Bouncing back

Celtic bounced back from European disappointment once more by beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Sunday. Despite concerns over the weather, the game went ahead and the trip wasn’t a wasted journey for the fans or the team, well unless of course you are Anthony Stokes.

He tweeted his disappointment at being left out of the starting eleven and bench. What drove him to voicing his opinion on social media I have no idea but it was foolish.

As Ronny Deila pointed out to the press, it’s the same format each game. 20 payers to choose from, 11 start and 7 sit on the bench with 2 inevitably missing out.

We can debate whether Stokes deserves a chance or not another time but his absence from the team these days is nothing new. Why disclose your unhappiness now?

We were treated to an apology on Twitter later on but it won’t help him get back into the team if that was his aim. Perhaps he should take a leaf out of Carlton Cole’s tweeting handbook….or maybe not.

Regardless, Celtic ran out 3-1 winners with goals from Deila favourite Callum McGregor, leading goalscorer Leigh Griffiths and an own-goal-via Carlton Cole’s hand. It’s generally a difficult match at the Caldeonian Stadium so 3 points after a European defeat and an exit from the tournament at the same time, was a welcome boost.

The treble remains Ronny Deila’s target for the season. It won’t come easy but he needs this trophy haul to win over some of the doubters.

Out there among the Celtic support is a growing proportion of fans seeking changes. As I’ve said before I just don’t see that happening right now.

The last Celtic manager to depart before the end of the season was Tony Mowbray. Ronny isn’t in that category because it’s a different scenario.

He hasn’t blown it domestically as Mowbray had. He hasn’t lost the dressing room either, with the exception of Stokes and maybe Kris Commons.

Ultimately, it will be the board of directors who will decide Ronny’s fate but not until the end of the season and even then it is unlikely they will be looking for a replacement in the summer. So if you’re a Celtic supporter calling for the head of the Norwegian, you may as well save your breath.

The way things are going Ronny will probably get one more crack at the Champions league. At the same time, the overall team will need to be assessed and reinforced.

Right now I’d retain most of our players but some will need to be jettisoned as well. Between now and the end of the season some have a lot to prove whilst for others we want to see more of the same.

Weak in attack and defence, Celtic need to be better balanced than they are. Midfield is our area of strength but frailties front and back interfere with that area of superiority.

One thing we can be certain of is that if the weaker areas are not addressed before next season we can expect the same results. Whether we find strength from within or in the transfer market, this team will need to convince the fans we have improved and not just by saying it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to move on

As a Celtic fan you have first hand knowledge of how it feels to support the club. So what sort of experience do you have when you’re a player at this moment at Celtic Football Club?

In previous blogs I’ve stated that the manager has criticised the players in the face of defeat(s). The players have backed that claim by stating they hadn’t performed well enough.

What’s going through my mind though is are all the players of the same opinion? I know the first season for Ronny Deila saw a few players dropped for varying reasons but now we’re in season two and I’d be interested to know what the real mood is currently.

The one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that with the exception of Kris Commons’ dugout explosion in Norway, there is a sense of uniformity when talking to the media. As a squad, players have put their hands up to errors, missed opportunities and poor performances.

Not that I would expect a player revolt but I don’t get the sense that the players are unhappy with the coaching. In fact many players have spoken positively about Ronny Deila and the impact he has had on their careers.

Unless the Celtic PR machine are putting on a front, I’d say that European results aside, it’s a happy camp. Now that either means that our squad are so average they can’t see the bigger picture or they believe in the current set-up and we can’t see the bigger picture.

Ronny continues to speak positively and remains unshaken in his belief that he will lead Celtic to greener pastures. In basic terms of course that means the Champions League.

With two failed opportunities under his belt now, Ronny can at the very least look at both campaigns and compare and review. He also has two Europa League campaigns to analyse as well but that all depends on whether he’s prepared to look at his mistakes or just pursue each game with the same plan regardless.

You see for Ronny his philosophy is about playing the game in a certain way. All of the time.

In Scotland you might get away with that because you’re Celtic and generally untouchable. In Europe though, Celtic are much further down the food chain.

As supporters we know that, but we want to be in the respected hierarchy of the game. To do that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

When you compare Martin O’Neill’s style to Gordon Strachan’s it is easy to spot the difference. Martin wanted Celtic to play the Celtic way (and he had some excellent talent) whilst Gordon would play the way which was most likely to get a result with less individual talent.

We all know which style of football we preferred out of the two. We also know who did better in the Champions League – and no I haven’t forgotten about Seville!

My point here is tactics, adaptation, personnel, resources, motivation and the big one – experience. Not just experience in the squad but on the coaching team.

Ronny has had a run in management for seven years so he isn’t new to the role but his assistants are. What he did with Strømsgodset didn’t happen overnight, it took time.

He imposed his philosophy over a period where it finally paid off after a few years. That was with a club who hadn’t lifted a title in over 40 years.

I’m not suggesting that we wait forever. However, what if that change of gear comes next season?

Many including myself have already debated whether Ronny should get another bite at the cherry. Or even if the board fancy taking another risk.

For the most part my personal view has been to review things at the end of the season. At the same time, I’ve sought assurances over what will change to improve our chances of getting into the Champions League from what we’ve seen these last two summers.

The financial situation is not going to change between now and then. Two seasons without Champions League cash has made certain of that.

Are we waiting on Ronny Deila suddenly changing direction with his philosophy? Well no because he is being given the opportunity to do at Celtic what he did with Strømsgodset because Celtic have few better options.

That is why I think he will be given longer. It’s not so much about the individual purchases.

For me it is about nurturing an entire set-up. Currently this grooming isn’t winning over fans or getting good European results.

All I can say is that if Ronny is here next season it isn’t just about improving from this season. Its about failing to improve in Europe from his first year in charge.

Yes, we’re not even halfway through the current season. We’ve dropped out of Europe earlier than the last season though and that’s a step back.

With the treble still available it has to be a priority to take all domestic honours. There will never be a better time to get it and let’s face it, this could be the turning point for Ronny Deila’s Celtic career and the kick-start required to see him into next season.

Yesterday, Hearts drew with Motherwell and Aberdeen beat Ross County. Celtic have a chance to widen the gap to 7 points with a victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium.

John Hughes’ side aren’t in the same vein of form as they were last season. That doesn’t make a 12.15pm kick-off in Inverness any more pleasing though, particularly in light of Celtic’s Euro exit.

Now it’s time to forget about Europe and concentrate fully on the league and cups. Time to move on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the moments after publishing this article, I discovered that Anthony Stokes vented his dissatisfaction on Twitter at being dragged up to Inverness only to discover he’ll be sitting in the stands. Being the most excluded senior player in the entire squad, I guess I can write him up as one player in opposition to Ronny Deila.

Black Friday

One minute you’re lifted up and within moments you are dropped to the ground again. Celtic’s failure in Europe is a mental and physical drain on my energy levels.

In fact, I don’t even think I can discuss the mistakes, errors or bad luck today. Generally, its the same story as before – squandered chances, lack of concentration…etc…etc.

Each time I’ve watched Celtic in Europe this season my disappointment has stooped further. No improvement from last season and no sign of better things in the future either.

With those two facts stamped on Celtic’s passports what can we expect to change before next season? Coaching staff, players and boardroom have all been individually blamed for our current woes but what’s the next move?

Option 1. Sack Ronny Deila.

This is the obvious solution for many but it does seem unlikely right now. Peter Lawwell backed him at the AGM last week as you’d expect.

Europe alone has been poor. Worse than last season in fact.

Unable to maintain a lead, keep a clean sheet, concentrate for the whole match or find another gear to step things up. Things have gone backwards not forwards.

Ronny maintains his stance that things will improve. It’s rather bold considering the obvious factors in all of Celtic’s European results – tactical naivety, inability to adapt within the match, struggle in the face of adversity.

With a domestic treble still on the table I believe he will be allowed the opportunity to make that happen but it remains to be seen if he can. What I don’t know is if Celtic really are behind him for another European campaign or if they are just keeping the peace for now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Neil Lennon was given a third shot at Europe. It turned out to be his best and this was where he peaked as the season that followed, Lennon’s fourth, was his last.

Unfortunately for Ronny, he has had two golden opportunities to get into the Champions League. The teams that stood in his way were average and totally beatable but those opponents carved Celtic up.

Ronny has a philosophy and I get that but sometimes you need to adapt rather than persist, particularly when your philosophy is not showing signs of working. If he totally believes that next season we’ll be in the Champions League, I would like to know how that is going to be achieved and what changes will be made because you can’t just convince people based on your say so.

I more than anyone else would love to see Ronny Deila succeed and at the same time would love to be wrong but I’m finding myself believing that he has his limitations. A coach with a philosophy seems to be why he was hired in the first place but to manage and take the team forward is a skill he may not possess.

Option 2. Spend Better.

The board have been criticised over the years about not spending when required. I’ve agreed and disagreed with some of these debates because lets face it football supporters just want to see good signings without any really idea about finances.

In recent years though, Celtic have been buying some real donkeys. I won’t go through any of these but a lot of money has been wasted.

Peter Lawwell stated at the AGM that the market they can afford to shop in is a hit or miss one. I argued that one superb player for more money would be better than cheaper gambles.

A friend pointed out that with a more expensive signing comes a higher salary. It’s a fair point and Celtic are unlikely to sustain high salaries, in fact it is the reason for moving on some of our rising stars I’m sure.

Having said that, Celtic do need to be more bold in transfer market. They also need to do better on the scouting front because it simply isn’t good enough.

As Chris Sutton said last night on BT Sport, whoever is buying the players needs to be doing a better job. If Celtic want to punch a hole in the Champions League again they’re going to need some influential players who can change the game at the highest level.

I’ve not had much time for Sutton’s comments in the past but I can’t argue with his passionate venting on TV last night. The difference with what he is saying now is more about timing than anything else and it is time for action at the club.

The club have regressed so far, we are a shadow of our former selves. The business may look great but the football is not.

Option 3. Stick With The Plan.

Even although we haven’t improved since last season the only other thing Celtic as a club can do is stick with the same formula. Coaching staff, players, philosophy, transfer policy……the whole shebang.

This seems the most likely thing to happen. If Deila was to go, of his own accord or getting pushed, I don’t know who’d replace him.

In terms of money we outspend any other club in Scotland already. That just gets Celtic into Europe and keeps a buffer between them and the rest of the SPFL.

If there is to be no shift in with the club in its current set up, then they will have to pray that this bears fruit next season. The tough part will be keeping the supporters on board because right now people are losing faith if they haven’t already.

Last night I discussed with some mates about which names would go into the hat if Ronny left. The usual suspects came up but in all honesty I can only see Celtic going lower down the market.

You can forget guys like David Moyes or the recently appointed at Blackburn Rovers, Paul Lambert. This job comes with financial limitations so candidate options are even more limited than the player market we are currently in.

Personally, I don’t think there is a coach in Scotland that could do a job at Celtic. Paul Hartley has been on the rumour mill before but that’s more by default than any ability he has if you ask me.

Another foreign coach would be the only way forward. Failing that, you are looking at a coach from the lower leagues in England which to be honest is not my cup of tea.

The names that cropped up last night though, aside from Paul Hartley were, Roy Keane, Neil Lennon and Jackie McNamara. The financial limitations were said to be the reason behind Keane turning down Celtic and also the reason for Lennon leaving so whether either would be interested in returning to the club is up for debate.

Jackie McNamara left Dundee United with a whimper after being relieved of his best players. You could argue that the club didn’t help replace those players but of the three that Celtic acquired, we’ve yet to see them do a convincing job under Ronny Deila.

The one name that didn’t come up in that brief conversation was John Collins. When he was hired I imagined he would be the back up guy should Deila fail.

In all honesty I don’t know if he would be deemed as culpable as Ronny. On the bench during games most of the activity is between Deila and John Kennedy.

Would Celtic offer Collins the head role if Ronny left or would he go with him? It would be interesting to see how that one would play out.

Whichever way you look at it, the market is narrow and when you consider that, it is understandable why Celtic opted for Ronny in the first place. He may not have been first choice but he was the best on the table I’m guessing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Exclusions aside, a win is essential.

If you thought Ronny Deila had a tough job ahead of him tonight already, it just got harder. Injuries and suspensions have excluded several Celtic players ahead of tonight’s must win game at home against Ajax.

Craig Gordon will be in goal as expected. The back four are likely to be Mikael Lustig, Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Šimunović and Emilio Izaguirre.

As we already know, captain Scott Brown is out with a lengthy injury. Add to that star performer Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen who are both suspended.

Kris Commons is also said to be unlikely to make it due to injury and illness. That leaves Celtic extremely lightweight in the one area of the field they’ve had sufficient numbers for several years now.

Charlie Mulgrew is said to be back in the fold after a long time out. There is also the availability of Scott Allan but like Mulgrew, he has rarely been seen in a Celtic jersey this season so it isn’t just about availability, it’s about match fitness.

Another player who can possibly play a holding midfield role would be Efe Ambrose. When he arrived it was mooted that he would play in that role but he has been predominantly a defender in his Celtic career, much to our disappointment.

As desperate as we are, there is also the possibility that Stuart Armstrong could play a central role. He’s been played out wide since he joined this year but I’d like to see him play in the middle of the park.

He has ability but I do question him being played in a wide role but tonight could be a defining moment for him. What I’d like to see from him tonight is him spreading his wings because he’s looks like he’s holding back a little at times and I think there is more to this player than we’ve seen.

Thankfully, Tom Rogić will be in from the start. This is one player I am pleased to say isn’t missing out tonight because he has been a breath of fresh air.

He’s been so good this season, he has overtaken a less than impressive Johansen who was king of the attacking midfield last season. Rogić’s form has been immense and has been loving every moment on the park.

So Ronny has got some decisions to make for the midfield. On the wings it is bound to be a combination of Gary Mackay-Steven and James Forrest.

There is also the option of playing Callum McGregor. Kieran Tierney has found himself getting forward in games as well so if he doesn’t start the match he is another in with a shout.

Leigh Griffiths a certainty to spearhead the attack, so the the focus is on the midfield blend. Get that right and we might just have a game on our hands.

Ajax believe that they are a better team than Celtic but they can stutter just as much. In truth I think both teams are about the same.

This will be an edge of the seat affair. Our Europa League campaign rests on this evenings result.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The gauntlet

The international break offered Celtic a chance to regroup before facing the final run of games in 2015. Despite many of Ronny Deila’s players not actually being on international duty, namely the Scottish contingent, they were held to a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park by Kilmarnock when domestic matter got under way once more at the weekend.

Frustrating as that was, Celtic have still maintained their six point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Hearts and Aberdeen also drew their matches which allowed fourth placed St Johnstone to close the gap on Aberdeen to 3 points, 10 behind Celtic.

There is a more pressing matter for Celtic to to contend with though. It takes place tomorrow night at Celtic Park on the Europa League stage.

Ajax visit Glasgow for the penultimate Group A fixture. The result of this match will have a big say on whether Celtic still have a chance to progress or if the remaining fixture against Fenerbahçe is a dead rubber.

Celtic drew with Ajax in Amsterdam two months ago. Having succumbed to a late equaliser after leading the match twice, I think most would say that we reasonably upbeat about how the rest of the campaign would go.

How wrong we were. Another draw, this time at home to Fenerbahçe and two straight defeats against Molde have hurt our campaign and any morale we had left.

On Thursday win for Celtic is essential. Victory would put Celtic on 5 points and if Molde can muster another win, Ronny Deila would be in with a fighting chance of progressing.

Unfortunately for Celtic, this has been a lacklustre European campaign littered with defensive mishaps and tactical naivety. So called average clubs have been wiping the floor with Celtic for two years now and as yet we have still to see any progress from last season.

Having made the last 32 against Inter Milan earlier this year, the desire was to build upon that experience. That hasn’t happened this season and the best we can hope for is equalling that but it remains a a difficult task.

Two wins would put Celtic through for sure but having failed to notch up a single win so far, there are no guarantees the team will finally click now. They are 6 points short of earning the 8 points that got them through in second spot last season and in order to qualify it will likely take the same amount this time around.

There is a spark missing from this team right now but there are players in the squad who have the ability to deliver. We just haven’t seen it or at least not enough of it.

Among the bright sparks this season have been Griffiths, Bitton, Rogić, Tierney and at times Forrest. We need to see everyone else doing the same though and those who aren’t performing, dropped.

If Ronny Deila is to salvage any hopes of a dismal European campaign he will need to need motivate his squad, make the right selection of players and tactics and adapt within the game. It’s not too late but he to rectify a lot before we kick off tomorrow night.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic board draw the line

I didn’t follow Celtic’s AGM today as I have done in the past. Instead, I just read the aftermath of events.

With the same board of directors in place, an intolerance to working class values will remain. The message from the board was clear: we’re not listening to you.

I wasn’t one to abuse Lord Livingston though I did sign and promote the petition to oust him. I do think that his obvious political association does undermine everything the club is supposed to stand for.

The values that I speak of don’t seem to resonate with the board though – these are financial guys. I get that football is a business and that as a club we must cut our cloth accordingly but as fans our opinion appears to count less and less.

For the most part, I can’t argue with the business end of things. Having said that, I don’t exactly have the know how to challenge it either.

I have a passion for the club though and learnt the history and became a natural follower without being pushed. I’ve seen almost four decades of the club before my every eyes and as a business I don’t think we’ve ever been operated as well.

That’s it though. We’re a business.

In and ideal world the living wage would be an attraction of talent and a PR gold nugget. The board don’t see it that way and who am I to argue?

Well, you don’t have to be Sir Alan Sugar to know that a living wage would have some impact on the club finances. I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of this one though so I’ll say no more.

On the park, Ronny Deila has been given a vote of confidence. In the old Championship Manager (long before I got married) that used to be the writing on the wall.

Ronny has had it from most angles of the support. What he gets though is time and I think that’s right.

Celtic are shopping in a tight market. Though I’d still rather see two or three £1-2M players sacrificed for one player at £4-6M who is of sufficient quality.

I would still go out and look for the Wanyama’s, Hooper’s, Forster’s and van Dijk’s in this world. Sometimes though, Celtic will only break through with an outstanding player to influence the team.

We have some great players in the team. There is something missing at times though.

Leadership, influence, motivation particularly when the heads are down. Where does that come from?

Bar one or two players, I love this team. They should be doing much better though.

Bitton, Tierney, Rogić, Griffiths (and at times Forrest) have all been great this season. That’s all individual performance though and is entertaining the fans but it isn’t carrying use forward with others in the team sitting back.

Does Ronny need to step up or is it the players? The players blame themselves and Ronny blames the players.

I recall Lennon bashing his players and rarely taking the blame. It isn’t uncommon in management I guess but it doesn’t solve matters either.

I’m not for Ronny getting the chop. I’d like to see him succeed. Equally, as a young manager almost halfway through his second season at his second club, it is time to think beyond now and take us there.

The board have drawn a line regarding everyone from the fans to the coaching team. Right now we’ll just have to get on with it and see where we are come May but the club as a whole must also realise that mistakes have been made and we expect accountability for that, not flippant and paltry excuses.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Complicit and Corrupt

In this international break there are no Scotland fixtures to torture myself with. So I’ve been contemplating sport in general in this window.

Football is always top of my list but this week news broke about allegations of bribery, corruption and doping in athletics. In recent times athletics has given us some memorable moments with successful Olympic and Commonwealth Games on these shores.

Now an independent commission report details doping cover-ups involving Russia and the IAAF. Russia themselves came under deserved criticism in the most recent Winter Games but this new story has blown athletics wide open.

Compared to the investigations on FIFA, this is said to be larger. No sport is without corruption it seems.

Corruption isn’t new to our world of course. We just live in an era that seems to be exposing it day after day.

Every time I watch the news it is exposing police corruption, political bribery or abuse, government fraud, a religious sex scandal or a historical paedophilia case being uncovered. I don’t know where it will end, perhaps never, but it is fair to say that these issues are a cancer of society and cannot be ignored.

It is an ongoing cleansing of humanity for matters where people have cheated, failed, betrayed, lied and covered up. It leaves you feeling somewhat disappointed with the world we live in today but more importantly are we ignoring what is going on in the present day?

That is another debate and I’m happy to bring that up another time because it has substance. Right now we have to deal with the issues before us so that we can move on but not before justice is served.

One of those matters affecting sport in Scotland is of course the Big Tax Case. Again, another historical matter and one that many are still trying to deflect.

Justice is being sought by the grand masses of Scottish football after the HMRC’s recent appeal was successful. In direct opposition the supporters of Oldco/Newco are banging a different drum.

We’ve been over this debate a million times. In fact it hasn’t died down since Oldco was put to sleep.

As a community of Celtic supporters we’ve been branded as “obsessed”. It’s nice to know they’ve moved on from calling us “paranoid”.

To go from the paranoid to obsessed implies that we were in fact right to act in such a way. With the guilty verdict coming into play there is certainly a case for being “obsessed” as well!

In all honesty though, I got bored with the Oldco story. I knew they were guilty despite the original verdict.

It was still a ongoing topic but I was done listening to it. Only now does it bear any fruit because of the appeal.

To deny such a blatant sporting advantage only demonstrates what sort of club once resided at Ibrox. The one that now resides there are linked in every way possible except the ones that make them one club.

More concerning is that our governing bodies for Scottish football are equally complicit in this matter. They did everything in their power to get Newco into the top flight eventually having to settle for entry level and I even question that.

People involved with Oldco during those years are now in the frame. Today some are present at Newco as fit and proper or even guarding the gates of Hampden.

This is as big a sporting scandal as you’ll get in Scotland. And yet, some still can’t accept it in fact they are defiant.

Personally I would be disgraced if this was my club. You can’t defend it but over at Newco they want no association with the guilt, just the ‘glory’.

It didn’t happen. Blah, blah, blah…we’re not listening.

You want the history and the titles but you don’t want the debt? Well tough because Scottish football clubs and their supporters simply will not allow it.

Like I say, we don’t live in an age of corruption. It’s the age that exposes it.

We’ve been reading about in blogs for many years now what the Scottish media failed to report. Now the truth is out and we’ll be running with this despite the media’s efforts to try and ‘move on’ after a brief acknowledgement.

Few in the media have reported heavily on it. When they have they have received abuse of the highest order.

What sort of society do we live in where that his deemed acceptable? A Scottish society apparently.

I’ve been saying for years that it would take Scottish football to fall on its knees before it saw any improvement. A golden opportunity was missed not to far back where their was a chance to make wholesale changes to benefit the whole game.

Our governing bodies showed their true colours with a very weak effort at re-branding and restructuring. When Henry McLeish got involved I thought that intervention was going to be the start of a regeneration but it wasn’t.

That moment faded faster than a Newco investment. Now, Scottish football limps on once more due to the people who run it.

Some folk will tell you that you need a strong Rangers at the top because the game needs it and that Celtic need them to help them (insert any excuse that gets them into the top flight). Is that what Sir David Murray was doing for over a decade with EBT’s – helping the Scottish game by cheating the arse out of every other club?

He hobbled away taking no blame or responsibility in the end, not even from the Rangers fans. The SFA and SPL did not investigate thoroughly because they carry the same guilt for being inept, gutless, giving a helping hand and turning a blind eye when required.

It is simple. Nobody in Scotland will rest until justice is done.

You don’t do walking away. You don’t surrender either apparently.

Good for you. I’m glad your still around to watch your club(s) crumble before your very eyes.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac