Hoops come home

For the past few weeks Celtic have been on the road. They played three friendlies during their brief summer training camp and travelled to Sarajevo last Tuesday to undertake their first competitive match in the Champions League qualifiers.

On Saturday, the supporters were finally able to see the Bhoys at Paradise. French Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais paid a visit for a friendly encounter where the outcome was a goalless draw.

Despite zero goals, it was a useful exercise as Neil Lennon eased his squad nearer to match sharpness. It was evident that some are still behind in terms of fitness whilst others demonstrated their worth for the forthcoming European fixtures.

All in all it was a worthwhile exercise. Stade Rennais are a decent side.

For Celtic, the focus remains at home when FC Sarajevo rock up for the second leg tonight night at Celtic Park. The hard work was done in Bosnia last week with a 1-3 away win for the Hoops.

Neil Lennon just needs to see this one over the line with minimum of fuss. The first leg puts Celtic in a good position, but a couple of goals without reply would put everyone’s mind at rest.

Barring any slip ups, the next match will be against Nõmme Kalju of Estonia who won last night’s tie against Shkëndija of Macedonia with a 91st minute goal. Shkëndija had a 0-1 advantage from the first leg and took that away goal back to Macedonia, but two away goals by the Estonian champions turned the tie right at the death.

It is because of this that Celtic cannot be complacent in Europe. We have a nice lead for tonight, but we cannot lie back until we are secured in the second qualifying round.

Meantime, the transfer window remains open and active for Celtic. The right back berth has yet to be filled and with question marks over other players, there may be further movement.

The Olivier Ntcham saga appears to have been put to bed though. Neil Lennon told the media at yesterday’s press conference that he had spoken with the player about his media comments and the midfielder “was disappointed with the way it came across, that wasn’t his intention.”

So all appears rosy in the garden. For now at least.

The key player filling the headlines right now is Kieran Tierney. He is a highly sought after player and quite rightly so.

KT is not angling for a move away, but we all know that one day, be it this transfer window or another, the likelihood is that he will leave Celtic. From a Celtic perspective all the cards remain in hand’s of our club and the player though.

He is by far one of the best youth products to emerge from the Celtic ranks in this century and in the history of the club. And Celtic have not been short of churning out players since the year 2000.

Stephen Crainey, Shaun Maloney, Aiden McGeady, David Marshall, James Forrest, Jamie Smith, Ross Wallace, Stephen McManus, Charlie Mulgrew, Darren O’Dea and Callum McGregor are just some of the names to grace the Celtic first team since 2000. After successfully emerging from youth level they have all contributed to the Celtic cause and won trophies and been given plenty of first team action which. However, Kieran Tierney demonstrated all the qualities required to such a degree and at an early stage we knew he was the real deal.

I think the last time I saw a Celtic defender of his class come through the ranks was John Kennedy. Even then, we never got to find out just how good he was going to be due to a horrific injury at the hands of an opponent whilst playing for Scotland.

The other thing about Kieran is that he is a die hard Celtic fan and the fans love him. If he was to leave now then he would go with our best wishes but he may not be ready to take that leap.

We’ve sold very good Celtic players for less in recent years, but it has been to club’s that potentially would sell them on to a bigger club in their league. Kieran isn’t going to Southampton though – he’ll only be interested in a club that can allow him to showcase his talents in Europe and challenge for trophies.

He doesn’t need to bridge any gaps or prove himself. The only deal that will be done is a club near the top of the tree in that respective country.

Right now, Arsenal are penny pinching. Frankly, it’s quite embarrassing that a Premier League club are being so measly with their offers.

If anyone at Arsenal has any football knowledge they’ll know KT is the real deal. Celtic don’t need to sell him and the player doesn’t need to leave because he will eventually get the move he wants be it now or in two years time.

The north London club aren’t even a top four side at the moment. They haven’t been for a few years so if Arsenal have intentions of doing so, then they will have to cough up or piss off.

I read the comments of someone online who remarked that English clubs would be unwilling to pay a Scottish club such a hefty fee without them proving themselves in England first. By that they were meaning the likes of Wanyama and Van Dijk who both went to smaller clubs first.

Those two were without a doubt a cert to be great and have proved themselves since moving on from Southampton to Spurs and Liverpool respectively. Others such as Fraser Forster and Gary Hooper were not so fortunate, providing a reminder that the grass isn’t always greener.

To some extent, that may turn out to be the same for Stuart Armstrong. Having provided one brilliant season in his three-and-a-half years at Celtic, it was clear the Highlander wanted to go and earn big bucks down south.

On Monday some were even suggesting that Celtic should bring the Scottish international back to Paradise. I don’t know how that discussion even started, but it’s a non-starter for me.

Armstrong peaked during the invincible season. His day has come and gone in a Hoops jersey as far as I’m concerned and he can live out his career elsewhere.

I desperately wanted him to succeed at Celtic and eventually he did after being played in the right position. I even thought he had the potential to be captain, but stalled on a long-term deal and then jumped ship.

If he does enjoy similar success in the future it won’t be at Celtic. So let’s not waste our time on this baloney any longer.

We’re in a new era under Neil Lennon and we’re rebuilding. Kieran Tierney is a few weeks away from fitness yet which is probably good given the attention he is currently getting.

By the time he is ready to play this transfer storyline will hopefully have been settled one way or another. It’s a bit slow on the transfer front for Celtic bringing in other players, but I’d rather we get it right rather than just drafting in the next Compper, Gamboa or de Vries.

Looking forward to tonight’s match at Celtic Park. Mon the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Ntchambles

Every player has a price and every player has a shelf life. For Olivier Ntcham, he’s fast talking himself into an exit this summer.

Celtic have been here many times before with players. More than once in the last twelve months in fact.

The French under-21 internationalist has divided the support in his two years at the club. There is no doubt he is a talented player, but he has had moments when attitude has let him down.

He has recently taken a widespread beating from the support based on last season’s performances alone. Not that I am rushing to his defence, but he did miss sixteen games from January to March.

Whilst it wasn’t his best season in a Celtic jersey, it doesn’t make him a garbage player. What has sparked greater contempt though are his comments to the media, whilst on international duty, regarding his future at Celtic.

If there is any shred of truth in those comments then that future is not with Celtic. You can fine him, reprimand him or chastise him in public, but if he is publicly decrying the club and the quality of competition then he will be offloaded soon enough.

We know Scottish Football is far from the top leagues out there. With the greatest respect though, Celtic have a status that brings the best out in players and gives you a platform to perform.

Has Ntcham done that at Celtic? I don’t think he’s done enough even if he does have the potential.

Nobody wants a disruptive, uncommitted player in the dressing room though. Last summer we had Boyata and Dembele to deal with.

One went, one stayed. Whatever went on between those players, their agents and the club it is far from satisfactory.

Ntcham has claimed he was disappointed not to get a move to Porto last summer. After one season and then signing a new contract, no wonder Celtic turned down any offer.

I think the guy is a good player, but he is getting way above his station. There are too many players like this out there and if Brendan Rodgers has been the catalyst to guys like Boyata, Dembele and Ntcham moving on (as Dembele claimed) then I don’t want them at the club.

We know that if you are good enough, the club will find it difficult to hold onto you if the asking price is met. What doesn’t need to happen is for a player to begin making disrespectful and unprofessional comments to the media.

You sign for a club, you commit. If there comes a point when things have run their course then fine, just sit down and do a deal that works for both parties.

Ntcham has taken a massive dump on his own doorstep. I’ll be happy to sweep him and his turd out of Celtic Park if there is this is the end of the relationship.

There are loads of talented players in our ranks of all ages who are committed to Celtic. I’d rather see them pull on the Hoops than a guy who has thus far failed to even sparkle such as guys like Christie, McGregor or Forrest.

I won’t get hung up on one guy when we have plenty of others waiting to step up. No player is bigger than the club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Welcome to Sarajevo

As much as I miss watching Celtic, it seems as though the season has just finished. Tonight, Celtic get their European campaign under way when they face FK Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This will be a stern test for Celtic so early on in the summer and in totally new territory as well. In recent years they’ve faced weaker opposition in the first round, but FK Sarajevo will be tougher.

Whilst Celtic offloaded eleven players, Neil Lennon still has a solid core within his squad. There have also been recruits between January and June yet to make their mark for the club.

The unfortunate situation is that we have injuries to a few players before a competitive ball has even been kicked. Hopefully, these will not be long term and are more about being cautious than anything else.

Despite the anxiety around our transfer activity since the season ended, I actually think we’ve done some good work with our recent acquisitions. We still require a couple more players but for now, I think we’ve bolstered what is already a talented squad.

Speculation about some players leaving will remain a point of discussion until the transfer window closes. There is nothing we can do about that.

This evening in Sarajevo that will not matter either. Getting a result that will allow Celtic to return to Glasgow happy they can finish the job on home soil is.

Neil Lennon knows what is at stake. He’s been here before and he is looking to rubber stamp his own mark on this team without risking a stumble.

Even with my reservations about Neil retaking the manager’s job, I am actually pretty excited to see this new chapter unfold. It’s a long road to the group stage and every game counts.

Let’s hope this new beginning is long a fruitful one. C’mon the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Summer Recruitment

Yesterday Celtic announced that they’d brought Nick Hammond in board. He was previously Technical Director at West Brom and Director of Football at Reading as well as their Youth Academy Director.

His role at Celtic is said to assist with “recruitment across the forthcoming period.” “Initially across the summer period” sounds anything but permanent though.

One would assume if it goes well, his position may be extended. The club have also said to have known him for some time so perhaps he has done some other work for the club in the past.

His long term association with Reading of two decades earned him the Technical Director role at West Brom in 2016. He worked in that role whilst the managerial position was filled by Tony Pulis, Gary Megson and former mentor, Alan Pardew.

Following Pardew’s exit in April 2018, Hammond left West Brom soon after. Since then he has been in the wilderness or perhaps even doing some work for Celtic.

He’ll know Brendan Rodgers from his time at Reading as well as being a goalkeeper under Tommy Burns when he was mansger there. So there are some Celtic links there which have most likely been utilised by both parties.

Of course he has his work cut out for him as Celtic strive to sort out their summer recruitment. The transfer window has been open for about ten days and the only movement involves those players who have departed.

As was mentioned to the media, some clubs are still on holiday and unable to do business even though Celtic may be champing at the bit. There’s part of me trying to remain calm about that whilst another part is getting twitchy.

Obviously, the big story was about David Turnbull and a reminder of the John McGinn saga from last summer. Whilst one is not linked to the other, it is nonetheless a headline that has continued to paint the club in a negative light.

This whole transfer saga has been played out in the media to a capacity crowd. Aside from the player getting what he wants, I’m not so sure it does player or employer any good.

After a series of twists and turns in this on/off transfer, it emerged last night that a move to Celtic was back on. I’m not sure what to believe at this stage.

The player’s representatives turned down Celtic’s original offer. Celtic made their position public after Motherwell went public about the whole transfer.

The player’s agent came back to the table days later only for Celtic to walk away. That seemed to be the end of it and the player checked in with Norwich City.

A transfer south seemed all but confirmed as this week progressed . Then last night news started circulating that the player was more interested in a move to Celtic.

All I’m waiting for now is for Pam Ewing to wake up and Bobby to emerge from the shower. What a farce.

We don’t know all of the facts around this drama, but Celtic’s statements have been pretty clear. Peter Lawwell, Scott Brown and John Kennedy have all been fairly frank about the player’s choices.

I have no complaints about Celtic’s stance on this. However, its not entirely clear if they’ve changed their original offer to get nearer the players demands.

Brian McClair signed for Celtic 36 years ago yesterday for mere £100,000. The then 19 year old Motherwell player enjoyed four years at Celtic before earning a big move to Manchester United.

That deal was brokered quickly and McClair had an extra season under his belt. If Turnbull turns out to be anywhere near as good a player as Choccy, he’ll enjoy success at Celtic and elsewhere if he plays his cards right.

Right now, I’ll believe nothing until he’s signed on the line. Celtic have to focus on other targets as well and hopefully Nick Hammond will be able to assist with that.

The team does not require major surgery, but it does need defensive reinforcements. We can put out a back four or three but it lacks experience, long-term reliability and backup.

Pre-season is under way and the squad has lost several players through contract expiry and loan deals ending. However, there are still a number of players yet to kick off their Celtic careers properly.

I rhymed these off last week in another article when Turnbull’s original deal looked almost done. I felt that another midfielder wasn’t of the greatest importance, but that he might provide some new energy.

What a week this has been. When I see him training at Lennoxtown I’ll believe it.

I’m sure if it goes through, Turnbull will be in for a roasting off his new teammates. I look forward to hearing all about that.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic’s early European journey is mapped out

Celtic’s European campaign will open at Celtic Park when they face the Premier League Champions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FK Sarajevo. It is the first time the two clubs have met or indeed a team from that country.

Pre-season training got under way at Lennoxtown on Monday with three weeks until the European campaign begins in Glasgow. Some of Celtic’s first team have yet to return to training with some still on international duty or having more time off following international duty.

Still, it is an early start once again for the Celtic players. There really isn’t much in the way of rest these days.

Next week the squad will head out to their summer training camp in Austria and Switzerland. They’ll play SC Pinkafeld, Wiener SC and FC St Gallen as part of their pre-season schedule.

There might even be time to squeeze in one more warm-up game before they welcome FK Sarajevo to Celtic Park. By that time Neil Lennon should have most of his players fit and available.

Should Celtic make it past Sarajevo they will face either Nõmme Kalju of Estonia or KF Shkëndija of Macedonia. With the greatest of respect, neither of those team names immediately fill you with fear, but in Europe you can’t underestimate any team these days.

FK Sarajevo are a well backed club in terms of finance. Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan has an substantial investment, both clubs share an affiliation and further investment came from a Vietnamese businessman earlier this year who is also the club’s owner.

Last season they beat Armenian side Banants in the first qualifying round if the Europa League 5-1 on aggregate. In the second round earned a 2-2 draw in Italy against Atalanta only to lose the home leg 0-8.

As for KF Shkëndija, they went a little further in Europe last season. They beat The New Saints and Sheriff Tiraspol in the first and second qualifying rounds of the Champions League only to lose to Red Bull Salzburg in the third qualifying round.

That meant they parachuted into the Play Off Round of Europa League at the same time as Celtic. There they faced Rosenborg, but lost out to the Norwegians.

The two teams that conquered them would go on to face Celtic in the Europa League group stages. Celtic had disposed of Rosenborg in the second round of the Champions League that earlier in the summer.

Nõmme Kalju have never made it past the third qualifying round of the Champions or Europa Leagues. Last season they went out in the first round of the Europa League to Stjarnan from Iceland, another team Celtic have faced in recent years.

This just the second venture into the Champions League for the Estonian side. The last coming in the 2013-2014 season.

It’s worth noting that they are midway through their footballing calendar right now. Whilst they may not be considered a major threat, their fitness is most likely at it’s peak.

So those are the teams that stand in Celtic’s way right now. However far Celtic go and whichever team(s) they face, there is some travel to the furthest reaches of the continent.

We’ve had to travel further and if we progress we may have to travel further once again. Right now the focus is purely on pre-season training, some warm up matches and preparing for the arrival of FK Sarajevo in Glasgow in three weeks time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God.

I had the pleasure of attending a viewing of new documentary, Diego Maradona on Fathers Day at my local Picturehouse, the Duke of York’s. The two-plus hours of footage took me right back to my younger years of the mid-eighties.

The director, Asif Kapadia, whose other titles include Senna and Oscar winning, Amy, was present for a Q&A session after the main feature. It was a very nostalgic experience for me.

I was only a ten year old boy when Maradona first came to my attention. World Cup ’86 was the first one I ever recall and by chance, I had Argentina as my project team at primary school.

I knew nothing about international football. I was just getting to grips with Celtic Football Club through my school mates, most of whom had been given a proper grounding in football culture.

International football was a whole other game. I loved the World Cup that summer.

Of course, Argentina won it in ’86 and Maradona became my very first football hero. Yes, even above any Celtic player of the time!

I even had a huge poster of Diego on my bedroom wall and a number 10 Argentina top with Maradona emblazoned on the back. I didn’t even have a Celtic or Scotland jersey yet!

This documentary took me all the way back to those days and more. I knew nothing about Maradona’s background at the time, just what I saw that summer.

In the years ahead, we’d discover more with the assistance of the media. The downfall of a hero.

It is without a doubt a very tragic tale. From the 15 year old “black kid” right through to the superstar and controversial lifestyle.

The tagline sums it up. Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God.

Kapadia discussed the documentary afterwards and how he pieced it together from a variety of sources after the footage was discovered. The majority of which had never been seen before.

He spoke with the legend himself on only a couple of occasions. In fact, he recalled he was still owed at least one more audience with him, but he was not certain it would ever come about.

It’s a facainating story worth watching for yourself. Much of which I did not know a lot about then or now.

I do recall his brilliance and subsequent decline. There’s so much more though.

Should you get the chance to see it, you won’t regret it. Another brilliant documentary by Asif Kapadia.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Transfer in serious doubt

Not long after I posted yesterday’s blog, “Transfer imminent“, David Turnbull’s agents rejected Celtic’s contract offer. Motherwell had already accepted what was a club record transfer fee for themselves, but negotiations on the player’s salary have hit the skids.

Generally there is a second bite at the cherry when it comes to personal terms. However, Celtic’s official statement yesterday suggested that what was on the table was “magnificent” and that it was “up to the agent and player to decide if the player wants to join Celtic.”

Celtic don’t appear willing to be held to ransom. They completed that statement by saying, “If not we move on.”

The club have come under criticism for last year’s John McGinn saga and were under scrutiny not to mess about this summer. Whilst they may have learned from that when dealing with Motherwell, it looks like ProLegal Group are trying to play the angles here for their client.

I’ve read some comments that the player is within his rights to get the best deal possible and that it is his agent’s job to broker that. However, Celtic have a salary structure and ProLegal Group must be aware that Celtic aren’t going to break that policy for a 19 year old guy who has just one season under his belt.

They represent former Celtic player Stuart Armstrong and a current one in Ryan Christie. So both parties are familiar with one another.

Perhaps this agency’s ego is growing to fast. Their biggest client being Champions League winner, Andrew Robertson.

The club aren’t trying to buy the next Wayne Rooney though. They are buying a kid who still has to prove it at a bigger club, play in a European arena and yet step up to senior level for his national side.

It is all ahead for Turnbull and Celtic are offering him a good platform to develop his skill set. Should he produce the goods, he will almost certainly have got an improved deal before the current one has run its course.

That is how other success stories at Celtic have worked out. That is how it would work out for David Turnbull, but it appears he and his agents want it all now before he has even proved himself.

I don’t know what sort of wages he is currently getting at Motherwell, but I can’t imagine that it is fantastic. Similarly, I don’t know Celtic’s salary structure, but I’m pretty sure they’ll have doubled, trebled or quadrupled his Fir Park income.

If Celtic were to break their policy for a 19 year old player what sort of message would that send to our own up and coming players? For me, ProLegal Group are playing strong arm tactics.

They know Celtic had to make this deal work because of last summers fiasco with Hibs. Celtic’s statement though is a public declaration for the fans to know their position.

Unless there is something missing from all of this, then I back the club 100%,. Yes, I think Turnbull would have been a good bit of business, but I’m glad the club are sticking to their guns.

I don’t think there is anyway back for Turnbull now. Celtic have set out their stall and for a deal to be struck now would require either Celtic to go back on their statement or for ProLegal Group to come back with their tail between his legs.

For me, the damage is already done. I can’t see the matter being resolved now.

So it looks as though the club will need to look at one of their other targets. This deal looks dead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac