Opportunity knocks

With Legia Warsaw’s vain attempt at being reinstated to the Champions League out of the way, thoughts are now firmly focussed on tonights first leg play-off match in Slovenia. The question many Celtic fans have been asking themselves the past week though is “how will we fair against Maribor?”
 
Celtic’s fortunes have had a significant change in the last fortnight. It began with UEFA’s investigation into Legia Warsaw’s fielding of an ineligible player and snowballed into two good wins for Ronny Deila in the SPFL and two expected decisions from UEFA and the CAS.
 
I’m not getting carried away with two SPFL results but the overall attitude displayed by the Celtic players has been much more positive. It’s fair to say that domestic football is not European football, but what I will say is that going into that away game against in Perth, I was not feeling confident.
 
After shipping six goals against the Polish Champions, I wondered how Deila and his players would respond. When I tuned into that first league match last week, it was a very dire first half.
 
The second half was much brighter and despite any rub of the green or ‘cheating’, the result was a positive one. I’ve seen Celtic teams in the past with their heads down and the opportunity to win on a platter for them only for it to be an opportunity missed.
 
Celtic scored three without reply against St Johnstone and never looked back. They took that win back to Celtic Park on Saturday for flag day.
 
It was Ronny Deila’s first match ever at Paradise. Despite playing twelve matches consisting of friendlies, Champions League qualifiers and one SPFL match, all of those fixtures were on the road.
 
Saturday’s lucntime game with Dundee United may have been about Fergus unfurling the league flag, but it was also about Celtic coming home and Deila making his home debut as head coach. The opposition were sittung top of the league having played one game more than Celtic and were certainly one of the main threats to Deila’s team but this was a match controlled by Celtic.
 
Celtic maintained possession, looked lively and gave United a lot to think about. If there were any doubts about how Celtic got a 3-0 win at McDiarmid park in midweek, they were laid to rest with a comprehensive 6-1 mauling of Dundee United.
 
To score nine and concede one after being beaten in Europe then being reinstated needed a response from the players and they did. By no means do I think that Celtic will walk it from this point on, in fact there is much still to do as Deila has stated, but the players have responded to the early warning signs.
 
You can have physical ability in abundance to play football but it takes mental strength to overcome the woe of defeat. Celtic were beaten fair and square in Europe over two legs by Legia Warsaw and it was hard to take.
 
I could argue that Ronny Deila did not have the preparation time or the influx of personnel to execute his game plan. Perhaps he didn’t, but it was enough to see the team past KR Reykjavik.
 
In the first leg against Legia Warsaw, Celtic started well enough, opening the scoring. What concerned me was how quickly things fell apart in the match and why.
 
Celtic lost their grip midway through that first half and was further compounded by the red card applied to Efe Ambrose. Ten men were never going to claw their way back into that match and they didn’t, though they were flattered by a 4-1 score line.
 
Back at Murrayfield there was an opportunity to turn things around with eleven players. Inatead what I saw that evening from my seat in the stadium was a flat lining performance.
 
It’s fair to say that Legia did their job in sitting in and hitting on the break. And why not, they had the advantage after all?

Still, there was a lack of heart and desire on Celtic’s part. It was as though we’d already given up.
 
Had it not been for the calamitous error made by Legia Warsaw backroom staff, I wonder how Celtic would have responded. The reprieve Ronny Deila’s players got was a shot in the arm not just because it kept Celtic in Europe, but in it is the competition.
 
Tomorrow night presents tough challenge for the Celtic Head Coach manager and his players. What has he learned and what have his players learned?

Before the last two league matches I might have been writing off Celtic but I don’t feel that right now. An opportunity has been presented to Celtic so lets make it count and take that Champions League spot.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Warsawry fir yer loss…

Today UEFA threw out Legia Warsaw’s appeal over their exclusion from the Champions League play off round. Personally, I was in no doubt about the outcome based upon the actual rule that had been broken, but fans, the media and the world of football have mixed feelings over the matter.

Legia Warsaw were obviously the first party to make there move. Not just the fans or ex-players, but their very own Chairman.

Dariusz Mioduski’s shallow attempt to appeal to the Celtic community and the ideals we cling to was desperate. The kind of thing you expect to hear from a calulating dictator.

Who is he to call into question our the integrity of our club and our fans? Has he erased Legia Warsaw’s misdemeanours on recent years from his memory or even the lack of support from the Polish FA?

To make matters more distracting, there would appear to be an element of Celtic ‘fans’ who reckon the club should have rejected their reinstatement to the Champions League. Wouldn’t that be looking a gift horse in the mouth?

Ex-Celts such as Dariusz Dziekanowski and Artur Boruc have expressed their distaste. Needless to say, they are now off my Christmas card list.

Kevin McKenna (someone I whose articles I usually enjoy reading) today tweeted that Celtic should have done more and even drew a comparison to the political and military goings on of 1968. I mean, lets not get too melodramatic here Kevo.

He amongst other people on Twitter seems to be full of moralistic views whilst turning a blind eye to the UEFA rule that was broken. Even with the Catholic guilt that never seems to escapews me, Celtic have a clear conscience.

McKenna has obviously bought into the go samaritan style demonstrated by Mioduski. I simply cannot agree with you on this one.

This is a matter that will go round in circles for evdrt or at least until the Court of Arbitration for Sport put the matter to bed once and for all. Celtic stayed out of the argument and allowed Legia Warsaw and UEFA to sort it out but still people want to criticise my club.

As I said in a previous blog, Arsenal Kyiv went out in similar circumstances. They took their medicine and the rules have remained the same for s further two years.

I get that it was an error but clubs make errors all the time. They don’t usually go unpunished though.

I’m behind any rule change but as the rule stands Legia Warsaw are out. I don’t know what Celtic were supposed to have done here.

You’re a moron if you think Celtic should have been surrendering a second chance. If Legia Warsaw had been done an injustice, and they haven’t, I would be right behind giving up this place.

However, there is no evidence of injustice. Legia Warsaw made a mistake which broke a UEFA rule and in turn received the punishment outlined in those rules.

And yet Celtic are the club to blame? People have short memories.

Over the decades Celtic have suffered from poor refereeing and unsporting behaviour at home and abroad whilst Celtic played the game. Celtic did not see proper justice done against Rapid Vienna and Atletico Madrid and live long in the memory of many a Celtic fan.

These are the real injustices. Not when you made a mistake and are not prepared to accept the consequences.

The justice Legia Warsaw seeks isn’t even on the same scale. Their fight is with UEFA and in a dirty attempt to insincerely lure Celtic into the fight, they lost any respect I had for how they played over over the two legs.

It’s Celtic’s gain, but one which was gifted by Legia Warsaw’s incompetence. The blame lies solely with them.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Dear Dariusz Mioduski,

Thank you for your correspondence of Sunday 10th August.

In your open letter to Celtic regarding UEFA’S decision to kick Legia Warsaw out of the Champions League qualifying stages, you have attempted to appeal to the fans as well as the club. You talk about great characters of Celtic’s history and the dignity of our club in a cheap attempt to stoke our coals.

This kind of approach reminds me of someone trying to buy something off ebay that is on auction, where the buyer has made direct contact with the seller in an attempt to beat off the competition. Its a very sly game you are playing in trying to call into question Celtic’s beliefs, foundations and history by applying them to a mistake made by Legia Warsaw.

Celtic fans do not need to be reminded by you or anyone else what our club was founded on or indeed what our history is based upon. We Celtic Minded folk know the score and we breathe it every day.

You dare to question the professionalism of Celtic because four of your own staff failed to carry out their duties with any? I suggest you and your club leave Celtic out of this.

Legia Warsaw won the tie fair and square, something that Celtic fans accepted, no matter how bad it hurt. If you have a beef with anyone, it is with UEFA.

The punishment outlined in the rules that were broken were not written by Celtic. As disproportionate as they may appear, it is not for Celtic to remedy the situation.

Do not darken the doorstep of Celtic because we are the benefactors of your clubs failure to execute something simple. Even though there was no gain by Legia Warsaw fielding Bereszyński, it does not come down to Celtic to make it right.

By all means, go to CAS and argue your case. It probably won’t alter this case but it may invoke a change in the future.

The fact is, if it had been a 2-0 forfeit, we wouldn’t be having this debate. If you had managed to score either of the penalties from the first leg, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Go to UEFA and go to CAS. Celtic have played by the rules and took our medicine these last two weeks.

I suggest you take yours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Forster among equals

Fraser Forster came to Celtic in August 2010. Although a Newcastle United player, he had been plying his trade on the road.

Two loan spells at Stockport County and Bristol Rovers got his career under way. A third loan deal took him to Norwich where his performances drew praise after a fine season under Paul Lambert.

It was there that he caught Celtic’s eye. He also came highly recommended by Lambert and so Celtic took him on loan for a season.

Although still a young keeper, he maintained his position in goal throughout that first season with Celtic. He was growing in stature, as was Neil Lennon’s team but he would return to Newcastle United at the end of that season.

A further year long loan spell was negotiated and he was back in the Celtic goal once more. After another steady season under Neil Lennon, Celtic were ready to do business.

Sadly, Newcastle United wanted to play hardball. Despite being a third choice keeper Alan Pardew insisted that Forster was still a key player.

At the time I wasn’t totally convinced that Celtic should be pursuing Forster with such determination. Newcastle weren’t easy to deal with and although Forster had had two decent season’s under his belt, my feeling was that Celtic shouldn’t be held to ransom for someone Newcastle had never played in a competitive match.

Both clubs eventually agreed fee of £2M and he was a finally a Celtic player. Any doubts I may have had over the protracted negotiation were laid to rest in his third season for Celtic.

Despite showing good shot stopping ability in the past, he saved his best for Europe that season. Saving penalties, pulling off wonder saves from world class opponents and being a stand out performer drew praise across Europe.

In Barcelona, the media named him “La Gran Muralla” – The Great Wall. This was a testimony to his size and ability in defying the Catalan side.

There is no doubt he was at his best in Europe. When you consider he was rarely called into action during domestic matches, this was some feat.

His fourth season was equally as good as his third even if Celtic’s luck wasn’t as fortuitous in Europe. Forster continued to earn praise from the media and fellow professionals and rumours of his departure were almost daily.

England eventually took notice and the mild mannered giant was named in several squads. To date he has earned two England caps and was included in 2014 World Cup squad, though never featured in what was a disappointing tournament for the England team.

So it was only a matter time before the big man would leave. The rumours that have surrounded his Celtic career have now been laid to rest following his move to Southampton.

I will miss Forster for several reasons. His application, dedication and professionalism as a player are as great as his presence in goal.

He broke and set records whilst a Celtic player as well as winning trophies and plaudits. Most of all, he had his finest hours in goal for Celtic and provided fans with some breathtaking and chest beating moments.

Leaving Celtic for the fee agreed is a testimony to his growth, stature and achievements as a Celtic player. Hopefully playing in the Premier League in England will further his international ambitions.

He has earned it and he will be missed. Good luck and all the best to the future, Fraser.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Rules are rules

It’s not the kind of path you expect to walk down, but rules are rules. Celtic are back in the running for the Champions League Group Stage after being handed a second chance at the expense of their conquerors, Legia Warsaw.

At what stage UEFA became aware of Legia Warsaw’s breach of rules is uncertain. Having glanced over their rules last night, this mornings 9am meeting in Nyon appeared to be a mere formality.

Multiple attempts by the media to draw a comparison with Legia’s situation to that of Debreceni VSC’s in 2010, when they fielded an ineligible player, was nothing more than lazy journalism. The rules affecting each case aren’t even in the same category, but it only goes to show how much unverified nonsense gets passed from one media outlet to another.

Debreceni VSC fielded an ineligible player in 2010 against Bulgarian side, PFC Litex Lovech. Péter Máté was deemed ineligible because he was not on the official list submitted to UEFA whereas Bartosz Bereszyński had only served part of his suspension.

In the case of Bereszyński:
* “A match is declared forfeit if a player who has been suspended following a disciplinary decision participates in the match”

In the case of Máté:
* “A match may be declared forfeit if a player who is ineligible participates in the match, as long as the opposing team files a protest”

Máté was not suspended, just not on the official list submitted UEFA. Bereszyński was on the official list submitted to UEFA, but also suspended.

Despite the obvious screw up or misunderstanding by Legia Warsaw only they are culpable here. There may be zero advantage in Bereszyński’s appearance but the breach is clear.

The fact that the forfeit is to award the opposition a 3-0 win is only part of it. Had the Pole’s actually scored either of their penalties from the first leg they would still have gone through.

Hard luck for them considering Celtic go through on the away goals rule 4-4 on aggregate. They can’t have any complaints though.

This morning Sky Sports News were pedalling the same nonsense that the BBC (amongst others media outlets) were last night. Only those who chose to research UEFA rules or even read them knew that unless this was UEFA’s own error, the rules were clearly broken by Legia Warsaw.

As it turns out he Polish team have chosen to appeal the decision. They have stated that the punishment is disproportionate to the breach of rules.

Not wishing to jump the gun here, I cannot see this being overturned. Any teams who have been punished previously would be up in arms i.e. FC Arsenal Kyiv’s (though they are now dissolved!) forfeit to ND Mura 05 in 2012.

With all that to one side Celtic now find themselves facing Maribor in a Champions League play off. This change of fortunes guarantees European football for the club whether they overcome the Slovenian champions or not.

At this stage I am not fussy though obviously, I’d prefer Celtic to avoid further humiliation! The question most fans are asking is that with European football guaranteed until December, will the club supply Ronny Deila with funds to strengthen the squad?

In the past the club have been prudent to the point where they haven’t bought a player until a Champions League position has been secured. Although that competition is assured, the Europa League is.

If the Celtic board are as good as our bank balance suggests, then they’ll already know the projected income from a Europa League campaign. Should income be the dictating factor in transfer funds, then Celtic can surely start spending now.

The other question is the future of the current squad. The rumours around our key players will surely be cast in doubt now that Europe is secures until Christmas.

With that in mind, does it be any better? Well yes it does actually.

In the last 24 hours, HMRC announced their decision to appeal in the “Big Tax Case”. Whilst they may not succeed with this, the odds are in still their favour going by previous cases.

As I said at the beginning, rules are rules and down The Celtic Way, we like to play by them as well as remind people of them. Celtic may have gotten lucky here but they lost fair and square and still won in the end!

Sadly, elsewhere in Scotland we saw Aberdeen and St Johnstone exit European competition last night after a valiant effort by both clubs. This leaves Celtic as the only Scottish club flying the flag in Europe this season.

Not unusual, but once again, not great for the coefficient either. Keep the green flag flying high.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

* thanks to moravcik67 from the Kerrydale Street forum for highlighting the UEFA rules last night

No capital gain for Celtic

The true position of Celtic Football Club was abundantly clear last night. What was on display at Murrayfield was not just devoid of passion and determination, but simple football and basic communication.

Prior to kick off there remained a chance and an opportunity to repair the damage from a week ago in Warsaw. What I saw in Edinburgh turned out to be worse than the first leg.

I’ll set aside the issue that the squad has not been strengthened for now (in fact it’s a likely to get weaker fairly soon). What I will discuss is Ronny Deila, his coaching team and the players he does have at his disposal.

Last week we witnessed a disaster. The bright start made by Celtic eventually slid in presence and quality as the match continued.

A red card and a capitulation could have and probably should have seen Celtic fighting a bigger deficit at Murrayfield last night. As it turns out the deficit was three goals with an way goal in the bag as a boost – not impossible to turn around.

Whilst others went off at the deep end, I gave Deila the benefit of the doubt. The chance to redeem himself with eleven players rather than the ten he was left with for last week’s second half was enough for me to remain optimistic but all involved would have to step it up.

What I watched last night lacked everything you need in European football. In terms of level of performance, it was a shadow of a Celtic side.

With Efe Ambrose suspended, Deila selected Mikael Lustig to partner Virgil van Dijk in central defence. That seemed like the sensible choice given vice captain Charlie Mulgrew’s surprisingly woeful stand-in (or should that be stand-up?) contribution last week, a role he won plaudits for not so long ago.

Emilio Izaguirre was back in the starting line up in his usual left back role. Adam Matthews, who deputised for Izaguirre last week (though why I still don’t know) returned to his more familiar position at right back. With Fraser Forster in goal, this is the defence most of us would have chosen and certainly one I didn’t disagree with.

Then there’s the midfield. Weakened by the injured club captain Scott Brown and lacking the kind of personnel not just to win over fans but to actually win the battle in the middle of the park.

Alongside captain Mulgrew was Stefan Johansen and the young but wilful Callum McGregor. Also in the mix was Nir Biton who if memory serves correctly has barely seen any action this summer.

In front of them was Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes. Commons is a first pick at all times but Stokes’s (unplayed last week) inclusion left me wondering once more why Leigh Griffith’s or even the ‘in form’ Teemu Pukki didn’t get the nod.

Even with this starting lineup I gave the manager the benefit of the doubt. As the match got underway it transpired that the wheels had come off, the teeth had fell out and the game was a bogey.

I’ve seen Celtic teams of the past at least show the determination and effort required to try and overcome a first leg humbling. As an example, Strachan came up short against Artmedia Bratislava away but returned to Celtic Park getting a good win only to come up short in goals scored.

Just last season saw Neil Lennon take virtually the same group of players and overturn a poor away result against Shakhter Karagandy. Lennon did manage to overturn that result, but last seasons unconvincing entry into the Champions League was a warning to the club.

Despite making the group stage last season it was a poor offering and should have been confirmation that this season would yield little more without change. Now that Celtic are out of the Champions League competition shows you that the warning signs were ignored or at the very least, accepted by the board.

You could argue that it wasn’t Celtic Park and therefore didn’t feel like a home game. We weren’t screaming about that when we put minnows KR Reykjavik to bed two weeks earlier though.

What fans are seeing is the club downsizing to the point where they are happy to do just enough to win the league. Given that grim outlook, Europe won’t be a happy hunting ground, as this Champions League “campaign” has shown as well as the one prior to this have demonstrated.

We know that Celtic are not able to compete at the top in terms of transfer fees and wages. I’m not entirely sure where we are competing though.

Lennon said after last weeks game in Warsaw that this result was coming. That the club had to spend but wouldn’t.

As much as it saddened me to hear Lennon say this so soon after leaving, left me feeling unhappy with him. To a degree he is right though, and certainly knows more than I or any other fan.

What now awaits Celtic is a two leg play off match for the Europa League. As much as I hate to say it, this might be a better competition for Ronny Deila if he is to succeed in creating his own team.

If Celtic had somehow overturned the deficit last night the next opponent would surely have wiped the floor with us. The thought of not playing in the Champions League makes my heart sink but at least I won’t have to watch Celtic get slaughtered.

Europa League football isn’t guaranteed, nor am I convinced that Celtic will qualify. If they continue to play as they are at the moment and come up against a basic team like Legia Warsaw then the club can kiss goodbye to any additional income from Europe.

Instead, Ronny Deila will spend a whole season trying to make sure he doesn’t get a hiding from Aberdeen, Dundee United, Motherwell and Inverness. When you consider that Forster, Van Dijk and possibly others might depart, I fear for the direction Celtic are heading in.

It is evident that Deila cannot just wave a wand and make things happen. He’s young, just in the door and getting to know this group of players.

It may well be that these players aren’t good enough. They might not be of sufficient quality to adjust to a new format.

Yet I still feel Deila made some poor choices as many Celtic managers before him have. Also, I can’t imagine John Collins sitting in a TV studio watching as a pundit agreeing with some of those choices either.

Would he not advise against some of Deila’s choices? Would he not moot a similar setup to Lennon’s until they had the right personnel in place?

I was also baffled by the decision to throw on Forrest when the game was already dead and buried. I mean why throw on a guy with injury problems when the match is lost?

It was stupid and put the player at risk. Even Deila himself admitted a few weeks ago that he would not rush Forrest back until he was 100%.

I can’t put my finger on the issue or the decisions. I can only endure what is to come and hope that in the long term Deila’s vision will bear fruit.

It must be said though, Europe is not the theatre to perform new tricks in. In the Champions League there is too much at stake, particularly for Celtic.

I bought into the Deila appointment and avoiding total calamity, I am still prepared to give him a season to make things happen. The question is, what are the board prepared to do to help him get there?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie