The wind of change

The significance of events between 2014-2015 at Celtic could turn out to be a pivotal time for the club. At the beginning of 2014, the league title looked destined for Celtic Park and fans were in for another anti-climatic finish for a second consecutive season.

There were many fixtures still to be played but Celtic would tie up the league the earliest it has been done since before World War II. Having exited Europe before Christmas 2013, Celtic had maintained an unbeaten run and record amount of shut-outs by Fraser Forster (setting a new record in the process), both of which would grind to a halt against Aberdeen, their closest rivals.

In the January transfer window, Celtic bought Leigh Griffiths, a player whose off-field antics did not resonate well among the fan base, mine in particular. The timing of the move seemed unnecessary given that the league looked to be coming Celtic’s way, but he was a relatively cheap acquisition for a proven goal scorer and Celtic had limited attacking options having already lost Gary Hooper the previous summer and still without an ample replacement.

He didn’t disappoint either and since then has proven himself valuable but I can’t change my disapproval of the time. In the same window, Stefan Johansen joined the ranks and displayed the kind of energy you expect from an attacking midfielder.

His ability was recognisable as soon as he set foot in the team but there would be more come from him in the season that followed. However, it was the announcement that Johan Mjallby would depart that summer that became the focal point of Celtic’s future.

This raised concern and speculation about Lennon’s situation. With his assistant coach eyeing the exit door some felt Lennon would follow Mjallby but I wasn’t totally convinced at the time.

Lennon later announced that he would also be leaving and I wondered how long this had been coming. He had endured the worst of times as a footballer and head coach whilst at Celtic.

Death threats, bomb threats and physical and verbal attacks by opposing fans surrounded the Northern Irishman because of his nationality, religion and club of choice. These acts remain a cancer in Scotland and also its greatest shame in the modern day.

It is therefore quite astounding that Lennon left having won the biggest of battle of all – over his oppressors. He overcame all of it but I am sure the pain inflicted upon him and his family will remain forever.

As it was Lennon departed on a high having secured the league title for a third consecutive season. In the wake of his exit, Celtic are said to have courted many names, but I saw most of them as pure speculation.

I don’t doubt that initial contact was made with some potential candidates but to what extent is anyone’s guess. The man they settled on in the end was supposedly not first choice.

Realistically, a club won’t always get their first choice so that never bothered me in the slightest. In fact, if Celtic’s first choice was Roy Keane, as many have said (including himself), then I think the club dodged a bullet.

Celtic cast a net knowing that they had limited funds to offer in terms of salary, as well as for purchases in the transfer market. Yet it is no surprise that so many names are banded about given the culture, history and fan base that Celtic Football Club possess.

I think most would agree that despite the lure of such a big name, Roy Keane could have been a disastrous choice. Outside of the “favourite”, Celtic were looking at young, up and coming coaches rather than older experienced ones.

Ex-Celts would top that list if course but the man they would go for was unknown to all. Ronny Deila was a young, up and coming coach for sure but nobody had heard of him.

Again, that didn’t concern me to be honest and I was intrigued and somewhat surprised by Celtic’s bold move. This was out of character for the club but the more I read about what Deila had done since he moved into coaching, the more interested I became in who he was and he could do.

As it turned out, it would be no easy ride as some Celtic managers have found out but I remained a supporter of Ronny and his plans. He came from left field and went about getting his plan up and running but he faced many challenges.

Despite losing one of the club’s best players in Fraser Forster, the club had acquired Craig Gordon as a replacement but having been out of the game for so long could he fill the shoes of his predecessor? Deila would seek further additions to aid his quest but he would largely be assessing the current squad including Stefan Johansen who had worked under him at Strømsgodset.

Now you can make your own deduction from this story but it was speculated that Deila had initially been earmarked as a coach to come in and work with Lennon. Whether there is any truth in that or not is immaterial because the one thing we can safely assume is that Celtic had done their homework on Deila.

With the first season not even over you just don’t know how far this relationship can go but so far he has weathered the storm and come out fighting. There is never any guarantee of success when you appoint a new head coach so there is always risk.

Celtic didn’t opt for this Norwegian coach as a stab in the dark, but because his methods were fresh and new. And having watched Deila endure a slow start with high expectations, disgruntled fans and a less than supportive media you would have to say the club have stuck by their man.

He has won over most of his opponents, if not all of them. Wth the possibility of a treble in one of the most competitive Scottish domestic seasons in recent years, it will put to bed all of those doubters should that dream come to fruition.

The expectations placed upon Deila have been huge but it is no different to any other manager before him. Europe was a steep learning curve and in reality, it turned out to be a fairly positive experience for himself and the players.

Despite missing out on the Champions League, a tournament Celtic were sure to have been slaughtered in, the Europa League was an opportunity for these players to bed in under a new regime on continental soil. Reaching the last 32 was a boost for Deila and the fans and it even served up an old Italian foe.

The tie with Inter Milan gave everyone a taste of what we could expect should Celtic reach the group stage of the Champions League next season. And that has to be a target for Deila and the club because a domestic treble this season would provide the kind of momentum required to lead the team into the early European qualification round in the summer.

That said this season isn’t over as it was by this time last year, despite Aberdeen losing their own momentum in recent weeks. A gap has opened up in the Scottish Premiership but Celtic are not at a safe distance just yet.

The last eight games for Celtic will be a test of their mental and physical strength at this stage of the season, continuing today at Inverness. The squad is extremely strong right now a competition for places remains tight.

Its a healthy situation for Celtic currently and when you cast your mind back to September and October, it serves as a reminder that success doesn’t come overnight. The efforts Ronny has put in this season can only blossom in the next.

He will want to ensure he is well equipped for a Champions League quest and there is no doubt he wants it as much as the board do for financial reasons and the fans do for entertainment value. Ronny himself knows the level each player must perform at to compete with the best in Europe and the world.

This is what he has spent all season trying to drill into the players he inherited and drafted in. The players have responded to him and will be ready to take the lessons from this season into the next one.

Keeping the squad together will be the priority but a few are certain to leave which is only natural. Four of the current crop at the club are on loan whilst seven of Celtic’s are also out on loan to other clubs so there will be some movement on that front for certain.

Deila would love to keep Jason Denayer and John Guidetti, both on loan from Manchester City, but they remain uncommitted. Denayer has put in a solid season and I’m sure another season long loan would be beneficial for all parties, but Denayer has not hidden his desire to return to City.

Guidetti on the other hand made a blistering start to his loan spell only to lose his way on the park amid speculation about a permanent move. Celtic brokered a deal with City but the Swede wasn’t on board and instead made umpteen references in the media about playing for other clubs in Europe.

This led to fans turning against him and gladly seeing him out of the team. He also spat the dummy out recently during the League Cup Final when after James Forrest won a penalty, he refused to hand Guidetti the ball.

At this level of football you don’t expect to see that kind of petulance but Guidetti capped it off by storming up the tunnel at full time only to be retrieved by Mikael Lustig. That memory is embedded in my mind and despite any desire Ronny still has of obtaining Guidetti’s signature, the Swede would have a lot of back pedalling to win over the fans once more.

The other two loanees, Mubarak Wakaso and Aleksandar Tonev are certain to return their parent clubs. Neither have held down a place this season.

Aside from Wakaso’s wonder goal against Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League, his appearances have been limited. Tonev has made even fewer appearances and became an outsider after being accused and banned for alleged racial abuse of a fellow professional despite any hard evidence.

That seven match ban pretty much put an end to his playing chances as other players were beginning to find form. Celtic stuck by the player but he effectively lost his battle in the first team.

Celtic still have to decide on the futures of their own players out on loan as well. Amido Baldé was signed as a young prospect in 2013 but has rarely been given a chance so Celtic may cut there losses with him given that his loan spells with Waasland-Beveren and Hapoel Tel Aviv have not been prosperous.

Teemo Pukki and Hólmbert Friðjónsson are currently both playing at Brøndby IF with the former doing a decent job and likely to get a permanent move. Friðjónsson may also get a deal if Celtic end their interest in him though he is still on the fringes of success.

The four remaining players out on loan are could also move on with the exception of Liam Henderson. The young midfielder has put in some notable performances this season and has been loaned out for the rest of the season for experience only I would assume.

He looks as though he can do a job for Celtic but with competition for places high, he needs games to develop. Rosenberg should give him a decent level of experience to help him compete further next season.

The only other matter are the futures of Celtic’s contracted players. Commons finally sorted out his future and Van Dijk is now displaying signs of staying for a other season at the very least.

Another player back in the fold is young Tom Rogić. He went out on loan in January 2014 to Australia hoping to imprive his international chances but injury has been a thorn in his side.

There remains a glimmer of hope for the Australian midfielder. I’m sure we’d all love to see what he has to offer if he can shrug off injuries.

I read somewhere recently (possibly just a rumour) that the club may try and move Anthony Stokes on. I’m not totally against the idea to be honest but I think I’d rather see the back of guys like Derk Boerrigter first.

“Sicknote'” has been a disastrous signing for Celtic. Whilst the club have been known for unearthing gems, he certainly hasn’t been one of them.

The very fact he came with an injury tag was a risk the club must be held accountable for. There have been too many risks and I’d hate to think that the rumoured fees for these guys were all met in full given what they have failed to do for the club.

Baldé, Pukki and Boerrigter all signed four year deals and each has failed to cut it. One man on the brink of going down the same road is Stefan Šćepović.

He too signed a four year deal with Celtic, after an on/off transfer that cast a minor shadow over the deal. He hasn’t held down a regular spot in the team or provided the fire power he demonstrated at Sporting de Gijón but there remains the possibility he may still make it as a Celtic player.

Celtic have decisions to make on all of these players and cut back on waste. When I think about the players in years gone by that Celtic failed to stump up the cash for i.e. James McFadden and Steven Fletcher, it irks me that they have spent more on players at a higher risk of failure.

Time to move on the morons and motivate the worthy. Only the best will make it in Ronny’s squad.

Eight games left and a treble is in our sights. Inverness here we come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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One thought on “The wind of change

  1. I’m sure Lennon said himself that he wanted Deila to replace Johan as assistant before he left. It probably would have made the transition to being Celtic boss a bit smoother for Ronny so it’s a shame it didn’t materialise that way. Can’t complain with how the season has went though.

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