“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.

The Night Before…

As I sit here as an unemployed university graduate, possessing a bank balance which has not reached the mythical figures of £0 for almost a year (does anyone know how long your student overdraft remains interest free?), I really should have plenty to worry about in life. When will I get a job? Where will I get a job? Will I EVER get a job?

In reality though there isn’t “plenty” I am worrying about. Obviously my parents won’t want to hear this, but I’m pretty satisfied waking up at midday, taking the dog for a walk before spending the afternoon sunning (burning) my pale body in the garden.

I do have one worry however. One big worry, and it’s the same big worry every Celtic fan has at the moment. That is the increasingly likely prospect of crashing out of the Champions League tomorrow night before the competition has even really begun.

Last weeks defeat to Legia Warsaw was a disaster. I don’t need go through the match in any detail as I am sure that that particular nightmare will be etched into the memory of every fan who had the misfortune of witnessing it.

Tomorrow night, on the other hand, can be discussed. The outcome of the “home” leg is monumental to Celtic’s season, and future. I will be the first to admit that, like Frank McAvennie, I had never heard of our new manager until one morning in June, when, as is my daily routine, I flicked through every Celtic related twitter account I could find to see the name Ronny Deila popping up in almost every tweet. After doing a couple of hours research of my own I had convinced myself he was the perfect fit for us. A student of the game. Not only had he worked wonders at Stromsgodset, but he had spent time at Manchester City, Ajax, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, watching their training methods in order to improve his own footballing knowledge and progress as a coach. The articles on Ronny were vast as were the comparisons to the ever popular Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp. What was not to like? The video of Ronny stripping to his pants in celebration of keeping Stromsgodset in the Norwegian top flight had me sold. Not only did I agree with his footballing philosophies, but he appeared to have a lively, charismatic personality. Something I think you need to have if you are going succeed at a club like Celtic, otherwise the pressures from the fans and the media will get on top of you. It is something Neil Lennon had. Something Tony Mowbray, unfortunately, did not. I never want to hear the phrase “We’ll take it on the chin” muttered by a Celtic manager again.

If, as I expect, we go out of the Champions League tomorrow night, Ronny Deila must ensure the players have at least left everything they have on the pitch and have given a positive, winning, display. For his own future, he needs a win tomorrow night. Not necessarily the three goal margin which will see us through (as brilliant as that would be) but a win that will lift the team and the fans, and demonstrate that his ideas for the season will improve us as a team.

Last week the players let everyone down. But at the same time some of Deila’s decisions were baffling. Starting Matthews at left back & leaving Izaguirre on the bench was surprising but throwing Berget straight into the starting XI only a day after signing for the club was truly bizarre. Not only would he barely have known any of his new teammates names and vice versa, but also it sent out a negative message to first team regulars Anthony Stokes and Leigh Griffiths who were summoned to the bench to make way for a loanee from Cardiff who had only trained with his new team that day for the first time. As I said I don’t want to go into detail about last week, for my own mental health as much as anything else. Tomorrow night, though, Ronny must get every decision correct. I believe with time he will improve us, at least in the style of football we play. At times it has been a chore watching Celtic over the last couple of years. We are by far the strongest team in the league so we should look to win in style. When Neil Lennon’s side clicked they were a joy to watch. Hopefully Ronny can have us performing like that more consistently, but he mustn’t change too much too soon. We’ve seen it before with teams like Chelsea. Andre Villas-Boas was brought in in 2011 with a growing reputation. He wanted to do everything his way immediately and the senior players who were not in his plans revolted.  Ultimately Villas-Boas was dismissed. I do not think that that is how footballers should react to change, but unfortunately it appears to be the reality. 
Tomorrow night we need to see our strongest XI in a system that suits them where they are just now. In a few months hopefully they will be playing the high tempo 4-3-3 that Deila wants to produce but for now we need to give ourselves the best chance we can.
As is part of being a Celtic fan I am clinging onto the small hope that we will sneak through after a 3-0 demolishing of Legia with the famous Murrayfield crowd at our backs 😉
Without the Champions League we will almost certainly have seen the last of Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk, and I cannot say I trust the board to spend any significant money if that does happen. We need the Champions League to progress as a team and not allow the powers that be an excuse to sell our star men without reinvesting in the squad.
Let’s see a special night tomorrow that can lift the whole atmosphere surrounding the club at the moment and leave me feeling horrendous the morning after for all the right reasons. We’re all due a good hangover. 
Show us what you’ve got Celtic.