A case for the defence

Celtic go into today’s Scottish League Cup tie off the back of a disappointing spell. Transfers, results, injuries and a contract rebel all playing their part in the club drama right now.

On successive Friday’s though, the club have signed two players. Last week Emilio Izaguirre returned to the ranks and yesterday the club officially announced Daniel Arzani on loan from Manchester City for two years.

Izzy is a no brainer as Brendan did not have ample cover for Kieran Tierney since the Honduran international departed in 2017. Now he does and also knows what he’s getting into the bargain so today he will make his comeback against Partick Thistle in place of the injured Tierney.

The acquisition of Arzani hasn’t exactly been a secret, but has also understandably raised questions from the supporters. New recruits are required but not necessarily for this type of player.

Yet I’m certain this kid will make an impact and it’s a positive nonetheless because we are without Patrick Roberts for the first time in over two years. These last couple of weeks have been damaging for everyone at the club as well as our fans.

This is a time when we need to show strength of character and determination to get back on course. Perhaps the timing of Arzani’s arrival will be significant for our fortunes.

The young Aussie won’t solve all of our issues. Maybe he will dazzle us and provide the team with a much needed spark.

Sometimes you need that. We must repair the damage of the last fortnight though.

High on that agenda is getting shot of Dedryck Boyata. The contract rebel is quite clearly heading for the exit.

Did he ever intend to extend his contract or did his agent utilise the World Cup for a bigger payday? It doesn’t matter anymore.

We need to move him on now. If Celtic did indeed turn down £9M for the Belgian they must have pinned their hopes on him either signing a new deal or receiving a bigger follow-up bid.

Personally I don’t believe he’s even worth that price. That being the case, Celtic have been very sloppy here and they should have bitten Fulham’s hand off.

Now we have a guy who will probably never wear the Hoops again. Potentially we may also have missed out on a multi-million pound fee.

Right now clubs overseas will be wondering whether to hold out until January. Meantime Boyata will rot in the development side.

I’m sure something will be ratified soon to get him off our books but I can’t see it being as big as £9M. It will probably less now that everyone knows we have an unhappy player and a club that want rid.

Celtic will also need to live with that situation. A situation that could have been better handled.

Where does that leave Brendan Rodgers defensively then? No better.

Like them or not we now have at least two players for every defensive position. I said before that we wouldn’t sign another central defender until we got shot of one.

Well, when Boyata goes that’s our chance. Brendan needs to bring order to his defence pronto.

It should have been a priority when he came on board. Instead he tried to utilise what he had.

Kolo Toure was his only central defensive acquisition in 2016. Even then, that was more for the dressing room than on the park.

I don’t think that was a bad move because at that stage he was evaluating what he had. Sometimes older players can be influential, but that doesn’t escape the fact we have been shoddy in defence ever since we lost Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer.

Conversely, Denayer’s name has cropped up on more than one occasion recently about a return to the club. I think we can safely say if he really wanted to come back to Celtic it would have happened a long time ago but it now seems he will be moving to Lyon anyway.

Celtic’s scouting team need to pinpoint a player of good quality who will come in and steady the ship. A player who isn’t injury prone, work-in-progress or in the advent of their career – we already have each of those on our books.

I’m satisfied that Kris Ajer and Jack Hendry will continue to improve this season, but it is also unfair to place all of our hopes on two young guys, particularly in Europe. Jozo Simunovic is a very good player on his day but prone to injury especially on artificial surfaces, whilst the ageing Marvin Compper hasn’t even got his Celtic career under way yet.

It’s a far from ideal situation and doesn’t make anyone look good. You could say we’ve been a bit unfortunate, but it also looks as though bad choices have been made internally.

At right back we have three players vying for a place. After this season, Mikael Lustig and Cristian Gamboa will be out of contract and if either of them stay they will be lucky.

So a long-term replacement still needs to be scouted because Anthony Ralston is another work in progress for the club. It may not happen this summer but the work needs to be done now.

Brendan Rodgers is well equipped from the midfield forward, but it is these defensive areas that remain a concern. After today’s relatively risk free fixture, Celtic travel to Lithuania to face FK Suduva in the Europa League play-off.

The coincidence of this European tie is remarkable. It was another Northern Irish Celtic manager in his third season that faced FK Suduva immediately after dropping out of the Champions League sixteen years ago.

Having lost out to FC Basel on the away goals rule, Celtic dropped into the UEFA Cup in 2002. That was the beginning of the road to Seville in 2003.

Now I’m not about to suggest that Celtic are on the road to Baku. As much as I would love that, this is only a play-off.

Get past Suduva and we have European football guaranteed until Christmas. At this stage in the season I would be happy with that.

The one coincidence I would like to avoid from Martin O’Neill’s third season is of course the fact that we won nothing at all. That doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Time for the entire club to admit to their failure so we can make amends in time for Europa League challenge

CrestCeltic’s exit from the Champions League in the Third Qualifying Round raises more questions than answers. From this point forward the club need to have a look at their performance on and off the field of play because it is evident this isn’t purely down to the team and coaching staff.

Should entry into the group phase of the Europa League be achieved, the income will be substantially smaller. If Celtic were to buy any more players this summer then the only way to make that happen would be to sell.

Candidate number one is Dedryck Boyata. The recent stance taken by himself and his agent has caused a lot of turmoil to add to everything else that is going on right now.

As Chris Sutton stated last night in his role as summariser, “get rid of Boyata now!” If Celtic did knock back £9M for him then I have no idea why.

He is no Bobo Balde, Johan Mjallby of Joos Valgaaren. Brendan Rodgers has improved his performances over the last two seasons, but he is still a liability.

Before Jozo Simunovic went off the boil, I’d say the Croat turned Bosnian was a better player. Both have been subject to transfer rumours since Brendan came on board and he has yet to establish a central defensive partnership.

That is the back bone of your team and doing it on the cheap might save you money for midfielders and attackers. In the long run it will cost you in more in European competition.

I’d like to make a case for Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry. Both of these guys are work in progress, yet taken a some flack since they each made their debuts.

Ajer has shown progress whilst Hendry is only just getting into his stride. Relying on young, inexperienced talent is a risky business though.

Whilst I welcome the opportunity that they are getting, it is a foolish game to play. The pressure on these guys has been massive.

The acquisition of Marvin Compper has not made the backroom staff look much better. His continual stream of injuries makes you question the ability of the scouting team or was he simply a panic buy?

We haven’t seen enough of the guy to judge what type of player he is. Chris Sutton compared him to Raphael Scheidt last night, but I think we saw more of him in the Hoops than Marvin!

The bottom line here is that what was once a overinflated squad has been reduced to a manageable size. However, it still requires fresh blood to rejuvenate the ranks for the season ahead especially with other players certain to depart.

Some of the current squad are out of contract next season. The £9M shelled out on Odsonne Edouard is beginning to look like the board have put all their eggs in one basket though.

Whether you were for or against the pursuit of John McGinn, Celtic didn’t get the deal done quick enough. As soon as interest from down south came, the player’s head was turned by better money.

The entire club is accountable for this summer’s woes. If there hasn’t been already, there needs to be a sit down to address these failings.

If the club admit to their failings and address them now, a run in the Europa League may just be possible. There is a lot of work to be done first.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Greek tragedy

On a night we needed to see something from Celtic we got nothing. Another early goal conceded in Europe and followes up by a goal early in the second half, condemned Celtic to the Europa League play-offs.

There was ray of hope when Sinclair came off the bench and scored a header. Celtic were unable to get that crucial second goal to take them through on away goals.

The worst of it is, I’m not sure if Celtic will even get past Suduva or Spartaks Jurmala. One of those teams will be the final hurdle for Celtic to secure European football until Christmas albeit it in a competition that is financially less rewarding.

We as fans will look at the events of this past week and Celtic’s relative inactivity in the transfer market as the cause. This along with the results have certainly cast a shadow over Celtic Football Club.

Has the bubble burst? Too soon to tell.

How the club move forward now will tell us everything we need to know. The days and weeks ahead will be very interesting.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Must win Tuesday

Well, a 1-1 draw keeps us in it. A win would be magic though!

First of all Celtic need to score. Something that we managed to do just once in the first leg.

The fact is, the Hoops played more than one-third of the match with a one man advantage and couldn’t win on home turf. The other crazy thing about that first leg was that AEK didn’t look all that great to me.

They sat in, defended, hit on the break and yes looked comfortable with it. Celtic looked inept in the final third despite starting brightly though.

Whichever way Brendan Rodgers plans to pick the lock on tonight the team requires a spark. That could come from any number of players rising to the occasion, but the one player that could be provide that is Moussa Dembele.

The French striker travelled to Athens and appears to be available again. My only concern is that he is being rushed back and could get injured again.

That’s up to Brendan though. The coaching staff should know if it is too soon or not.

Even then, you don’t really know until they’ve participated in a match to know if you’ve made the right decision. I don’t think anyone would disagree that some muscle is needed in this game though.

AEK played very defensively last week especially after they lost a player. They may well do the same this evening in the warm Mediterranean climate of Athens.

Celtic will try to play football, but away from home the tactic will be slightly different. We cannot afford to hold back though – there is too much at stake.

The Greek champions will fancy their chances with the away goal that they got last week. Celtic will not only have to score, but show the character and ability to earn that play-off place.

A 1-1 draw would mean extra-time and possibly penalties which was probably on the mind of Brendan when he made such big changes on Saturday against Hearts. 0-0 no good, 2-2 we’re through, but a win would be far more desirable.

Whatever has gone on in the last week, the club need to move on swiftly. The Champions League money is essential to the club and the participation is what gets fans excited.

Every single Celtic player on the field this evening needs to be on top form. Because even if we score first, AEK will come back at us and that is why we need to aim for a win not a draw.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

How did we end up in this position?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I refer of course to the bad day at the office turned bad week. Now it could roll into another week if tomorrow night’s result goes against us.

The mood amongst the Celtic community is a little fragile. And don’t the media just know it?

What began as a criticism of the transfer brokering men at the club by our manager later developed into a mini drama. The draw with AEK at home, followed by John McGinn signing for Aston Villa looked like Celtic didn’t have their finger on the pulse at all.

Then there was the claim that all was not well between Brendan and the board. That fractures may be appearing at Celtic Park and Lennoxtown.

In preparation for the match against Hearts, the team was leaked hours before kick-off by someone inside Celtic. On which side of the so-called ensuing disharmony we have no idea, but it was not released for anything other than to get a reaction.

And what could be worse than a defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle? The only goal being scored by none other than Kyle Lafferty.

Or if that’s not enough for you, how about Dedryck Boyata? He’s spat the dummy out or at least his agent has on his behalf.

I mean, talk about the game’s a bogey! Did someone just turn the lights off, put their foot on the accelerator of the Celtic team bus and head straight off the edge of the Campsies?

This was the sort of week that makes Craig Levein’s am no lettin’ it go “grass-gate” look like Harry Hill’s TV Burp. I’m not sure how we ended up here.

What started out with Brendan’s candid comments has descended into total chaos. All at a time when the club need to be strengthening from a position of strength and galvanising the squad for another go at the Champions League.

It is far from ideal. In fact it is the proverbial shooting oneself in the foot.

The media are having a field day. The rest of Scottish football are sitting back, watching with glee.

Someone at Celtic needs to take control of this now. The opportunity to get out in front of it passed the minute Brendan opened his mouth.

I’m not taking any sides in this matter for one simple reason. The availability of credible information is sorely absent.

Everyone is having their say. I no longer know who or what to believe.

It seems as though everyone has a source or well placed mole. I don’t have either of those.

I just call it as I see it as a fan. In the absence of evidence you can only go with what is written or broadcasted and try to filter out the guff.

And that’s where the confusion comes in. Each report contradicts the other.

Up until now, Celtic have been fairly good in recent years at keeping matters in-house. Even when there has been a shred of a story, everyone has kept schtum.

Now it seems as though it is open season and everyone has a voice. I suggest Celtic get a grip fast.

If it’s true that Boyata doesn’t want to be there then fine sell him now. Brendan can’t keep someone who wants to leave.

Should others be surplus to requirements (Ryan Christie, Scott Allan) then get rid of them too. I’m fed up with all of this pussyfooting around.

The irony about all of this is that it all seemed to stem from the McGinn saga and I’m not even bothered about him going to Villa. Yet here we are licking our wounds over a player who if he really wanted to could have signed for the club he supports, but didn’t.

We need to get past this and move on. There are far better players available to Celtic and if they do not have a list of scouted options ready to make a move on then people are not doing their jobs.

You don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. That is as short-sighted as it is unprofessional in today’s game and at a club of our size.

We may have to cut our cloth accordingly, but we can also do better than just targeting Hibs for a player. There has been plenty of time to get a list of targets ready to move on.

What may scupper things is whatever occurs in Athens tomorrow night. I’m already wondering who will provide the spark in that game to get us out of this predicament.

That is of course another story for another blog. Lessons to be learned for sure.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Bad day at the office

Wednesday was not a good day for Celtic. Good fortune seemed to slip away from them as the day progressed.

