FC Alashkert Facts

The first game of Celtic’s season kicks off in less than an hour. But what do we know about this club from Armenia?

The club are based in the capital, Yerevan. They were originally founded in 1990 and based in Martuni, but were dissolved in 2000.

In 2011 they were refounded by the current owners. That makes them slightly older than the current Ibrox club.

Since then they have relocated, moving to the current stadium in 2013. They have won the Armenian title three times.

In 2015, they made there first appearance in Europe. The first qualifying round of the Europa League paired them with St Johnstone who they beat on away goals.

That lead them to the second qualifying round against Kairat. The Kazakh team put the Armenian newcomers out 4-2 on aggregate.

The following season they entered the Champions League first qualifying round for tge first time. Santa Coloma were their opponents and beat the Andorrans 3-0 on aggregate. In the next round they faced Dinamo Tblisi who won 3-1 on aggregate.

Last season Alashkert played Santa Coloma once again. On this occasion it was a 2-1 aggregate victory for the Armenians.

Next up was BATE Borisov who like Tbilisi won the second round of the Champions League qualifier 4-2 on aggregate. And that brings us to this season and Celtic.

There’s no doubt that this is the toughest first qualifying round Alashkert will have had. That doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park for Celtic either.

It is the first time Celtic have faced an Armenian club. As @SPLstats pointed out on Twitter, Celtic have now played clubs from 42 of the 55 UEFA nations.

The Alashkert squad is largely made up of Armenians, but they also have Russian, Serbian, Mexican and Brazilian nationalities within their setup. The latter stems from their partnerships with Brazilian clubs Botafogo and Fluminese.

For both teams, it is the first game of the season. So there is no advantage in terms of preparation.

Celtic are missing players through injury and World Cup duty. They have a team more than capable of making progress though.

The season starts today in Yerevan. Come on the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Lies? Racism? Sectarianism?

Just another week in Scotland. Never a dull moment.

The media was awash with stories of Kieran Tierney and done deals to join Everton. Since this fabricated story lost momentum, those guilty of reporting it as fact have either disappeared or updated this by stating that the Merseyside club have cooled their interest.

How convenient. Shame on you if you bought into this or fed the lie.

Meantime over at Ibrox, it seems you should be putting all of your money on the Gerard revolution next season. The 6-0 demolition of the mighty League Two side Bury all but confirms that the title is heading across the city in 2019.

At least, that’s how the media are writing it up anyway. It’s almost as bad as “football’s coming home”, but that’s another topic.

I guess Celtic beating Shamrock Rovers 7-0 means we’re winning the Champions League then? Topically, that long road in said competition begins tomorrow for the Hoops in Armenia against Alashkert.

Brendan Rodgers had his players over in Austria again for preseason training. It seems to suit their needs and the squad know their way around but they don’t have the same stylish ice bins as seen in the Rangers training camp.

One of Brendan’s four World Cup players is still over in Russia. Dedryck Boyata, having played the opening three group games, was left out of the last sixteen and quarter final fixtures, but remains part of the Belgium squad for the semi-final against neighbours, France.

Australia’s Tom Rogic headed home after the group phase along with Costa Rica’s Cristian Gamboa. Whilst Mikael Lustig, suspended for the game against England, will be heading home as well after the Swedish team’s lacklustre display in the quarter final.

Every World Cup player will have two full weeks rest after their respective duties have ended. Celtic will have other options to choose from in the meantime bar one or two injured players.

Some folk have been bashing the club for a lack of transfer activity. Well, I’m not anxious about things just yet especially with the world of football focused on Russia.

We don’t know whats going on behind the scenes or when something will happen. Which is why you see headlines like the Tierney one as well as the old Celtic and Rangers chase the same player routine.

Honestly, they need to be more imaginative. The media couldn’t write this pish when that mob were down the divisons and it didn’t take them long to resume the same stories when the tribute act made it to the top flight.

Talking of headlines, it was appalling, yet unsurprising, to read about the vile behaviour of the Orange Walk in Glasgow. If spitting and assaulting members of a Catholic church is the way you role, and it’s clear that it is, then it is way beyond time that these bigoted and sectarian marches were brought to a standstill.

The tolerance of this in Scotland only goes to show how far the country has to go in order to move forward especially as an independent nation. These processions don’t stand for anything modern, multicultural or progressive.

To be allowed to march across the land spouting their triumphalism is a a stain on society. There is a desperate need to banish this filth forever, but I won’t hold my breath.

As well as that ever lasting side show, Shay Logan decided to groan about alleged racist abuse from Celtic fans last season. As a black man, I don’t doubt he’s ever received racist abuse.

He was also allegedly the recipient of racist abuse in 2014 from Celtic player Aleksandar Tonev during a match. The hearing that followed the allegations went in favour of Logan.

There was no evidence other than each players account. The ban was lengthy and the subsequent appeal was unsuccessful.

We have no way of knowing the truth but Celtic went a long way to back Tonev. Had there been a shred of doubt about Tonev’s stance, Celtic could have hung the loan player out to dry, but stood together with player, parent club Aston Villa and his national side, Bulgaria.

The case was decided on the basis of who gave the most convincing testimony and the balance of probability. Had there been a case to answer, I’m confident Celtic would have done the right thing.

Many years on, Logan has become a bit of a hate figure. Not because he is black, but because of his attitude on and off the field.

He’s taken to social media on several occassions to bait Celtic fans whislt making a name for himself on the park. Whether Tonev was truthfully guilty or not we’ll never know, but what we do know ever since that event is that Logan has become a bit of a troublemaker.

His unncessary part in the incident with Scott Brown at Pittodrie last season was addressed accordingly by the club captain. “Wee Logan did a runner right after it like he usually does.”

And talking of trouble making it seems England have curtailed the behaviour of their travelling support. Instead they just let them beat the shit out of vehicles and each other on home turf instead.

Problem solved. That’ll be the hard Brexit then?

I’ve loved the World Cup especially as I’ve spent pretty much all of it on holiday here in Canada. Not only has that meant seeing more matches than I’d have seen if I’d been working, but I haven’t had to suffer the BBC or ITV coverage.

TSN have covered all the games over here in a way that is much more balanced. The focus is not England, but the individual game.

The host and analysis team are predominantly British for this tournament, but that didn’t mean you got the usual bias. Steven Caldwell has been one of the analysts and actaully comes across quite well.

It’s done in a very North American style, but the product is decent. The commentary is also British, but it has been quite a mix though Jon Champion found it hard to restrain himself in one particular England game.

There is much the UK networks could learn from this impartiality. Such as remembering your audience isn’t just about one country.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end and I must return home having spent three glorius weeks in the hot, humid and sunny climate in Ontario. So I’ll be back in Brighton just in time for England’s semi-final with Croatia.

Proabably for the best that it wasn’t the host nation they met instead. Can you imagine?

Don’t forget though, it’s Celtic on first tomorrow. That’s 5pm UK time, 12pm Canada time!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Tierney ‘story’ succeeding with some it seems

From the first moment it was mentioned I felt it was total nonsense. Unfortunately, this seemingly fabricated headline has escalated with the assistance of several media outlets and some of our own ‘club friendly’ websites.

Kieran Tierney is hot property and not just for Celtic or Scotland. He is in the limelight of the footballing world in a position that is hard to fill in any era for any club.

His rise from the youth ranks to the first team at Celtic Football Club is no fluke. The Hoops have seen several Bhoys, not all in the same class, make it in the first team, though none as impressive or consistent as Tierney since the days of Paul McStay.

And that is no slight on our talent streams in general. We’ve had some great youth players in the last couple of decades.

Miller, McGeady, Maloney, Mulgrew, Forrest and McGregor to name but a few. However, I digress.

You only have to look at Kieran’s first full season compared to the seasons that followed. His composure, demeanour and physique have totally evolved in a short period.

Match time in Scotland is regularly dismissed as pub league to some outsiders, but Tierney has proved himself in the Europa League, Champions League and for his country on the international stage. And that is why he is sorely sought after by clubs elsewhere and equally…Celtic.

To suggest Kieran will never leave the club would be silly. However, to say that he is to leave now in the midst of greatness is quite frankly laughable.

We often say as Celtic supporters that no player is bigger than the club. True story.

It is also the case that Kieran loves Celtic. Indeed, he is Mr Celtic.

A fan, a youth player, a future club captain and someone who can still have a future elsewhere should he want it. That isn’t right now and not for a few years yet.

So why the story? Is there any truth?

What do you think? Not for me.

This thing has grown arms and legs. Why and for whose benefit?

Need I say any more? Just look at the situation across the city.

Sporadic gestures of intent. Continued failure.

It’s rock bottom over at Ibrox. I’m not going to tell you that they’ll never make a move on Celtic in the future, but to make that happen at all they have a lot to face up to first.

They are not the same club. They are not the same force.

Every chink in our armour is a succulent lamb story to them. This is why we see lies the magnitude of Tierney moving south as a done deal.

To destabilise us, thinking it will give them a baw hairs chance on gaining ground is desperate. I can’t believe that a faction of people, so in control of the media at one time with their now deceased club, thought that this would succeed.

I suppose in some ways it has succeeded. The supporters have been in session over this story for days.

I’m not claiming I know Kieran’s mind. HE will decide when it is time to go NOT the media.

It has convinced some folk. That’s only for those who have bitten though.

The big fish are still swimming. Get your blinkers off folks.

This is a rouse. Time to focus on where we are going.

He is no Stuart Armstrong. KT is here for 10.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Who’s the right, right back?

I’m no football scout, so I can’t give a professional opinion on players, let alone on one I’ve never clapped eyes upon before. The closest I ever got to that was when I used to play Championship Manager twenty years ago!

Having read reports that Brendan Rodgers has taken Moses Odubajo on trial, some minor debate has generated amongst the Celtic support. The player is 24 years old and been out of the game for nearly two years.

He suffered a serious knee injury whilst at Hull City in July 2016. Since then he’s been on the road to recovery with no real first team game time.

The Yorkshire club saw fit to splash out £3.5M on the right back in the summer of 2015 and was a key player in the club’s promotion to the Premier League. Due to that injury he never got the chance to prove himself in the top flight.

For Celtic fans the concern would of course be “has he recovered from that injury” and “is he any good?” On a free transfer there is little risk, but Celtic have also been here before.

Right back is an unsettled area for Brendan. Not because he doesn’t have anyone for the role, but more that who is going to be there for the next few years?

Mikael Lustig is the current default choice, vice-captain, but also out of contract in 2019. In his time at Celtic time nobody has displaced him from that position.

The Swedish international, currently on duty with his national side at the World Cup, is into the last sixteen in Russia and playing very well. At 31 years old, age may not be on his side, but he loves the club, the fans, has dealt with injuries better of late and is still a key part of the Celtic squad.

Cristain Gamboa, who just recently exited the World Cup with Costa Rica, was one of Brendan’s first acquisitions, but he has never made an impact in the first team. Before him, Saidy Janko’s services were procured from Manchester United, much to the distaste of some United fans, but even he failed to stake a claim.

The Swiss player did have his injury woes and found himself out on loan. Since his permanent departure, he has played for St Etienne and just recently signed for FC Porto.

Another right back Brendan dispensed with was Darnell Fisher. He was a product of Celtic’s youth academy and was able backup when called upon.

Brendan ran the rule over him as he did Janko, but his services were not valued either. After a successful loan spell at St Johnstone he moved to Rotherham United and now plies his trade for Preston North End in the Championship.

The question will now be asked if Anthony Ralston has a chance or if he’ll go the same way. Having signed a new deal recently I’d like to think he was in Brendan’s plans.

Personally, I don’t think Brendan’s purchase of Gamboa has been any better than what he has disposed of. In fact it’s been worse so that’s something he has to take responsibility for.

Whatever Brendan has in mind here he needs to think about the future. Should Odubajo get a deal it means there would be four right backs on the books with no clear front runner moving forward.

I can see why Rodgers is interested though. Odubajo had shown great promise up until that injury.

He made great progress with Leyton Orient and Brentford as well as representing England at under 20 level. It could be a gamble, but if his trial and subsequent medical went well, I see no reason not to take a punt.

It does still pose the question of who our long-term right back is though. Lustig, Ralston, Gamboa or possibly even Odubajo?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

SK Vorwarts Steyr v Celtic

With Celtic’s first pre-season friendly getting under way today, Brendan Rodgers welcomes some players back into fold. There are also some fresh faces to look forward to as well.

Marvin Compper will be reintroduced after one competitive appearance since his January move from RB Leipzig. Also returning is loan boy Ryan Christie, having performed impressively in the last 18 months at Aberdeen.

Then there is new boy Lewis Morgan who like Compper signed in January. He spent the remainder of last season at his old club St Mirren to help their promotion bid which proved to be successful.

Also featuring today are young hopefuls Stephen Welsh and Kerr McInroy. They’ve been thrown into the mix for the first time alongside the more familiar faces of Scott Bain, Calvin Miller, Jozo Simunovic, Scott Brown, Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths.

These games are all about fitness and preparation. The result isn’t important.

The Hoops are only two weeks away from playing Alashkert FC in their first Champions League qualifier. Preparations are now in full swing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Armstrong: another premature departee

When Stuart Armstrong extended his contract last year, I wasn’t of the same opinion as some others. That Celtic had secured another year just to prevent losing him for free this summer.

Having completed probably the best season of his career I felt that perhaps the deal that was struck kept both party’s options open, allowing them to revisit talks after hopefully another good season. That should have allowed Armstrong to get back on track and deliver the goods once more, but it didn’t.

Aside from below average form, he missed 15 games last season through injury. He still managed 41 appearances, but without the same impact of the previous season under Brendan Rodgers.

And that’s why now even though he is set to leave, I’m not too disappointed anymore. Armstrong has jumped ship early from a club that would have continued to serve him well.

What I am disappointed about is that he doesn’t appear to have valued Celtic as much as we valued him. It’s clear he has his own goals which in a way I can understand, but you can’t help but feel a little bit betrayed.

Whether it is money or just an ambition to play in England, he won’t be looking back and neither will we. Celtic have players who have demonstrated application, dedication and a willingness to work for this team.

Stuart Armstrong could’ve been a big player at Celtic, possibly even a captain. But his ambition has led him beyond Celtic and he joins a list of others who followed the money south too quickly.

What will be interesting to see is how that ambition unravels. I’m seldom bitter about players moving on to prosper elsewhere so long as they’ve given it their all at the club who helped get them there in the first place.

You always know when a squad member has either reached the pinnacle or become too hot a talent that it is difficult to stand in their way. And that’s just the issue, I don’t think Armstrong has achieved either of those milestones at Celtic.

This is a self motivated, premature transfer. At 26 years old, the midfielder could’ve had one or two more years and still got a move south as a more complete player and possibly even to a bigger club.

Because that isn’t the case, he might find himself failing to get a move from Southampton to a better Premier League club as others have. Unless he hits the ground running in that initial move south he could find himself stagnating in Hampshire.

Guys like Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk have all proven their worth at Southampton, having fulfilled good periods of consistency at Celtic, then got bigger moves within England. Stuart Armstrong isn’t even in that category, yet I get the impression he thinks that he is.

All I can say is that I hope it works out for him and his career turns out as he desired. I don’t wish him any misfortune, I just think he’s jumped the gun here.

One good season doesn’t make you a star. You have to reproduce that quality over and over and he hasn’t.

I don’t think he was holding the club to ransome. His ambition is simply leading him away.

The good thing for Celtic is that they will be making a tidy profit from this. Furthermore, they are not losing a player that is irreplaceable or leaving a huge gap in the squad.

There are players queuing up for a midfield spot in Brendan Rodgers’ revolution. And that’s before considering potential transfer possibilities.

I mean, do Celtic even need to go out and buy John McGinn as has been suggested? We have plenty in the ranks already who deserve a shot.

Ryan Christie could be that man. Young, energetic and dynamic.

He’s amongst a batch of midfield talent we’ve seen very little of in a Hoops jersey. With Armstrong moving on I’d say his chances just got better.

Might that even mean Scott Allan is back in contention? Personally, I feel that ship has sailed, but my viewpoint has now been altered by Armstrong’s pending exit.

Nir Bitton, whilst not the same type of midfielder, has yet to return to the middle of the park having seen more action at centre half last season. Eboue Kouassi and Kundai Benyu are two players trying to break past the regulars.

And when you consider that those regulars consist of Callum McGregor, Olivier Ntcham, Tom Rogic and Scott Brown we are not devoid of options. Celtic are not weakened by the departure of Armstrong in the slightest but there is an exciting opportunity for someone.

Whatever may happen, I don’t think Celtic need to delve into the transfer market. That player may already be here already unless further movement changes that situation.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

European Elite

This Champions League draw and all the recent fan comments and feedback got me thinking. Why are we still allowing European football to cater for the elite?

Yes, it is a coin we all chase and desire. Is this really progressive for the entire game though?

Not if it isn’t fully inclusive. What we are potentially looking at is exactly the sort of thing UEFA tried to block years back – a breakaway.

You’ll recall the Atlantic League proposal of nearly twenty years ago? An idea to prevent large European clubs in financially weaker leagues from losing out on big revenue.

Well that got binned off by UEFA in the same breath in which it was being considered. The governing body allegedly recognised what was being said and decided to revamp the existing European club competitions instead.

How has that worked out for all of UEFA’s member associations? Well, all I’m seeing is the evolution of a European Super League, a breakaway if you wish.

The Champions League has a fraudulent name. Better to have stuck to calling it the European Cup because it certainly isn’t about champions as it once was.

In Scotland it has become more and more difficult to qualify. The only hole in our argument is that we as a nation have fallen behind every one else.

Not just in club football. In international football as well.

Topically, like many of you, I’m watching the World Cup. I’ve grown used to not seeing Scotland feature in these tournaments.

I’m watching countries like Australia, Tunisia, Iceland, Iran and Egypt and thinking. Would Scotland be any better than them?

I doubt it. We appear to be behind them.

The only time I hear of Scotland doing reasonably well is usually at youth level. So something is fundamentally flawed in the Scottish system.

We’re clearly doing something wrong with our sport. Things have to be shaken up.

Our clubs in general are well below the required standard to compete in Europe. I know Celtic as a business are doing all they can for the club, but even then there’s a glass ceiling.

I’d love to tackle UEFA on the Champions League matter, but I think we need to tackle our own establishment first and win. We know exactly where the problems lie and SFA do Scottish football no favours.

Our TV revenue is abysmal, our stadia is poor in general and we do little to bring people through the turnstiles. Overall it is a poor product that is hard to sell without using Celtic and the former Rangers 1872 as a marketing tool.

You would have to admit to some degree that Rangers 2012 have brought the spotlight upon the Scottish game once more. However, our game is still ailing badly and whether the Ibrox club are willing to admit it or not, they are living off the ‘glory days’ of the liquidated club.

Meantime, Celtic are on a personal journey, but where does it lead beyond Scotland? If we’re lucky enough to get there, we struggle at the group phases of the Champions League where the disparity is extremely obvious.

Yes, we have lost ground in recent years through management changes, having built up some momentum during the Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan years. Now Brendan Rodgers has been tasked with keeping Celtic’s face in the Europe’s premier competition.

We’ve made the last two group phases of the competition thankfully and to one extent or another made progress from one season to the second no matter how ugly. What about this season coming then?

Well, an additional qualifying round hasn’t helped matters. The obstacles have increased for those at the bottom end of the food chain whilst the rich clubs get rewarded with an easier or direct path.

This elitism in European football is making the conpetition less and less appealing. Is this what UEFA want in order to suit their own agenda?

It does make you wonder where European football is going. Whether you can blame your own club, your football association or UEFA it’s clear Celtic are still off the pace though.

Everything is a bonus and when we do manage some kind of achievement in Europe. No matter how great or small.

I often think of Martin O’Neill’s famous words that in certain company we were “punching above our weight.” He couldn’t have been more correct and today it couldn’t be more apparent especially with the greater gap between Celtic and the top clubs.

Brendan Rodgers is of course on his own mission. He is making his own history, just as his Celtic predecessors have.

The recent acquisition of Odsonne Edouard on a permanent deal was a sign of trust between the financial men at the club and the Northern Irishman. To date, he has not splashed anything serious other than the services of Olivier Ntcham last summer.

Every other player has either been on loan or brought in for a smaller amount going by today’s market. And that’s understandable because as I have been banging on about for the last two years on this blog, Brendan inherited a rather large squad.

Edouard is his first real signing of intent. That we are taking Europe seriously and have to up the stakes in order to make progress.

We know we aren’t going into the Champions League to win it. It is essential to be part of it though and stay in the fight.

The marketing is so important. The income is so important.

Over the next couple of years it is likely we’re going to see the Celtic squad operate as a more compact unit consisting of key players supported by home bred talent. We retain the services of key players on better contracts as evidenced by guys like Tom Rogic and Kieran Tierney.

The wage structure at Celtic is such that we won’t go breaking the bank. We cannot compete with the finances of England, Spain, Italy and the like.

What we can offset against big money is an opportunity to play at a popular and historical club. Trophies and medals, European football, fans that idolise you and a chance for you to further your career with us for many years or a chance to build your career at Celtic and continue elsewhere.

We’ve helped many a player on to better things whilst benefiting from their services and subsequent transfer fee. That’s where we are at and it works well for us.

I’m more than happy with the club’s greenprint for the future. It serves us well.

We need players of a certain calibre no matter how few. These are the guys that influence games, the rest of your squad and your results.

In order for Celtic to move forward they must continue to buy and sell for profit. They must also harvest youth consistently.

Until circumstances change in Scotland we’re on our own. Until the UEFA run a fairer competition we’ll have to keep chapping at the door.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac