not considered long-term planning in their hunt for immediate success. At Manchester United, David Moyes was always going to face an impossible task in replacing Alex Ferguson, however his decision to dispose of Ferguson’s entire backroom staff upon his arrival meant the writing was on the wall for him before he had even stepped foot in the door. The appointments of Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, and their contradictory styles of play, that followed, along with the continual influx of expensive players with no evident plan of how to use them, exhibited that there was no forward thinking concerning the future of Manchester United after Ferguson. Only now, having attempted to replicate their previous model with the return of Ferguson’s disciples Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan, do Manchester United seem to be moving forward following their demise over the past six years.

Head a little further south to the capital, and Chelsea represent a club whose short term desire for success has prevented them from maintaining an enduring position at the top of European football. For a club who have won every major honour available to them over the past decade, it is incomprehensible to see them so regularly follow up championship winning campaigns with a disastrous title defence the subsequent year. From Mourinho to Scolari, Ancelotti to Villas-Boas, and Conte to Sarri it is evident that there has been no blueprint to adhere to concerning the ideology of the club.

Whilst it may be hard to argue against Chelsea’s methodology considering their incredible success throughout the Abramovich reign, it is not a route I wish to see Celtic ever go down, nor is it one which could ever realistically be viable without the ludicrous sums on offer across the “big” leagues.

For clubs who cannot dominate the rich-list table off the pitch, developing a lasting infrastructure appears the only way to compete on it. We may have a considerable rebuilding job ahead of us this summer, but if Neil Lennon can guide us to our eighth title in a row we must finally learn from the lessons of the past and look to build from our position of strength.

From a romantic point of view I would love Neil Lennon to lead us forward, bookending a historic 10 in a row, however taking the emotion out of it I do not believe he is the best man for the job. This is not a criticism of Lennon’s capabilities, he has proven at both Celtic and Hibernian that he is a very good football manager; albeit a manager who deploys a contrasting approach to the one who preceded him. This was highlighted with Lennon’s admission that replacing Rodgers is also a learning curve for himself as he adjusts to the new expectations of the role, namely the increased number of meetings required throughout the club.

Perhaps, and in an ideal scenario, Neil Lennon will prove capable of adapting to fit this mould, however an ideology and style of management is not something which can easily be altered overnight and if Celtic have aspirations to transition as seamlessly as possible this summer then they must either look to bring in a manager who works in the same meticulous manner as the man who recently vacated, or be prepared to make significant structural changes to the framework of the club.

The foundations that Rodgers implemented at Celtic Park just about remain, if the board harbour ambitions to emulate the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and AFC Ajax in European football then the business model must go beyond simply signing young players to later sell on for a significant profit. They must look to build upon the past two and a half years and develop a lasting identity and culture ingrained into the fabrics of the club. Only in this way will we see longevity in our progress.

Now is not the time to tear up the manual, however, it is the time to earn your bonus Mr Lawwell.

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Once the facade is dropped, true colours shine through

When managers arrive at Celtic Football Club they nigh-on always deliver the same clichéd sound bites to the press regarding the size of our “massive club”, our “magnificent history” in the game, and of course, our “incredible fans”, who are regarded as “the best” or “one of the best” sets of supporters in world football (depending on how well they stick to the script).

These are usually spouted during the incumbent manager’s opening press conference, and whilst they are widely acknowledged as simply a buzzword checklist, they are welcomed as an indicator that the incoming coach at least understands the minimum of who Celtic are as a club.

This is what has come to be expected of incoming Celtic managers. No less, but certainly no more.

Our recently departed manager arrived in the East End of Glasgow with a different agenda. Sailing in on an all-engulfing sense of euphoria (myself very much included), Rodgers set about ensuring everybody in Scotland was aware of just how much of a “Celtic man” he was as he stood before thousands realising his “lifelong dream” of managing the club.

Every opportunity he had over the following two & a half years, Rodgers spewed out the same gushing sentiments about how “honoured” he was to be in such position.

Many managers and players have come and gone, with varying levels of success, at Celtic Football Club. Rodgers’ domestic achievements are unprecedented. Yet he departs the recipient of unanimous animosity unlike any figure I can remember in recent history. Are we simply bitter that an undeniably great manager has left us for someone else?

Of course not. Had Rodgers seen out the season, delivering his third and Celtic’s eighth title in a row (not forgetting a potential treble treble), he would have left with everyone’s blessing and with a legacy only rivalled by a select few legends of the club.

The relationship between manager and boardroom had clearly, and very publicly, become strained since the hangovers of the double treble celebrations started to kick in last July, and had Rodgers waited and walked in the summer the current anger would have been overwhelming directed in just one place.

As it goes, the man with his own portrait hanging on the wall at home, has taken all the attention away from the powers that be and dropped the spotlight firmly upon himself. Precisely how he likes it.

Rodgers has abandoned Celtic Football Club: the staff; the supporters; and tellingly “his” players, at the most vital stage of the season. All to join a middle of the road club with nothing left to play for this campaign back down in the glitz and glamour of the English Premier League.

The speed at which the appointment was finalised, alongside the certainty of the bookmakers odds of who would take over following Puel’s departure, indicate these discussions had been ongoing for a period of time. That it was a matter of when Rodgers would replace Puel, and not if.

If yesterday evening’s reports are to be believed Leicester were even willing to wait until the summer to get their man, whereas Rodgers himself pushed for an immediate move, taking with him his coaching team as well as almost the entire backroom staff that has been built up over recent seasons at the club. John Kennedy, Stevie Woods and Tim Williamson refraining from jumping ship, against Rodgers’ wishes.

With a playing squad soon to be depleted by short term loanees returning to their parent clubs and out of contract players departing for pastures new. Rodgers has not only left Celtic in the lurch regarding our immediate future, but has also drained us of any continuity in terms of the behind-the-scenes structure which has contributed to our incredible recent success.

For a man who constantly speaks of “class” in his approach, and of always aiming to do “things the right way”, Rodgers leaves behind a legacy of destruction for the benefit of personal (financial) gain, with his achievements tarnished.

The faux-gratitude towards Celtic and his perpetual pretence of a love for the club simply doesn’t wash anymore.

Just like the perma-tan and the sparkling veneers, beneath the facade, the true colours masked by deceit, alas shine through.

The “lifelong fan” who had never stepped foot inside Celtic Park before being appointed as manager, should never be allowed back through the doors again.

Sumptuous Celtic put on a show

Last night’s performance was magnificent.

After a week of travel, a humbling defeat in Munich, and an intense encounter in the League Cup semi final, facing Aberdeen at Pittodrie could have been a daunting prospect.

The second best team in Scotland have been in terrific form this season, going to to toe with Celtic; before last night being separated only by goal difference.

On Saturday there were signs that some players needed a rest. Leigh Griffiths, Scott Sinclair & Paddy Roberts began to look particularly jaded.

Last night Brendan Rodgers, once again, got every call perfect, replacing the aforementioned attacking trio with James Forrest, Moussa Dembele & Tom Rogic, with McGregor moving slightly wider left than versus Hibs.

The movement, one touch passing, pressing, and most importantly confidence with which Celtic played was electric. Celtic had a swagger about them last night and from the opening stages the only question was how many would we win by?

If anyone with an interest in football doesn’t know who Kieran Tierney is by now they must be living under a rock. Whilst the team performance was fantastic; Tierney, Dembele & Rogic, in particular, were phenomenal. KT’s finish and inch perfect cross for Dembele’s first were exceptional. The young bhoy is living every supporters dream, and his celebration epitomises just what it means to him to pull on the Celtic jersey.

A special mention also to the much maligned Nir Bitton. Bitton strolled through the match, reading any rare Aberdeen foray forward and dictating possession from the back. I’m often very critical of Bitton and it was a joy to watch him produce such a calm and composed display last night.

61 domestic games unbeaten, top of the league, a League Cup final coming up, and currently sitting 3rd place in the Champions League behind 2 of football’s elite powerhouses.

This is how it feels to be Celtic, and just like Kieran Tierney, I’m loving every minute of it.

Dembele double sends Celtic into final but Achilles heel evident

This lunchtimes League Cup semi-final was certainly an entertaining game of football. 

The first half saw a dominant Celtic control the tempo of the match and establish a two-goal lead, without creating many clear openings, thanks to Mikael Lustig’s double.

After the break the baffling decision to award Hibs a second half penalty caused an end to end final half an hour of the game, with Moussa Dembele coming off the bench to secure the victory.

Leigh Griffiths has been in exceptional form for club & country, but having a fit & firing Dembele adds another dimension to our attack. Keeping both strikers happy will be a challenge for Brendan Rodgers, but a headache which he will relish in comparison to the dilemma of the Celtic defence.

We have three senior central defenders at the club: Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko, over the past year Jozo & Dedryck have deservedly cemented themselves as the first choice pairing. Our trouble is that all three are injury prone, and as such, susceptible to missing key matches. In January I would expect at least one new centre half brought into the club, however more than just the personnel, we have one major weakness when it comes to our defensive unit.

Disregarding our tendency in recent games against Europe’s elite to be overawed and intimidated by our opponents, especially in the opening 20 minutes, our fatal flaw is our inability to defend through balls from an inside forward position, and to track the deep runner attacking the ball.

On Wednesday night it was Kimmich & Thiago Alcantara’s turn to split our defence.

Müller may have opened the scoring but the goal came down to our inability to read and react to one of these type of passes from Kimmich. 

Our defence lines up too square on the edge of the box, with Gordon hesitant inside his six yard box, making us redundant to the dinked through ball over the heads of our centre halves. The space Robert Lewandowski was awarded all night was shocking, particularly for the first goal as nobody tracked his run.

Over the years we have seen Lionel Messi carve teams open at will with such passes. Against the best sometimes there is nothing you can do, however, we are seeing this far too frequently in Celtic matches, today’s second goal for Hibs came from Whittaker’s slipped through ball & Shaw’s unmarked deep run.

I don’t know the answer to defending these occasions, if I did I’d be in a dugout right now rather than sitting behind a keyboard, whatever the solution, we must find a way to heal our Achilles before we can begin to resist Europe’s elite.

A Saturday lunchtime stroll in the park

Sometimes when you have three important games in a week it can be necessary not to over exert yourselves in the early fixtures.

If we have ambitions of retaining all our trophies won last year, and progressing in Europe beyond Christmas, today’s visit to Ibrox was the game to reserve some energy, being bookended by the two real big fixtures.

Celtic more than did the job on Wednesday night with a four goal thrashing of Dundee in the League Cup quarter final.

Wednesday’s upcoming game at Anderlecht is massive in our battle for third place in the Champions League. Anderlecht aren’t in a great place having just sacked their manager, and are missing some key players through injury, however this is the Champions League, and Anderlecht displayed a stronger challenge away to Bayern Munich than we did at home to PSG. This is the real big one.

Cliché as it may be, today was a very professional performance. Celtic were a little wasteful in the final third, and even had a 10 minute spell when we let rangers join in our game, but on the whole the dominance Brendan Rodgers and his side have at Ibrox was there for all to see.

It may feel slightly disappointing to see the majority of the home support remain in the ground beyond the 80 minute mark, but retaining fresh legs for Wednesday was key. Plus, I’m not sure Pedro would have survived another humiliating thumping. Positives all round.

What better way to start off the weekend than with a Saturday lunchtime stroll in the park.

The almost perfect summer

As the transfer window closed last night the only disappointment from the past few months could be the lack of a new centre-half.

Under Brendan Rodgers we’ve seen numerous players individual game’s improve significantly. One such player to vastly progress, especially since the turn of the year, is Dedryck Boyata. A centre half pairing of Boyata and Simunovic is certainly not something to be dismissed, but the trouble is that all three senior centre halves (the aforementioned alongside Erik Sviatchenko) are susceptible to injuries.

In Rivaldo Coetzee we appeared to have identified our new recruit at the back, however once an injury was discovered during his medical Celtic pulled the plug. Coetzee has since, perhaps surprisingly, transferred to another club, with Ajax Cape Town throwing in a little dig at Celtic regarding their withdrawal from the transfer. 

A medical is there to identify the health of a player in all aspects, as we know from history the requirements can vary from club to club and player to player, just ask John Hartson. 

In the case of Coetzee he may feel aggrieved at not successfully completing his move to Celtic, and consider himself fit enough to play, as his new club clearly does, however with a history of injuries to all our senior defenders, withdrawing from the deal was probably the correct decision once the pre-existing condition was identified.

In midfield we’ve added real quality and potential in Olivier Ntcham.

Johnny Hayes provides back-up on either wing in place of Gary Mackay-Steven. In GMS’ time at the club, and in Hayes’ early appearances, their biggest enemies appear to be themselves when it comes to pulling on the Celtic shirt. Once Hayes believes in himself on the park he will start to show the form and ability that we saw for years at Aberdeen. He knows that he’s likely to be used as a substitute for most of the season, but if he can find his feet at the club he will be able to offer something different to our other wingers, particularly with his direct running style and ability to deliver a cross. 

Another player unlikely to see much game time arrived in the form of Kundai Benyu, a talented youngster who may eventually have to go out on loan to gain first team experience. Rodgers, however, saw enough ability in Benyu throughout the summer to keep him at the club in the short term, and it will be interesting to witness his development over the coming months.

To everyone’s delight Paddy Roberts finally returned to Celtic this week. We all know what Paddy is capable of and his return to means that all first team players have been retained from last year’s invincible squad, with possible departee Stuart Armstrong extending his contract by a year.

Our last arrival came on deadline day; Odsonne Edouard signing on a season long loan from Champions League rivals PSG. Whilst a week ago I was entirely oblivious to the name Odsonne Edouard, this signing could turn out to be a fantastic piece of business. Celtic have already agreed on a record breaking transfer fee in order to make the signing permanent should Edouard impress. As has been widely reported, the young forward was a winner of the 2015 Euro youth championships with France, scoring a hattrick in the final against Germany on his way to being awarded the golden ball crowning him as the best player, as well as receiving the golden boot as the top goalscorer.

With three of France’s most promising youth internationals in our squad at the moment we have certainly acquired prodigious talent, talent that with the right attitude and management could end up going to the very top of the game, and in Brendan Rodgers they clearly see themselves under the right management to develop that potential.

With qualification to the Champions League secrured, all first team players retained, and new signings brought in to improve the squad and starting XI; this has been the almost perfect summer.

Paddy finally comes home to Celtic

If last year’s Scott Sinclair signing seemed like a transfer saga at the time, this summer’s pursuit of Patrick Roberts has felt like the season finale of a box set blockbuster; with Paradise the setting of this particular epic.

Paddy Roberts returning to Celtic is, of course, far, far more exciting than anything TV can offer. Though with the move expected imminently throughout the past month, today’s news is met with almost as much relief as it is delight.If the reports and rumours are to be believed, the delay in concluding the transfer was caused by a mixture of Manchester City preferring the player to remain in England, or to move to Spain or France; Celtic attempting to finalise a permanent deal; and, ultimately, the two clubs negotiating upon a loan fee and Celtic’s wage contribution.

In the end the dream permanent transfer wasn’t to be, but, regardless, the outcome that the fans; the player; the club; and most importantly, Keiran Tierney, have been anxiously anticipating all summer has at last been realised.

It’s been a long time coming, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Paddy has finally come home to Celtic.