In the morning we were still digesting the damning comments made by Brendan Rodgers to the media the day before about the club’s acquisition of players. It came across as though he was having a dig at the board and in all honestly probably was.

Then came the McGinn blow. Regardless of which camp you are in, his move to Villa did not go down well.

Multiple articles emerged about this whole fiasco. For a story that never seemed to go away, it has amounted to nothing for Celtic.

I was never in the camp that was in favour of signing him. Some Hibs fans didnt’ even think he was their best midfielder last season – that was Dylan McGeouch.

And for those who watch a lot of Scottish football, McGinn wasn’t even the best midfielder out with Celtic Park. Many will tell you that was Ryan Christie.

Now we are of the opinion that Celtic dragged their feet on the deal and were penny-pinching. We’ve been seen to doing that before with guys like James McFadden, James McArthur and Steven Fletcher before all opting to move south so it will be hard to change fan perception that this isn’t the case with McGinn.

So my question is this. Whether Celtic met the asking price or not, did these guys even want to come to the club or were the bright lights of English football always the end game?

It is not out with the realms of business for another Scottish club to amp up interest by using Celtic as a bargaining tool. If Celtic show interest, English clubs will be interested and if that is where a players wants to go to earn the big money then that is what will happen.

I have no idea of the negotiation timeline, but up until it was announced McGinn was down at Villa having discussions, none of Celtic’s bids had reportedly been accepted. Neil Lennon was also claiming that he was surprised there was no interest from down south.

And before you know it.. bang! McGinn is down south, having a medical, discussing terms.

Then we are told that Celtic DID meet the asking price. The question is when?

After Brendan’s comments to the media or before McGinn was even down at Villa? And if they did and McGinn really wanted to come to Celtic wouldn’t he have?

I’m guessing Villa would have offered more money as I don’t see Celtic shelling out the same. Certainly not until after he had proven himself in the Hoops.

My gut feeling is that he was always going to go south just as McGeouch, Armstrong and all of those before have. As we don’t really know who the negotiations went, I am loathed to blame Celtic over this even if Brendan thinks that they did.

This entire episode has dragged on for months. It has now cast a shadow over Celtic Park and was probably on the minds of many going into last nights game.

Not so much the players, but the management team and the board of directors. The 1-1 result against 10 man AEK Athens just about summed up the last 48 hours.

The game started brightly but the lights dimmed and half the team were working hard whilst for the rest it just wasnt’ happening. The spark was missing and AEK were sitting tight.

It is their style and we failed to break it. Tierney and Ntcham were out best players on the night with moments from McGregor who scored and Forrest who wasn’t as lively as usual until the second half.

Edouard’s first touch and control were totally absent. Brown’s passing and fierceness were also missing.

At the back, Ajer and Hendry were weak. Lustig was almost totally absent.

Rogic started brightly but even he wasn’t at the races. Griffiths came off the bench and made a huge impact.

Sinclair came off the bench and did exactly the opposite. The game had been slipping away from Celtic from as early as the 35 minute.

The mountain for Celtic to climb is challenging. Having failed to win and lost an away goal, they must turn the match around in Athens or we’ll drop down to the Europa League Play-Off.

I don’t think AEK are unbeatable. It all depends on whether we turn up in Athens though.

That means the management team putting aside their obvious disappointment of McGinn moving to Villa and motivating the players that we have available. Boyata or Simunovic will come in for the suspended Ajer whilst Griffiths is likely to play either with or instead of Edouard after the Frenchman’s poor showing last night.

New faces will appear for Celtic soon. We won’t see any of them right away though, at least not in Europe.

Our next match is on Saturday away to Hearts. What better way to motivate your players and supporters than to visit Tynecastle?

Hail! Hail!

 

Livi, AEK, Euro Draws and the City Link

The domestic season is underway for Celtic and the Bhoys began with a solid win over Premiership new boys, Livingston. In the week leading up to the match their rookie manager Kenny Miller claimed to know Celtic “inside out” like some thinly veiled warning that a shock was coming.

As it turned out, Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops turned Livingston inside out. Despite Miller playing for most of the match, he was unable to influence matters for his new club.

The day itself was all about Celtic and unfurling another League Title Flag at Celtic Park. And club legend Danny McGrain was present to mark the moment.

Our former club captain and current club coach was honoured to be involved. With the pre-match ceremonies done it was match time and onto business.

Celtic wasted little time in taking the lead with a Tom Rogic header finding its way home in the 8th minute after a cross from the returning, Jonny Hayes. Odsonne Edouard finished from close range in the 26th minute after a Olivier Ntcham pass.

Ntcham then got his own reward by converting a penalty 5 minutes after the break. Callum McGregor was fouled inside the box and the resulting penalty finished off the visitors.

The injury time goal by the Lothian side was no more than a consolation. They couldn’t have wished for a worse team to face upon their return to the top flight than Celtic.

So a good start for the Double Treble Winners. Next up is of course AEK Athens in the Champions League Third Round qualifier.

Personnel options for Brendan Rodgers are increasing steadily by the week. For the Livingston match he had Jozo Simunovic and Jonny Hayes in the starting eleven whilst Leigh Griffiths made a substitute appearance.

He also started with Mikael Lustig who had made his first appearance of the season as a substitute last week against old club Rosenberg. It remains to be seen how close Dedryck Boyata is to returning, but we’re already looking at a stronger squad for the next two ties whether he makes it or not.

In terms of fitness and availability, things are beginning to improve for Brendan with Moussa Dembele, Marvin Compper and Lewis Morgan the only real absentees at present. However, there was one new injury concern.

Ntcham went over on his ankle at Celtic Park on Saturday. It wasn’t confirmed how bad it was in the aftermath of the match, but now appears as though he will be fit to face AEK on Wednesday.

On the transfer front there is a lot of talk. None of which clarifies any moves of course.

Be it positions that need to be bolstered or not, several names are being banded around. Some familiar, some new.

The John McGinn saga has cooled a little with none of Celtic’s bids being entertained by Hibs. Not that I think Celtic require his services this season, but I’ve made my feelings known on that already.

Jason Denayer’s name has surfaced once again. The Belgian stopper had a great loan spell in Glasgow, but he’s failed to break into the Manchester City team or make any of his loan deals permanent.

This is not uncommon for the many young, talented stars in waiting at City though. Celtic should know, they’ve been coming to Glasgow for years now.

Whatever relationship Celtic have with City, it’s served them pretty well. The latest deal rumoured to be taking place is that of Daniel Arzani.

The 17-year-old Australian international has been capped five times for his country and has now moved from Melbourne to Manchester. Melbourne City are of course owned by Manchester City, but this deal is said to involve the player going to Celtic on loan for up to two seasons with an option to buy at the end.

Now, I’m not completely baffled by the business world, but what kind of connections do Celtic have with City exactly? I’m not suggesting something iffy, but the deal does seem a little odd.

Manchester City buy the guy from a club they own, send him straight out on loan and potentially sell him without ever having trained with or worn their jersey. Are they just brokers in transfer deals now?

I’m well aware of the business interests in City and how wealthy those organisations are. What this deal is all about is way beyond the game of football though.

I mean do we even need this player? For Celtic to already be involved in the deal would suggest we have greater ties with the English Champions.

Samaras, Denayer, Guidetti, Roberts, Boyata, Ntcham and now Arzani. Is it all just a coincidence?

I know Celtic are also in the market of buying and selling, but rarely do they ever buy someone, loan them straight out and then sell them on. We’ve been seen to buy someone and loan them back to sweeten the deal, but not necessarily to sell on.

We know that we do invest in certain players knowing they will have a resale value after 1-3 years at the club. That’s our market and our way of capitalising on the revenue of English football.

There’s nothing sinister about it. We’re just an ideal club to perform as a weighing station for overseas players, bedding into the British game.

With European football to offer, a worldwide fan base, a great history and fabulous stadium what better gateway is there to the English game? Now it seems as though our transfer dealings are evolving.

Testing out another club’s players for them whilst benefiting from their game time. The only downside of course is that we won’t see the transfer fee if they are successful.

In the case of Arzani, even if we could afford what the fee might be, after two years of being a success, would he even want to stay at Celtic? Surely success in Glasgow would be his ticket back to England or the continent?

Patrick Roberts had a good spell at Celtic and despite the mutual friendship you would have thought any affordable deal would have been done by now. We’ve already shelled out on Edouard but I can’t see us going down the same road for Paddy.

Anyway, that’s another story altogether. Right now we have AEK Athens to focus on with our current squad come Wednesday.

If Celtic can navigate past the Greek champions they will face either Malmo of Sweden or Videoton of Hungary in the Champions League Play-Off round. Should they fail, then they’ll face either Spartaks Jurmala of Latvia or Suduva of Lithuania in the Europa League Play-Off.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac