Çiftçi and McGeady?

I don’t know what I am more alarmed about. That Celtic have reportedly made a bid for Nadir Çiftçi or that Aiden McGeady is rumoured to be returning to Paradise.

Firsty, lets talk about Nadir Çiftçi. On the face of things it looks like a mediocre move for Celtic.

The Turkish striker has made a name for himself at Dundee United and in Scottish football, particularly against Celtic. I’d say he is a key player for McNamara’s team but is he really up to the job at Celtic or in Europe?

Well, lets go a wee bit deeper. At 23 years old, this is a young striker playing regular football in Scotland for the last two seasons.

Prior to his arrival in Scotland Çiftçi had spells with Portsmouth, Kayserispor and NAC Breda. He has also been capped at under-17 level by the Netherlands and under-19 level by Turkey, the latter being his actual place of birth.

Ironically, he was convinced to switch allegiances to Turkey by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman. He was Turkey manager at the time and evidently liked what he saw.

In my total ignorance before today’s blog, I thought Çiftçi was an older player but that may just be the beard! That got me thinking – does Ronny see this guy with greater potential?

Well, it still sounds like another gamble, something Celtic have done a lot with strikers these last few years. However, he does have good experience playing in Scotland which is one less risk.

Does this guy have more to offer? Are Celtic going to raise the bid?

Elsewhere, rumours have begun to circulate about Aiden McGeady. He left Celtic five years ago for a whopping fee of £9.5M.

At the time I thought this was superb business by the club. Many saw it as Celtic cashing and I had no argument about that then or now.

For me McGeady was a one trick pony who had one amazing season at the club. Despite his flare, it rarely had an end product and his place in the team was always under scrutiny.

Crossing the ball was not his thing either despite it actually being his job on matchdays. In fact, I think his best position may have been playing off the front man but I didn’t see him given that role too often.

In the back of my mind, yes it would be interesting to see him play in the Hoops again. On the other hand, has he actually improved since leaving Celtic in 2010?

As I said in a forum thread last night, if his career had blossomed since leaving would we even be talking about a potential move back to Celtic? I doubt it because he would be priced out of such a move whereas now, people think he might have to lower his demands such is his career dip.

Now after a three-and-a-half year spell in Moscow and just over a year with Everton he has apparently put in a transfer request. Given that his appearances have been limited at Everton I’d say he’s done the right thing for himself but is Celtic really on the radar or is this pure speculation?

I think McGeady will have matured in his five years since leaving Celtic. I know many would like to see him back, but there’s an equal amount (if not more) who wouldn’t.

Fancy tricks aren’t everything in this game and it doesn’t win you matches. You need to be able to deliver and that is where my frustration with McGeady lies.

Throw in the fact that coming back is rarely, if ever, a good thing and I think you have your answer. The way forward for Aiden is not the way back so perhaps this should remain a rumour.

Tomorrow Celtic take on FC Den Bosch at St Mirren Park. I’m desperate to see the Hoops play again.

I’m also looking forward to seeing some fringe players getting a chance to shine. For some players, it may be the last or close to last time we see them don the Hoops as Ronny aims to trim the squad so I’ll be tuning in for sure.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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I like what I hear

Evolution seems to be at the forefront of Ronny Deila’s philosophy. Less than a year ago, many were willing to go all “Le Guen” on him.

We saw how the French revolution turned out at Oldco. At Celtic, I like the Norwegian approach and how that is turning out.

Celtic have tried things their way for a good few years. This new way forward excites me.

A smaller squad to accommodate the youth who are filtering through. Why weren’t we doing this sooner?

Tommy Burns was pursuing youth development in the mid-90’s. He got some backing but not the full backing he desired.

Today Ronny is getting that backing and I welcome it. Too many squad players on salaries they don’t deserve have drained the club for too long.

Give youth a chance and see just how good your investment is. Ronny is suggesting a suitable squad size is not far away from being achieved.

This is the way forward, particularly where youth development is concerned. The prospect of actually seeing young players getting the opportunity is long overdue.

Yes, we’ve seen the odd young player break onto the scene like Maloney, McGeady and more recently Forrest. That’s one player in every generation that makes it as a regular.

Personally, I’d like to see three or four youth players amongst the ranks regularly. There’s little point investing in youth if you just ship them out once they reach maturity.

Fortunately, Ronny has youth in mind and a squad size to allow those players to filter into the team. Again, this excites me.

All the managers Celtic have had for the last couple of decades have all built Celtic teams by buying players from England and the continent. This ever decreasing spending budget has seen the high spending of the Martin O’Neill days slide to the point where one of his biggest purchases, Neil Lennon, had little to spend when he eventually took the hot seat.

With Ronny Deila, there has been money to spend but Celtic cannot compete with the top clubs. Salaries as well as transfer fees leave Celtic well out of the game.

It was reported that players such as Steven Fletcher and Ikechi Anya were priced of the market for Celtic’s wage structure even if the transfer fees weren’t. Whether these moves were even on the cards doesn’t matter, the point is Celtic must get these kind of players before their wages become the issue.

So if there was ever a reason to utilise the youth you’ve invested in, it is this. Bring in the best, coach them for the first team, play them and pay them what you can afford.

If these players are looking for a bigger salary than Celtic can afford, they’ll need to prove themselves first before they can get those high end wages. At least the club should get something in return if they do move on, as well as having got the use of their services by actually giving them a chance.

In the past Celtic have had some mishaps with players such as Liam Miller who broke onto the scene only to show his true nature by jumping ship. Nobody would have predicted that a player who had been given tremendous support by the club through his injury hell and then given a regular place in the team would have carried out such disloyalty by leaving to join Manchester United for free.

Still, Miller got what he deserved which was a career without much success. I won’t hide my bitterness on this or lie when I say I enjoyed watching his career slide.

You cannot account for players like him, you just have to nurture them and give them a chance. If they choose to stab you in the back that’s out with your control.

More recently, an ill-advised Islam Feruz left Celtic for Chelsea. Again, Celtic were powerless in his move south but it is again another example of disloyalty you cannot account for.

Still, this should never deter you from nurturing young players. They are the lifeblood of the club and all want to make it even if some won’t but if you don’t give them chance you’ll never know.

I look forward to phase two of Ronny Deila’s plans for the team. Leaner, faster with more opportunity for youth.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The madness of the media

Transfer windows are laced with enough drama and rumour to fill a holiday paperback. And when you have the media spinning tales of a “Celtic and Rangers target”, you know who the media are working for.

Not that this is much of a surprise. The Scottish media were wrapped around Oldco’s former owner Sir David “Moonbeams” Murray so much he’s never even been held accountable for the mess he left the now deceased club in.

With Newco failing to escape the Championship, it seems the Scottish media have stepped up their support campaign to help out Dave King. As well as failing to report on meetings between King and Ashley in London the other week (thanks Phil), the Scottish media have paired multiple transfer rumours as “Celtic and Rangers” targets.

Sound familiar? It should do because it’s the same shit, different era.

Danny Wilson has been rumoured to be joining Celtic for a while now. The fact that this story trundled on should have set alarm bells ringing.

With the swiftness in which he moved to Ibrox though tells its own story. You can only imagine the groundwork that was laid to include Celtic in this tale to allow the Ibrox charter flight to say “get it right up ye”.

Why circulate a rumour that Celtic wanted him? Because it makes his eventual and only move look like Newco got one over Celtic.

Wilson is guaranteed first team football at Newco, particularly as they are a Championship side. Had he even been on Celtic’s radar, he’d struggle to get a game.

The fact is Celtic have signed a replacement for Jason Denayer in the form of a maturer Man City and Belgian team mate. Dedryck Boyata will fill the void at the heart of the defence and look to form a partnership with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, I don’t think Danny Wilson was ever going to be that man. Ronny Deila has a good channel of communication with Man City already which is why he has returned to the same talent pool.

No disrespect to Wilson, he’s turned in what I hear was a good season with Hearts but was not for Celtic as the club have already stated. The fact that he has returned to Ibrox for a go with Newco suggests he has found his level in football.

As if that unfounded rumour wasn’t enough to contend with, the media have Celtic players leaving and old ones coming back. Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper are amongst those said to be coming back whilst James Forrest and Virgil van Dijk are on their way out.

Crazy stuff but the kind of stories that get folk talking (and writing). What else would I blog about I ask you?

Well there’s been little mention of those who actually have or will leave. They are too minor for the headlines.

Teemu Pukki made his loan move to Brøndby IF permanent for a cut price which was the only notable story to make the headlines. Meantime, John Herron (to Blackpool), Dylan McGeouch (possibly to Hibs), Jackson Irvine (back home?), Joe Chalmers (to Motherwell) and Lukasz Zaluska (he won’t be short of offers) are all out of contract.

I would be very surprised if there aren’t further exits from the club as well. Amido Baldé (Hapoel Tel Aviv) and Hólmbert Friðjónsson (Brøndby IF) are still out on loan and I’m sure Celtic would like to make these moves permanent.

Also out on loan is Liam Henderson but he is likely to remain at Rosenborg until Celtic recall the young midfielder. He hasn’t looked out of place when playing for the Celtic first team and he has the potential to hold down a place but he is having a fine time out in Norway scoring 4 goals in 13 appearances so far.

Whilst trimming down the squad is on the forefront of Ronny Deila’s mind, I can think of a couple of players that may be on that list that I haven’t already been mentioned. Anthony Stokes and Derk Boerrigter are two players who Celtic may look to move on this summer.

Stokes’s Celtic career has been decent since signing five years ago. He is a player with a lot of talent but he hasn’t always had the consistency or the professional attitude off the field and not really the ‘big game’ player you want him to be.

Last season under Deila, he carved out a partnership with Emilio Izaguirre on the left flank. This was a good spell for Stokes and was influential in the first half of the season even if his goal tally wasn’t as great as it had been in previous years.

The question is, have Celtic weighed up his personal life against his contribution to the team and made a decision on his future? That’s one to ponder but Derk Boerrigter is the one most would like to see go without hesitation.

A very poor gamble by the club and a player who has no future at the club in most peoples opinion. His injuries have been his primary omission from first team football but he also received heavy criticism and punishment for diving in a league match last August.

Despite any ill-feeling toward thge SFA’s ruking on that, “sick-note’s” tenure at Celtic has not been a good one for him, the fans or the club. Celtic may cut their losses with him because he will find it difficult to get back into the team with his injury woes and the talent that is in front of him.

Then it is just a matter of who else Ronny Deila will decide to bring in. His angling for a smaller squad suggests that he is happy with what he has currently.

Personally, I’d still like to see another striker but he may feel he has enough in Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Šćepović even though the latter has yet to do the business and the former needs to demonstrate his ability in Europe. There is also the question of a back up keeper though, I personally would be happy to see the young Leo Fasan take that role.

Defensively Celtic don’t need any more defenders unless they really do succumb to rumours and sell Virgil van Dijk. The midfield has plenty of options as well especially with the Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven arriving in January rather that June this year.

With training under way and the first preseason friendly less than a week away, the excitement draws nearer.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Back in training, back in Iceland.

Celtic will return to Iceland next month to face Stjarnan F.C. The draw for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League has paired Ronny Deila with Icelandic opposition for the second year running.

With neither team having faced each other before, both will be doing their homework with European football at stake. Many will feel this is a tie Celtic are more than capable of winning comfortably but Stjarnan will be using last seasons Europa League qualifiers as a base to progress.

Stjarnan F.C. overcame Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznań only to exit at the hands of Celtic’s Europa League victors Inter Milan in the play off round. However, Celtic swept aside KR Reykjavík at the same stage of Champions League qualifying last season and will feel confident they can do the same to the current Icelandic champions.

The Icelandic season runs from May to September and as a result, Stjarnan have already played 8 league matches. They are currently sitting in sixth place having won 3, drawn 2, lost 2 with 10 goals for 10 goals against.

Despite winning the Úrvalsdeild title for the first time in 2014 their league form won’t be of too much interest to Celtic. It is the fact that they will have better match fitness by the time they face Ronny Deila’s side.

As for Celtic, they will be looking to be more convincing in qualifying than they were last year. Despite winning by a 5-0 aggregate score over KR Reykjavík last summer, Celtic were beaten comfortably 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in the round that followed.

It was only the incompetence of the Polish champions fielding an ineligible player that bought Celtic another crack at qualifying for the Champions League. Even that wasn’t enough, as Ronny Deila’s side lost out in the second leg at home 0-1 after completing a respectable 1-1 draw in the first leg away to Maribor.

As disappointing as that was, there was still Europa League football to be had. This was also a much more suited tournament for Celtic at this point as much as it may have been hard to admit at the time.

With a change of manager and a serious modification to the way players trained, ate and slept, the Champions League could have been a total disaster. One year on, I think both Ronny and the players are now ready to field last seasons progress against the best.

I will highlight the fact that Celtic are not the finished article and still require a handful of players to make the team a solid force. These players now have a season under their belts though and have made some headway.

We’re all desperate to hear that music again. There can be no doubt it is what the Celtic family want to be involved in every season.

The challenge is to face the best and match them on the night. Special things can happen on the Champions League nights, especially at Paradise.

A solid qualifying campaign and a few extra signings before deadline day will be most welcome. As the players were back in training today they will be thinking about that.

Before that we will have the chance to see the Bhoy’s in action against FC Den Bosch, FK Dukla Prague and Real Sociedad de Fútbol. All ties are to played at St Mirren Park whilst Celtic Park has some stadium work carried out.

The most important thing is that Celtic will be back at Paradise for any of the home legs in the qualifying rounds. Although it wasn’t the reason behind last years dismal showing, I think many would agree that they’d rather have seen Celtic stage a revival at Celtic Park than Murrayfield.

So now it is down to the Bhoy’s to get stuck in at training and get some practice in these upcoming friendlies. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the club in September but they’ll have to work hard to get there.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Scouting and spending

The departure of Teemu Pukki to Brøndby IF for less than £500k should be a lesson learned for Celtic. For a forward with a fairly unimpressive record, the club have taken a hit on this player.

The Finnish international signed a four year contract in 2013 for a fee in the region of £2M-£3M. He scored on his début away to Hearts and then again on his home début and you can’t really ask for more than that from a new player.

However, things never really progressed for Pukki from those early days. Chances would go a miss, he fell out of the picture and the void left by Gary Hooper was never filled.

In fact if it wasn’t for the goal scoring prowess of Kris Commons, Celtic would have been well short of fire power that season. Celtic were still without a proven goalscorer.

What Pukki’s role was supposed to be when he was brought in I am uncertain of. He wasn’t exactly prolific at any of his previous clubs and Celtic were clearly in need of a striker hence the arrival of Leigh Griffiths in January 2014.

Despite all of this, I stuck by Pukki hoping that the scouting team had seen something to convince them to pluck him from FC Schalke 04 in the first place. The club have unearthed some gems in recent years but we’ve also seen some donkeys at the same time.

Amido Baldé, Mohamed Bangura and Derk Boerrigter are recent examples of such poor buys. Whilst Boerrigter had a good spell in his career, he had become prone to injury and as for the other two, they didn’t even come with a proven track record.

A couple of million pounds may not seem like a lot in the modern day when you consider Celtic were spending that kind of money in the mid 90’s. It’s still a waste of money though particularly when these guys have failed to produce the goods.

That has been a set back for Celtic because if you buy one player to do a job and wait another year to find out if he’s good enough or not, then you’ve lost some ground. Then you have the arduous task of trying to move that player on to recoup some of the money shelled out on fees and wages.

You can’t expect all signings to work out because there are a plethora of factors that can affect a player at a club. Some or most of these can be out of the club’s control but at the very least the player should have some solid statistics to back up your willingness to spend a few million quid on them.

Gary Hooper is an example of a good signing. He had a good goalscoring record in a competitive league and was worth every penny.

If Celtic are planning to purchase forwards in this price bracket again, I’d suggest that they come with a track record as Hooper did. Pukki, Bangura and Baldé did not come with that kind of background but each cost around the same.

They have been abject failures for Celtic Football Club. Both financially and on the field of play.

At least in the case of Stefan Šćepović, he was doing a job in Spain before setting foot on Scottish soil. There’s still a chance for him you might think but he has yet to kick-start his Celtic career.

Whoever is on the radar for Celtic this summer, we will want to see any money spent, spent well. I’d rather the club paid £1M for a young Scottish player or give one of their own youth players a chance than blow it on some journeyman with a poor CV.

Let’s see what the summer brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A game of two halves

Scotland travelled to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday evening aiming to keep their Euro 2016 campaign alive.  Thankfully it still is, but by no means was the match against the Republic of Ireland a thrill to watch.

The Irish came out of the blocks quickest and pressed the Scottish defence early. This unsettled Gordon Strachan’s players and they struggled to put together sufficient attacking moves.

Martin O’Neill’s message was obvious: go out and hit Scotland hard. And they did, but it wasn’t all with finesse.

In truth there were a couple of Ireland players who, given their antics, wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hurling match. No red cards were issued but if the game had gone on any longer there are two or three Irish players that could have walked.

Strong arm tactics were part of the O’Neill game plan. And they were effective for 45 minutes at least.

Ireland took the lead on 38 minutes after a header from a corner ball was parried by David Marshall. The ball fell to the waiting Jon Walters to tap in from close range.

He was clearly in an offside position, but not one official spotted the infringement. There was a very good view of the incident so why it was missed is unacceptable.

The Irish may have deserved the lead but the goal was not legitimate. Something the Republic of Ireland team and FAI have first hand knowledge of as well as FIFA payment to go with it.

Will Scotland get five million from UEFA? I doubt it.

