Forget the wounded animal, Barcelona from another planet

We all knew Barcelona would be hurting after their defeat to Deportivo Alavés at the weekend, that they would come out with all guns blazing on Tuesday night ready to prove a point. And prove a point they certainly did.

There has been a lot of talk the past couple of days about the embarrassment of Tuesday night’s drubbing. Some harsh words have been said regarding our place amongst Europe’s elite. Frankly though, there is no hiding from the facts, and Tuesday’s performance, if not the scoreline, was certainly embarrassing.

The biggest point of disappointment was the amateur defending (in all areas of the park) which led to Barcelona’s goals. Having faced Barca numerous times over the past few years we knew what to expect coming into this game. The problem was that this Barcelona side, led by the MSN front three, was like nothing we have ever faced before.

The way we let our hosts stroll past us though was appalling; by the midway stage of the 2nd half Barca didn’t have to be anywhere near their best to cut through Celtic’s defence.

The biggest concern, as has been pointed out by many in the media, continues to be the mentality of the Celtic side. Barcelona didn’t beat us 7-0 because of their brilliance, they beat us by 7 because we were in awe of their brilliance.

Simply put the players looked lost; mesmerised by the ability and technique on display in front of them.

I predicted Cristian Gamboa would come into the side to complete a back 5, and if I’m honest I was quite happy to see this pre-match, feeling this would create a narrow 3 in the middle of defence; with Tierney and Gamboa adding additional protection in the wide areas. This was not the case. 

The obvious risk was in throwing a player into the biggest game of the season for their debut (think Jo Inge Berget in Warsaw), a player who hasn’t started a competitive club match since February. 

Gamboa making his first appearance for his new club at the Camp Nou was a big mistake. As was the formation of 5 at the back.

A 3-5-2/5-3-2 could work for us in Europe. If, and it’s a big if, we had the midfield for it. Three central defenders who stay tight to each other, flanked by full backs willing to get up and down the park throughout the match can work. What they need is a strong, competitive, and composed midfield in front of them. Scott Brown was unlucky on Tuesday, he appeared to be playing in midfield on his own and was the one player willing to try and put his foot on the ball to make things happen. For the formation to work we needed two central players alongside Brown. Central players who were willing to press the Barcelona midfield high when they dictated possession. In Nir Bitton we certainly do not have a central player willing, or capable, to play the pressing game. 

The disappointment of not completing the signing of a “marquee” central midfield was justified on Tuesday night. Besides Nir Bitton and Scott Brown our only central midfield (not central attacking midfield) players are academy graduates Henderson and McGregor. We simply don’t have the personnel in the middle of the park to have pulled off this formation – though perhaps the aforementioned, or the more attacking minded Stuart Armstrong or Tom Rogic, would have been more effective than Bitton.

Out wide we never stood a chance. Isolated and starved of possession it was a big ask for our wingers to contribute to the match. Scott Sinclair, however, showed plenty of promise in the early stages of the game, driving at the Barcelona defence at every (rare) opportunity. One positive from Tuesday night was that while Scott didn’t see anywhere near enough of the ball (along with his teammates), he did indicate he has the talent to compete at this level, provided we have the correct set up.

It has been said in some quarters that we have to accept the reality of modern football, that we simply cannot compete with the big guns; while in others it has been stated that Celtic should never accept defeat as a formality. Both are true. We cannot compete with Barcelona, it is as simple as that. But we can perform with the mindset that we are their match. That we will fight for every ball and not stand back and simply admire their ability. This Barcelona team is potentially the best I’ve ever seen. Let them play us off the park, show them the respect they deserve after the game, but during it treat them as our equal.

Changing the mentality amongst the squad at Celtic Park was never going to be an overnight fix. It’s one factor in a wider, long term project to lift ourselves on the European stage. Even then, we won’t be able to match the likes of Barcelona, but we will be able to compete for the ball and have belief in ourselves when we do regain possession. It’s a cliche in football for a manager of an underdog to bemoan the ease in which they allowed the favourite to dictate a game. But that cliche is precisely the feeling after Tuesday night – we had to do more to make Barca break sweat; to force them to be at their scintillating best. 

The best way to describe our performance in the second half was that of shock. Simple 5 yard passes became an impossible task. It would have been like watching children facing a side of uncompromising adults – only we never displayed such energy or belief.

There is no shame in losing to the best, not even in being anhialated by them. The disappointment lies in the inability to handle the occasion. In effectively throwing in the towel, taking a step back, and applauding the opponent off the park.

Tuesday will have hurt the players; defeat is one thing, but records have now been broken for all the wrong reasons. The squad must learn from Tuesday and ensure they never have that feeling again. Losing is acceptable, despondency is not.

If we’re not up to the task mentally we could see more records broken over the next few months.

Barcelona may be from another planet to us, but Tuesday should be the last free ride.

Beware the wounded animal

After an embarrassing defeat a team will always focus all their attentions into bouncing straight back. The newly promoted side’s performance shocked everyone at the weekend. And an animal is at its most dangerous when it has been hurt.

I am, of course, referring to Barcelona’s shock defeat at home to Deportivo Alavés on Saturday evening. They will be out to make a statement on Tuesday night and remind the world how good they really are. For Barcelona to suffer a shock defeat at home is rare enough, for it to happen twice in a week is unheard of. The impossible task may have just got that bit harder.

With global superstars Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi likely to return to the Barca side we face up to the most gifted attacking trio in world football (with Neymar completing the trident).

Off the back of a quite sensational start to the season ourselves, and a 5 goal rout of our own newly promoted neighbours, we couldn’t be in a better place to face our most difficult task (apart from the injury to Griffiths).

Brendan knows the job at hand tomorrow. His detailed analysis of football has been a standout attribute of his early Celtic reign; clearly studying how the opposition play and identifying their weakest areas. He’ll have a game plan and the players will each know their role. Perform both to perfection and maybe, just maybe, we could nick something.

Following our horror show in Israel our defensive frailties were brought to the fore. We stumbled our way through the majority of the match, but once Erik Eviatchenko was introduced to complete a back 5 we saw out the dying stages with relative comfort (although it felt anything but that at the time).

Christian Gamboa could be in line for the debut of his life tomorrow night. I expect Lustig to tuck inside to complete a narrow back 3, with Gamboa and Tierney’s pace put to the test as the rampaging Barca full backs push on. For me, James Forrest is the man to miss out. While his pace could provide us with an outlet to relieve pressure I feel the importance of maintaining possession when possible is vital to any hopes we have. Tom Rogic is the man for this; with Sinclair off Dembele completing our attack. (Forrest on to exploit any tired legs late on).

Not many give us a hope in hell tomorrow night. I don’t give us a hope in hell tomorrow night. But this is the Champions League. It’s where we want to be. Let’s enjoy it.

Beware the wounded animal, and you never know.

Havin’ a Party in the Champions League

Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Mönchengladbach… Gulp

We wanted to mix it with the big boys, and we’ve certainly got our wish.

For the fourth time in our last five Champions League campaigns we’ve been drawn against FC Barcelona in Europe’s elite competition.

Alongside our familiar foes we face up to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and fellow Play-Off victors Borussia Mönchengladbach. 

We couldn’t have been dealt a tougher draw, but are we there just to make up the numbers? Of course not. 

Right now I don’t anticipate Celtic picking about a point in Group C, never mind enough to qualify. But we all know what happens once the campaign starts; once Celtic Park begins to rock on a European night. No matter who we face, when matchday comes around at Paradise we all begin to believe again. 

The biggest cause of this misplaced optimism? Simply, because it’s true. On those most special nights at Celtic Park we can beat anyone. Yes, “can” is the operative word here, but however unlikely, our past experiences are enough to make us dream.

Realistically, it will be a mammoth task for Celtic to compete in Group C. We’re expected to end the campaign bottom of  the pile, probably by most, without ammasing a single point on the board, but having craved Champions League football for the past two seasons, we are now returning to dine at the top table, and we’re here to cause the greatest of upsets.

In Barcelona we face the greatest player on the planet, the greatest attacking force on on the planet, and quite possibly the greatest footballing side on the planet.

In Manchester City we face possibly the greatest manager in the game, a revitalised squad filled with top class talent, and a forward in Sergio Aguero whose rare talent is one of a few to claim to be a match for the Barcelona front line.

How about the 3rd seeds in our group? Surely there’s cause for hope here? 24 hours on from our nerve shredder in Israel, Borussia Mönchengladbach were cruising past Young Boys in their own Play-Off fixture, winning the tie 9-2 on aggregate.

There really are no easy ties here.

But four years on from ITV’s infamous “Bye, bye Celtic” tweet (as we drew Barcelona, Benfica, and Spartak Moscow in the Champions League group stages.) Could we have the last laugh again? Could lightening strike twice?

With just under a week to get our squad in shape before the transfer window closes, it’s essential we now bring in some proven quality, especially in the middle of the park. On Tuesday night I wrote how we now have the manager, the draw of Champions League football, and the money to make a statement signing. Well, now we can 6 glamour ties to the list to entice a star name to Paradise.

Do we have a chance of progressing through to the last 16? Nope. Do we have a chance of dropping into the Europa? Not really. Is it going to stop us dreaming when the games come around? Certainly not.

One things for sure; we’re having a party in the Champions League, and it already feels great.

And breathe, we’re in the Champions League

After possibly the longest 90 minutes in our recent history we are back in the Champions League, scraping past Hapoel Be’er Sheva by the skin of our teeth.

Whether down to a lack of ability, a lack of nerve, or a combination of the two, certain players highlighted tonight that they are not cut out for this level. But on a night of celebration I’m not going to name names, besides, anyone who watched the game – no doubt from behind the couch at times – will have witnessed this for themselves.

All that matters now, is that we’ve qualified.

On Thursday afternoon Celtic’s name will be in the Champions League group stage draw for the first time in 3 years, and doesn’t that just feel great.

Champions League’s nights are returning to Celtic Park, and by the end of the week we will know which of Europe’s top clubs will be paying a visit to Paradise.

The estimated £20m+ windfall which we will now receive is a game changer as we enter the final week of the transfer window. We know that Brendan Rodgers is on the look out for at least one player, and tonight’s match will have reinforced his belief of our need for a European class central midfielder.

We now have the manager, the draw of Champions League football, and the money to make a statement signing.

Enjoy this week Bhoys and Ghirls, I get a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Oh what a night

When it comes to making the trip up to Paradise there’s always a few things to consider: how will I get up there?  How much will it cost? Will I be able to get a match ticket? (These are the perks of being born in London – simply getting to a game is a challenge).


Ultimately though, only the third question is ever important.

As soon as I’d confirmed my tickets for last night’s match I felt unusually optimistic considering we were playing in a Champions League Play Off fixture – that’s what a couple of good performances does to you.

The first half last night was magnificent. While Hapoel Be’er Sheva impressed me with their ability on the ball; especially their forwards’ hold up play, we were utterly dominant – racing into a 3-goal lead at the break.

In life I believe it’s always important to hold your hands up and admit when you are wrong, but as a blogger you have no choice in the matter: once your written words have been proven incorrect there is no hiding place, and I must admit that when we first signed Leigh Griffiths I had doubts about his attitude and character. Boy was I wrong. 

Since the minute Leigh stepped through the front doors at Celtic Park he has done everything in his power to become the best player he can be. And it has certainly paid dividends. His free kick was a great strike, but it was the natural instinct to hold his run, sprint onto Forrest’s hung up cross and attack the ball and plant his header into the bottom corner for his first goal which impressed me most last night. It was a classy finish and highlighted his understanding and reading of the game.

At 3-0 up we went into half time bouncing, with the Holy Grail of the Champions League group stages in our sights.

15 minutes into the second half and it appeared the nightmare of Malmo was going to repeat itself. As soon as the first Hapoel goal went in I’d imagine everyone inside Celtic Park was also anticipating the second. The difference, this year, was the reaction thereon in.

Two counter attacking goals could have crushed us. The reaction after the first goal was poor; we looked shellshocked. But once the second was scored there was an indication that we weren’t going to let this slip again.

Looking across to the bench it was clear that Brendan Rodgers understood the situation following Hapoel’s resurgence. 

Could we go through after a 3-2 victory at home? Yes, we could. But I certainly wouldn’t feel confident about it. 

Brendan recognised the need to increase our lead, he wasn’t happy to sit back, and with Hapoel looking confident he made the changes which turned the tie back in our favour. 

Lustig appeared to be struggling with injury and the pace of Hapoel’s left winger; McGregor could no longer keep up with the end-to-end nature of the game; and Tom Rogic, while fantastic on the ball, was the man to be the sacrificed in order to bring on an extra forward. The introduction of Janko, Bitton, and Dembele made clear our intentions.

With Rogic off the park, Griffiths took over corner kick duty, and didn’t you just know he would deliver. From behind the goal I had no idea who planted the header into the back of the net for our 4th. O’Connell? Bitton? Dembele? I really couldn’t have cared less, I was leaping for joy as Paradise erupted.

A 2-goal lead to take abroad was a good result, but with Hapoel having 2 away goals to their name and now sitting deep, it was vital we restore our 3-goal advantage.

As Man Of The Match, Scott Brown, volleyed home the fifth there was sheer elation amongst the supporters. 

On a night which Brown became our leading ever performer in Europe, in terms of appearances made, it was fitting that he sealed the win, especially given his performance. 

Broony was tremendous throughout. The captain was a general on the park; a driving force at times but also a calm & composed presence in slowing the pace of the game down when required. 

As the final whistle blew it was evident we had witnessed a quite magnificent game of football, and with it, a fantastic result to build on next week in our quest for Champions League football.

The players and coaching staff deserve enormous praise for their performance last night, and so too do the support. 

The noise generated to drive the team on was deafening at times, and while some are entitled to believe that politics and football should not mix, I, amongst many others, was delighted by the show of solidarity to Palestine which eminated from our stands. As “a club like no other” some things go beyond the football, despite UEFA “warnings”.

While I’m still nervous going into next week’s return leg (the nature of supporting Celtic away in Europe), we’ve got a great result to take with us to Israel. Let’s finish the job, Celtic.

Pace, Power and Pressing

With four days to go until our most important game of the season against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the excitement is building amongst the Celtic support.

This week, for the first time in Brendan Rodgers short reign so far, we witnessed first hand the style of football that Brendan wants to bring to the club. The pace at which Wednesday night’s victory over Motherwell was played at was relentless, with the visitors unable to cope with our wave after wave of attack.

Throughout the summer it had become clear that Brendan Rodgers had identified Scott Sinclair as his number one target, and while I initially held some reservations over the transfer due to Scott’s lack of football over the past four seasons, it has only taken one week for Scott to prove any doubters wrong. His performance on Wednesday was electrifying. Driving forward with pace and skill every time he gained possession of the ball. 

Scott Sinclair lit the city of Swansea up during his spell there, and now back playing under a manager who knows his game inside out, and who has full confidence in his ability, he looks set to do the same in Scotland.

The increase in tempo and movement off the ball against Motherwell allowed Tom Rogic to find pockets of space in front of the opposition defence and dictate our attacking play.

After a tough start at the club, Moussa Dembele looked fresh and energetic, no doubt aided by the confidence booster of his winning penalty the week previous, and the often criticised (and quite rightly so) James Forrest impressed again under the new regime. (Though unlike Sinclair, it’s going to take more than one good week for me to be convinced that James has recovered his form from his early Celtic career).

With Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts to return to the fray, our attack now looks in place to deploy the fast paced, high pressing game we’ve been trying to achieve for the past two seasons.

Our players look fitter, more focused, and more determined than in previous years. 

While it is very much still early days under Brendan’s reign the buzz has certainly returned to Paradise, and I for one can’t wait for Wednesday’s game.

See you all there.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

I am delighted with the result last night. While the match did nothing to help blood pressure levels, it was great to see late goals in each half, and the players showing a desire to keep fighting until the final whistle.

However, with the dust now settled on the game, it is clear that we are once again leaving ourselves at a massive risk of missing out on Champions League football for a 3rd successive season.

Since the last time we successfully negotiated the qualifying route in 2013 we have been reactive in our transfer activity (and in fact including the 2013 summer transfer window). Entering our most important games of the season with perhaps one or two new faces, but on the whole a bloated squad lacking the true quality which could help guide us through tricky ties.

This summer has been no different. I’m happy with the new signings we have made, very happy in fact. Anyone who saw Kolo Toure’s performances towards the end of his Liverpool career will know he still has the quality to make a big impact on our often fragile defence. And while Moussa Dembele may have struggled in his earliest performances in a Celtic shirt, I was delighted by his skill on the ball, movement and link up play with Griffiths in creating the last minute penalty. And even more so by his composure to bury it in the corner for his first goal for the club under intense pressure.

These two signings though are not enough. It is clear to see that we lack quality in creating chances, and still struggle to break sides down. Be it in the form of a central playmaker, or a winger with an ability to deliver a cross, it is an area we certainly need to strengthen.

The Scott Sinclair saga has dragged on for the whole summer and has become as embarrassing as it is frustrating. Now, I’m not certain Sinclair is the answer to our problems, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it is clear that having worked with him in the Chelsea youth set up, and in his successful Swansea side, Brendan Rodgers has identified Sinclair as one of his key targets. 

Should we be held to ransom by a recently relegated club who reportedly only paid £2.5m for the player last summer? Of course not. However, there should have been an outcome by now. Either we have been able to compromise a fee or we move on to another target. Again, it strikes me as we have waited to see how we can get by with what we have, before dipping into our pockets on a new player. (Remember, bar compensation fees, we once again haven’t spent a single penny this summer).

Last nights performance was one of dominance, we created a few good goalscoring chances, but on the whole we struggled to break Astana down. Paddy Roberts had a quiet opening spell on the wing, and once he went off injured we didn’t appear to have a creative spark in the side. Paddy’s start to the season has been fantastic, but it is vital we don’t become completely reliant on a player who will be leaving us this time next year.

The draw for the play off round is made tomorrow and while I’m desperate for the easiest tie possible (if there is such thing). I am also fearful that a draw against one of the lower ranked sides (namely Dundalk) will lead to the club resting on their laurels once again in terms of our playing squad.

The culture of reactivity rather than proactivity throughout the club needs to change. Rodgers is doing his best to change this mentality on the park, it is now time those off it gave him the support he needs.

We have under two weeks until the first tie of the play off, and it is likely our squad will need to be submitted a week today in order to be registered for the ties.

Time to do some business Celtic.

“Take a chance” please Brendan

No words need to be spoken about Tuesday’s defeat. Whether you saw the game or not, you know how dire it was. 

As long as we turn up like a half-decent professional football side next week we should be in a position to look back and laugh at the defeat in Gibraltar. However, turning up as a half-decent professional football side is not something we have been particularly capable of recently.

Besides, perhaps “laugh” is not the right word in the context of our defeat this week. Certainly, if we fail to progress through the tie next week I will not find it remotely a laughing matter. It will be inexplicable.

The only positive to come out of Tuesday’s match is that those not up to the task have been identified directly to Brendan Rodgers. While Gerry down the pub could have told you months ago; Brendan has now seen with his own eyes who he cannot trust. To begin with, Ambrose, Brown, and Bitton, should be nowhere near the team next week.

My biggest regret with Ronny Deila was his insistence on playing “experienced players” who had previously let him down. Unlike some, I do not believe boardroom influences affected Ronny’s team selections. Their influences came elsewhere. However, Ronny’s continual use of Brown, Bitton, and Johansen (etc) through poor form and fitness, highlighted his fear of failure. When things got tough he felt he needed to rely on their experience to pull him through. Their consistent failure, in my eyes, cost him his job.

As the manager at Liverpool who brought Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher’s Anfield careers to an end, I have hope that talent, fitness and hard work, as opposed to personalities and experience, determine Brendan’s decision making as a boss.

It’s almost unnecessary to say, but Ambrose should never pull on a Celtic shirt again. Likeable a guy as he appears to be, Efe cannot be trusted no matter the opposition. Ambrose, alongside Nir Bitton, should be sold to any bidder. With the current injury situation I would like to see Kristoffer Ajer in Ambrose’s place. He may be just a kid, and new to the club, but sandwiched between the experience of Mikael Lustig and the impressive Erik Sviatchenko, I believe he has enough ability to stroll through next week’s game.

Scott Brown is a different case. If he is accepting of a behind-the-scenes role, with limited game time against weaker opposition, I wouldn’t be opposed to keeping him at the club as captain. He does a lot of work with the youth teams, and while at times the joker of the pack, he appears to have a good influence on squad harmony. Over the years Brown has provided some great individual moments, and some good seasons as the tempo setter of the side with his energetic displays.Unfortunately for Broony his injuries appear to have finally got the better of him. And more often than not he is now a detriment to the side with his limited technical ability.

Another player I would take out of the firing line next week (if Brendan persists with his preferred 4-2-3-1/4-3-3) is Moussa Dembele. Having just turned 20 this week and arrived with a glowing reputation I have no doubts that Dembele will be a great signing. However, for now, it is vital that our main man, and at times sole goal threat, Leigh Griffiths, is playing through the centre where he can hurt teams.

The team I’d like to see next week, dependant on formation, would be:

4-2-3-1/4-3-3:

Gordon; Lustig, Ajer, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Armstrong, McGregor; Roberts, Rogic, Christie; Griffiths

4-4-2:

Gordon; Lustig, Ajer, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Roberts, Armstrong, McGregor, Rogic; Griffiths, Dembele

These teams may be very attack orientated, and while most people say you need to have a balanced side, I do not buy that argument when your “defensive” midfield players are incapable of tackling or passing the ball. If you want to play an energetic, fast paced style of football, you need energetic footballers. 

Some of the players I have mentioned have not had a glittering Celtic career to date, but they have also yet to fail against a semi-professional side. At times in these early rounds we look for excuses regarding how quickly the games appear upon us (having had only a few weeks of training to prepare). On the other hand, Lincoln Red Imps players got on with their day jobs, left work early, and turned up on the day to compete.

We’re playing a team who are, mainly, part-timers. It’s time we “took a chance” rather than relying on players who have consistently let us down.

Nothing Has Changed

Okay, so that’s not entirely true, in some respects, everything has changed. Yesterday I sulked in bed until late afternoon. I came on here to vent some of my frustrations about the way things were going at Celtic, and I was generally in a foul mood for the rest of the day. The day, but not the night. As soon as I saw the rumours circulating on twitter about the possibility that Legia Warsaw had fielded an ineligible player on Wednesday night my mood began to lift. Could we be about to benefit from another Sion? A few drinks in the pub later (I’m allowed to still pretend to be a student for a while yet) and I headed to bed giddy as an excited child on Christmas Eve.

The confirmation that we have been reinstated into the Champions League has left me on cloud nine since the news broke this morning. I even woke up at 9am in anticipation. Anyone else who’s unemployed, or who has been at some point in their life, will understand just how much of an achievement it is to wake up at that ungodly hour.

Since I’ve started my decline back down to earth I have began to realise that, regarding where we are as a club, nothing has changed. But we have been given a huge chance. A lifeline to save our season. We are now guaranteed to play at least Europa League football this year, provided Legia aren’t successful in their appeal. Because of this we will raise a minimum of €3,400,000 in prize money from UEFA (€2,100,000 for UCL Play-Off & €1,300,000 for UEL Group Stage). Make the Champions League proper and you can add another €8,600,000 to that sum. Win or lose against Maribor, there will be three more European games at Celtic Park this season, which too means more cash for the club.

To the great surprise of, well, nobody, it is widely being reported tonight that we have accepted a £10m bid from Southampton for Fraser Forster. After all the fans frustrations recently, the guarantee of more UEFA prize money, the incoming cash from Forster’s sale, and the humiliation we suffered at the hands of Legia Warsaw, even us, Celtic, will now surely make some signings before we face Maribor. I believe we have until 11pm on Wednesday night to register players for the next phase. I expect (well hope) that it’ll be a busy weekend for Ronny Deila and Peter Lawell. I cannot claim to be an expert on Maribor, in fact, I’ll admit I haven’t got the slightest clue about them. My only brief knowledge is that they provided me and every other Celtic fan with great amusement when they dumped Rangers out of Europe in 2011. However, if they do the same to us in the coming weeks it’ll be no laughing matter. It doesn’t matter how good or bad a side they are, if we play how we did in our two games against Legia then being dumped out of the Champions League is exactly what will happen to us.

The footballing Ghods have given Celtic a fantastic opportunity. We have five days to strengthen the squad for Maribor. We have twelve to be ready for the first leg. Our challenge has been set. Improve the team, get them prepared properly for the play-offs, and qualify for the Champions League. Do this and it’s not only our season that has been saved, but potentially Ronny Deila and Peter Lawell’s futures at Celtic. You cannot make the same mistakes over and over again without suffering the consequences. If we go out to Maribor without making any significant signings somebody will have to pay the price and I don’t think it’ll be Deila’s head the fans will call for. This time Celtic please, please, learn from your mistakes. We couldn’t have asked for better luck today. Let’s not let this chance slip again.

… The Morning After

I always planned on spending Thursday 7th August like this; lying in bed until 1pm, feeling like death, and having no motivation to get up and see the day. What I had hoped though, was that this onset of immobility was going to have been caused by an unforgiving hangover suffered due to Celtic’s magnificent comeback against Legia Warsaw last night. I had hoped. However, I’d known that this would be the reality. No hangover, no stories of a party last night, just feeling fed up. I’m not even upset really. The inevitability of last night took away any feeling of surprise or disappointment.

Celtic set out with a “business plan” a few years back, which for a short while looked like it may work. However, for two years now we’ve been declining at an incredibly fast rate. The sale of Aiden McGeady, alongside numerous other squad members, allowed Neil Lennon to shape his new look Celtic after the disastrous Tony Mowbray reign. Slightly more than £16m was brought in through player sales, with just over £10m being spent on fresh young talent such as Gary Hooper, Emilio Izaguirre, Beram Kayal and Anthony Stokes. The most expensive acquisition of the summer transfer window was Efrain Juarez who had impressed at the 2010 World Cup and shone in his first couple of performances before disappearing into the abyss (Nando’s) with the likes of Marc Crosas and Jos Hooiveld. Although Juarez turned out to be a flop, the clearance of deadwood in the Celtic squad together with the money brought in for McGeady meant the £3m (approx.) spent on him was not too big a blow. Celtic may not have won the league that season but it could be argued that we played our best football of Neil Lennon’s spell in charge during that year, and had it not been for one penalty miss at Ibrox, or an awful display up at Inverness, we would have been rightful champions.

One year on, and from a position of strength, we retained all our star players. Again, deadwood was shafted out, freeing up wages, but the key men in Neil Lennon’s plans remained. As well as keeping our stars we managed to bring in three key signings: Adam Matthews, Kelvin Wilson and Victor Wanyama for under £1m (plus the free transfer of Mikael Lustig in January). While we started the season poorly, we cemented our place at the top of the SPL with a 1-0 win over Rangers in late December and never looked back. Celtic’s business plan appeared to be working. We had made a profit in player sales since the beginning of the 2010 summer transfer window and revamped our squad with young, hungry, talented players.

The summer of 2012 was when the warning signs started to show. After winning the league we faced the Champions League qualifiers, although the squad was beginning to gel, most fans felt the need for one or two new recruits to boost our chances of qualification. Our only signing before Champions League qualification had been achieved though, was to be Fraser Forster for £2m, a key player, but one who had been on loan for the previous two seasons so brought no new qualities to the team. Before we had finalised our second signing of the summer, Efe Ambrose for £1.5m, we had made over £8m in player sales. The majority of that was through the transfer of Ki Sung-Yeung to Swansea. After performing magnificently in Europe, famously defeating Barcelona, as well as finishing second in Group G with a record 10 points, we should have been looking to push on as a club. With the cash brought in through player sales plus the money made from the Champions League campaign (a reported £23m) there was no need to downsize in the summer of 2013, yet that is exactly what we did.

When a player wants to leave a football club I agree that you should sell them. A sulking footballer is the last thing we need at Celtic. Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Kelvin Wilson all wanted to move on last summer. They were sold for big money. £20.5m was made through the sales of those three players alone. In their place we signed Amido Balde, Virgil van Dijk, Steven Mouyokolo and Derk Boerrigter for a combined £5.4m. I do not like to write a player off before he has made an appearance for the club, but after watching videos of him play Amido Balde never looked capable of leading Celtic’s front line, Derk Boerrigter came with a reputation as a sicknote, and Steven Mouyokolo had played a mere 8 games in the previous three years because of his injury problems. In the 2013/14 campaign Balde and Boerrigter managed 4 league goals between them and Mouyokolo made an impressive 2 appearances before repturing his Achilles. These were not signings along the lines of our “business plan” from the previous years. They weren’t even gambles, they had never threatened to succeed. Virgil van Dijk on the other hand fitted the bill perfectly. A 22 year old technical centre-half who had been voted into the Eiredivisie team of the year and was hungry to cement a place in Holland’s World Cup squad.

The biggest problem with last summer was not only who we signed, but after making over £20m in player sales and £23m from Champions League revenue, we had sold the spine of our team, and only replaced one of them with a player who ever looked capable of performing for Celtic. The board took a massive risk by not replacing Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper. It was a gamble that very nearly didn’t pay off. A 2-0 defeat to Shakther Karagandy left us on the brink of exiting the Champions League, only for a special performance in the return leg to save our season. The board appeared to believe that this meant their transfer method had worked. They were wrong. More last minute signings in Nir Biton and Teemu Pukki (combined £2.1m) were supposed to appease the fans worries. We were outclassed in the Champions League. The loss of Wilson, Wanyama and Hooper showed as we crashed out of Europe finishing bottom of the group.

The worst was still to come. With no European football post-Christmas the club refused to offer Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley new deals. Ledley was then sold to Crystal Palace, stating he had wanted to stay (the fact his twitter profile picture is still him holding the Scottish Cup leads me to believe his claims), while Samaras was released at the end of the season. Georgios Samaras could be an infuriating player over the years, but he was one who cared. One who in Europe seemed to turn up more than most. Since the brilliant European campaign of 2012/13, Kelvin Wilson, Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley, Ki Sung-Yeung, Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper have all left Celtic. Only one was replaced sufficiently. Even though the performances were poor we made £17,566,000 from the Champions League last season (official UEFA stats). We had barely scraped into the competition against a team I’m certain 90% of our fans had never heard of and had been humiliated in the group stage. But we had qualified, just.

This summer we signed Craig Gordon for free (who hasn’t played a competitive game for over 2 years), and Jo Inge Berget on loan two days before the away game against Legia. We were never going to qualify for the Champions League this summer. Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray and Neil Lennon all failed in their first European qualifying campaigns at the club, yet none of them had had to attempt qualification with a downsized squad without being given a penny to spend on bringing in the players they had wanted. The stupidity of the powers that be at Celtic angers me. They appear to believe we can lose key players each season, qualify for the Champions League, then bring in one or two signings on the cheap to brush over any concerns. Well congratulations. By not backing the new manager in any way, you have lost us the potential £20m that comes with playing in the Champions League. We all know that money is all the board care about, yet by not strengthening the team they have cost us that potential windfall. Ronny Deila never had a chance this year (in terms of Champions League). That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes, he’s made a lot. His team selection and tactics have been baffling at times. As I said the other day, we needed to play a system the players were used to until they grew to understand his style of play. We did not. Ronny stuck with his 4-3-3 and the players looked like strangers. They were bad decisions, but he has had no help. From the minute he stepped in the door to be told his assistant manager would be John Collins it was clear that he does not have the say on important decisions at the club. It is no wonder Neil Lennon left. I wasn’t surprised when it happened and after the summer we’ve had so far I am even less so now. As a club we have gone from a platform that we could (and should) have built from, one where we aimed to replicate teams like Ajax and Benfica (who sell perhaps one star player each year and REINVEST the money to improve their whole squad), to a standard where I now believe the Europa League is beyond us.

It could be a long year ahead but we need to give Ronny time. He has been given no support from the club. If he is we will see what he’s all about. He may not be ready to manage a club as big as Celtic, and the ego’s in the dressing room that go with it, but until now he has been given no chance. There are rumours abound about unhappy players who already don’t want to work under him. Quite frankly that is shameful on the players part. Forster and van Dijk will inevitably now leave, perhaps big Virgil will stay for one more year, but let’s wait and judge the manager until we have seen who he brings in for himself. As far as I’m concerned the people controlling the purse strings at the club are the ones to blame for this seasons failure. And that’s what it is. We are barely into August but the campaign is already a failure. We have gone from a side capable of performing in the Champions League, to a side who were outclassed in the Champions League, to a side humiliated in the Champions League qualifiers in consecutive seasons. It’s not good enough. The day Rangers went into liquidation was the day we should have built a squad capable of dominating the SPL for years to come and begin to progress (no matter how slowly) in Europe. I haven’t mentioned Rangers demise until now because to me it is insignificant. It is an excuse. We would never have gone the way they did. The money we have brought in in the past couple of seasons through the Champions League has far outweighed the loss of TV revenue and ticket sales that not having Rangers in our top flight has led to. Money was there to be spent and it would not have threatened our financial situation one bit. Spending a little may well have earned us a lot this year. As is the reality we are now left to await our Europa League play-off draw tomorrow at noon and I cannot say I’m feeling confident.