Scotland dealt with the blow by coming out of the traps in the second half. After being almost completely absent for the first half, Scotland drew level two minutes after the restart.

The goal was carved out by the match winner from the previous encounter with Ireland, Shaun Maloney. However, a deflection en route to the net meant it was awarded as an own goal by John O’Shea.

Back in the game and a positive start, Scotland soldiered on. They finally had a chip in the game but it didn’t kick on to more goals or a better contest.

Chances came and went for both sides, more elbows and arms were being administered by Ireland. Scotland stood firmer and got more attacks and the Irish got more frustrated but the game was fading out.

This could have been a better result for Ireland and a worse one for Scotland. Given the balance of play and the poorly officiated incidents, I’d say this was a fair result.

So no change in the Group D placings. Poland took down Georgia 4-0 and Germany marched all over Gibraltar by putting seven past them.

The British Overseas Territory have now conceded 34 goals in six games and that will undoubtedly increase to around the 50 mark by the end of the group phase if they’re not careful. The only goal they’ve managed so far came against Scotland.

It’s a nice touch to be such a charitable nation but I’d prefer it we didn’t allow that to happen again. Hopefully the Gibraltarians will manage to score against someone else before the qualifiers are over and not make us look so bad!

Scotland now have four fixtures after the summer. Two in September and two in October.

It’s good to know that at this stage of qualifying, Scotland remain in a good position. Not the best of games in Ireland, but we’re still in the hunt.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Strachan v O’Neill: Round 2

When former Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill went head to head on their old stomping ground last November, it was Scotland who took all three points. Shaun Maloney, a player for both managers during his club career, scored a terrific goal in that game to keep Scotland on level points with Germany.

With half of the Group D fixtures now played, Scotland will be looking to increase that points total and retain 3rd place in the group to keep the pressure on 1st and 2nd. A victory is not out of the question this evening and personally I don’t think I’ve seen a more confident or competent Scotland team with potential in recent years.

What I find most encouraging though is that this Scotland squad have yet to peak. Generally you won’t get a passionate crescendo from Gordon Strachan but I do see his work ethic coming through.

Influencing the players at his disposal to flourish and flow is not far away. Who knows, we may even see something special in Dublin this evening.

Poland (1st) and Germany (2nd) are odds on to win their games against Georgia (5th) and Gibraltar (6th) respectively. So the importance of this match could not be clearer.

It doesn’t add any more pressure though. Results during group stage qualifying on the international scene can be unpredictable at the best of times.

I doubt many expected Germany to lose to Poland in October or even Wales to beat Belgium on Friday night. Strange things can and will happen as Strachan himself knows as a player and a manager.

The Republic of Ireland have home advantage and the shorter odds going into tonight’s tie. The spirit amongst the Scotland squad right now though is positive.

I have complete faith in Gordon Strachan and what he is trying to achieve. He knows what it is like to wear the Scotland Jersey and was a brilliant player for club and country.

His knowledge of the game goes beyond match day tactics and dressing room pep talks. Strachan’s analysis and perception of football comes across as simplistic and direct but it’s because of his in depth knowledge of fitness and discipline in the game.

The Scotland job is his fifth managerial role but not all jobs have been fortuitous for him. Players can go through a similar experience and sometimes you have to admit that certain relationships just aren’t meant to be.

For me, the Scotland job is ideal for Gordon as it allows him to impart a wide range of experience in a non-complicated manner during a small window of opportunity. International football doesn’t afford you the preparation time club football does so your approach must be effective and efficient.

This current European campaign is an important one for Scotland and so far I cannot complain about their efforts. The challenge of qualifying remains a tough one though and if achieved it would be the first tournament Scotland would have made since France 98 coincidentally.

Tonight’s game could go either way and I’m already on the edge. Let there be no doubt though, Scotland are more than capable of beating the odds and sealing the points.

A third place finish in Group D secures a play off place at the very least. A victory tonight would help Scotland on their way but they are still capable of finishing in the top two.

Poland have yet to lose a game with the only points dropped being against Scotland and Republic of Ireland. Both matches were draws though I’m sure Scotland will feel the happier given that they were away from home and it came off the back of the Pole’s beating Germany three days earlier.

Talking of the Germany, I expect a firm response from the World Champions now. They’ll only get stronger and having played them away early in qualifying, I’m glad the next time Scotland face them will be in Glasgow.

In fact, the same goes for Poland. When that tie comes around it will also be in Glasgow.

A good result tonight will set Gordon and his squad up for the final push in September and October. All eyes are on Dublin this evening!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie