Out of position 

We’ve seen it many, many times in football. Players being played out of position as decided by the management team.

Before I go into this in detail, there are actually occasions when this is necessary. For the purposes of this article, that isn’t the case.

What is on the agenda are players who, if played in the right position, will help you to get the best results possible. Performances and scorelines that is.

The reason I brought this up was due to the sudden praise heaped upon Stuart Armstrong. Not for Celtic but for Scotland.

When Armstrong joined Celtic along with Gary Mackay-Steven, he came with the greater price tag. It was GMS that had the bigger impact though – in my opinion.

Armstrong was doing just fine, but he was out on the left hand side. Sure, he kicks with his left, but that was not his position from what I could see.

I never knew much about the guy from his United days. From watching him play for Celtic, I could tell he should be in the middle of the park.

However, he didn’t really get that chance in the 18 months under Ronny Deila. When Brendan Rodgers came to the club he was either listening to the voice of reason or saw for himself what he had at his disposal.

Perhaps with the arrival of Scott Sinclair it wad an easy decision. Neither Sinclair or Armstrong are the same type of player.

One belongs out wide and the other does not. We can all work that out for ourselves.

As I said earlier, this is a common occurrence in football and certainly at Celtic. Particularly with midfielders.

Stylian Petrov was famously played at right wing-back under John Barnes in his not so popular 4-2-2-2 formation. Maybe not the best example given JB didn’t last long. 

Martin O’Neill used to play Petrov wide right on occasion in order to have his best eleven players on the park. In fact when he brought in Junhino he deployed the playmaker at right midfield much to the disappointment of the player and the supporters.

Scott Brown used to get slung out at right midfield under Gordon Strachan. Neil Lennon used to play Joe Ledley wide left much in the same way Armstrong was under Deila.

The thing is sometimes there’s a guy in your squad who is quite blatantly a central midfielder, but is being played elsewhere to little or no effect. Armstrong has had to wait for someone to see sense.

It doesn’t mean he’ll hold down the role forever, but it is finally evident to all that this is the position he belongs and excels in. Petrov and Brown of course got the chance to shine in central midfield as Armstrong now has, but guys like Junhino and to a certain extent, Ledley, spent most of their Celtic playing careers in wide areas when they should have been slap bang in the middle of the park.

I’m really pleased for Armstrong. He’s had a smashing season so far and has an influence in the midfield that could well see him wear the captains armband one day.

He’s taken his first step into the senior national team now with an impressive contribution. Be it Celtic or Scotland – Armstrong is a great player when played in the right position.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Is there any hope at Hampden for Strachan?

Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan needs to get Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign back on track this Sunday. Hampden Park is the venue for the fixture against Slovenia and the match itself is crucial to Scotland staying in the fight.

After four qualifiers Scotland have four points from a possible twelve. A 1-5 away win over Malta and a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania is the best Strachan has managed in this campaign so far.

The obvious low points are the 3-0 away defeats to Slovakia and England. Any more slaughterings of this nature and Del Amitri can forget about re-releasing their single.

So far this campaign has lacked conviction. Strachan’s team selections are frustrating and puzzling.

As a Celtic fan I am totally biased when it comes to a starting eleven. There is also a perfectly sound reason for my bias as well.

This is currently one of the best group of Scottish players Celtic have had in a long time. Even Strachan didn’t have as good a bunch as this during his time as Celtic manager and yet those guys (McManus, Caldwell, Hartley and Brown) were getting picked for Scotland.

Gordon, Tierney, Brown, Armstrong and Forrest are all on fire this season. Griffiths, albeit not a regular due to injury and that man Dembele, was last season’s top scorer and has still made a great contribution this season.

There’s even a case for Callum McGregor. He is a young squad player, but he is also in his third full season for Celtic.

Prior to that he had a full season for Notts County where he scored 14 goals in 41 games. He has built on that at Celtic and been an effective player for Ronny Deila as well as current manager, Brendan Rodgers.

When called upon he has contributed through goals and assists. Though not all Celtic fans will agree with me on that I am sure.

International management is difficult so you have to get your core team and build around it. That core comes from Celtic.

They are the form club side with a solid Scottish contingent all on top of their game. I mean why not use that to your advantage?

No other team can offer the same amount or quality for Scotland as Celtic can right now. The rest of the Scotland squad would find it easier to work with an established group of Celtic players by adding the remaining parts.

To date, Strachan has decided to go with his own game plan piecing fragments of Scottish players together. This clearly isn’t working so he needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

If he wants to salvage this campaign then he needs to get his head out of the sand. He is missing a real opportunity here.

I’m not sure whether Strachan has an SFA style agenda with Celtic or if he is just being a stubborn bastard – I’ll guess the latter. What I can say is he isn’t having much success doing it his way.

He came into this job and appeared to reinvigorate the national team in a campaign that was already dead. His first full qualifying campaign started well then slid into disarray.

After four games in the current campaign he has one-third of the points that were available. That is how not to begin a qualifying campaign.

There is still time though. Strachan has to change things.

If he picks a Celtic rich team and it doesn’t work out then fine. At least he will have tried which is more than he has done so far.

Just because he selects a bunch of well paid England based players doesn’t mean he has the best there is. Celtic are a Scottish team with the best Scottish performers by far AND with European experience in their locker.

He shouldn’t ignore it. He should embrace it, build around it and use it while he still can.

Got to start getting results, Gordon.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A return to winning ways

I’ve had a wee bit of time out from the blog recently whilst I adjust to a new job. Since last Sunday, I’ve also had a chance to reflect upon the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park against The Rangers.

Many including myself didn’t think anything other than a win was likely. However, what we got in return was somewhat different.

Much like the Hampden cup clash of 2016, the Ibrox club came out with some intent. On that day they got their reward after a penalty shoot out, but it wasn’t the same outcome this time around of course.

I’ll give them one thing, they came at the Hoops with some real purpose. Tried to put Celtic off their stride and for spells even worked, particularly early on in the match.

The only problem I had with the result, other than dropping two points of course, was that Celtic weren’t up to scratch. There are dozens of factors in play in a football match, but why Celtic weren’t playing their at best I cannot answer.

Similar to the Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach at Celtic Park, it was as though Brendan Rodgers’ player’s weren’t firing on all cylinders. On that occasion, Celtic didn’t turn up at all.

Was it psychological, physical or tactical? I’m still trying to work it out, but last Sunday was a reminder of that Champioms League tie, minus Germany quality of course.

Celtic seemed subdued on their own turf. If this was their reaction to a team having a go, as The Rangers did, then I am disappointed.

We all know that results cannot always go the way of the team you support. With the way Celtic have been playing this season though, it remains a difficult one for me to get my head around.

In the aftermath of that match against The Rangers, we’ve all seen the conclusive evidence. Refereeing at its most abysmal once again.

As much as I agree that this level of performance from officials should not be ignored, Celtic blew this match themselves. They were at home, on form and with key players available.

We should not have been hanging on to one denied penalty claim as the soul reason to this draw. Equally, the refereeing throughout the match was shocking and cannot be ignored for professional reasons.

Even with the changes that were forced throughout the match, I am still disappointed Celtic didn’t demonstrate their superiority. There is no doubt that they were the more dominant team but chances were few.

This was a massive shot in the arm for the Ibrox club. For them, any celebrations were a massive boost to their well being, even if things continue to limp along for them behind closed doors.

What does this mean for Celtic, Brendan Rodgers and his squad then? Well it is a gentle reminder to stay on top of their game.

A better side might have inflicted more damage on Celtic that day. Just as Borussia Monchengladbach did in the Champions League.

Getting back to winning ways is number one priority today against Dundee. Celtic may not have lost a domestic game as yet but the season is far from over if they want to remain unbeaten.

Perhaps the draw with The Rangers was a timely reminder for the Celtic players to maintain their ‘A’ game. I’m obviously not worried about the league, but this should be and still can be a treble season for the Hoops.

Grabbing the triple crown has evaded Celtic on a number of occasions. If Brendan Rodgers wishes to cement his name in the history books at the club and in Scottish football then this is the time.

Let’s get back to winning ways Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In Gord we trust

Who would have thought that Craig Gordon would ever be Celtic’s number one? I mean, the guy was outstanding in his Hearts playing days and when he went south of the border I never expected him to look back.

Of course everything changed with multiple injuries sustained during his time at Sunderland. Even after making comebacks, his knees remained troublesome.

With historic injuries and then a period of time out of the game I would never have thought that he would be on Celtic’s radar. In fact, even when he was training with Celtic, I didn’t envisage him between the sticks for the Hoops.

Fraser Foster was Celtic’s number one when Gordon signed a contract with the club but the rumour mill was, as it always is with Celtic players, awash with stories about yet another Celtic player moving south. This time it turned out to be true and Foster was gone, leaving Gordon to fill those big shoes of la gran muralla.

It was no easy task. Even though Gordon himself had found early fame between the sticks, he had been out of the game for a while.

As it turned out he did a fine job for Celtic in his first season. So much so, he was automatically forgiven for a howler in a key European match.

In the season that followed, cracks were beginning to show in Gordon’s performances though. These of course were not isolated to him but rather the whole team and former manager, Ronny Deila.

So when Brendan arrived in the early summer of 2016, he brought in a keeper he knew well after running the rule over Craig Gordon. Many of us thought Dorus de Vries was going to come in and show him how things were done, but that was far from the case.

Even though Brendan had dropped Gordon, de Vries wasn’t faring any better. Brendan had claimed de Vries knew how to play a ball out properly and not just lump it up the park.

Maybe he did, but to be quite honest he was pretty crap in goal in general. The bottom line here was that de Vries was brought in to put the wind up Craig Gordon and at a very low-cost.

He had nobody challenging him for the number one slot. Forgotten man Logan Bailly was barely seeing any action as it was before falling to injury so Brendan needed something or someone to jolt a reaction.

That was the real reason de Vries was brought in. Some have said that it was Brendan’s first mistake and I was of the same opinion initially but I’m more of the opinion that this was a master stroke to get Gordon playing better and if not he knew what he had to do.

And it has worked because since he reclaimed his spot he has been in fine form. That has brought about a new contract for himself which he signed today.

Chelsea were supposedly keen to bring him in during the January transfer window and I could understand his interest if true. The thing is he would only be back up and having spent so long out of the game, he would want to be playing.

The only thing I was a little surprised at was the length of contract he received. I know that goalkeepers can potentially have a much longer playing career at the top than outfield players, but I was expecting a year or two not three.

If he is still doing a job at that point – 37 years old – then great, but I’d like to think there is some long-term planning for his replacement. De Vries and Bailly are both contracted until 2018 and by the time those deals expire they would be 38 and 33 years old respectively.

Removing de Vries from the equation, does Bailly have the potential to replace Gordon. Or will Leo Fasan make a return from Port Vale and take up the reigns at some point?

I’m not even sure who is second choice at this stage. All I can say is that for the immediate future I am glad to have an in form Craig Gordon between the sticks.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Making an Arse of it

I don’t know which result is worse? Celtic losing 7-0 away to Barcelona at Camp Nou or Arsenal losing 1-5 at home to Bayern Munich?

Well, in terms of squad valuations the answer is obvious. Add up your player costs/wages, multiply by the league they play in and factor in who is playing at home.

There, you have your answer. Or you could just looking at the UEFA club rankings for an up-to-date check.

We hear very often that the Premier League is the best league in the world. Generally as part of the ongoing self-gratification process that is an omnidirectional English sports media.

Be it BBC, BT Sport, ITV, Sky or any of the printed sports media, we are usually given a fresh reminder of just how good the Premier League world is. Because we need reminding of that just as much as we do of the ’66 World Cup Winning Enlgand team.

When results such as the humping of Arsenal by Bayern Munich at the Emirates occurs did last night, I watch with interst to see how the pundits address such a catastrophe. Problems in the dressing room, manager outliving his usefulness, haven’t spent enough?

How about, you’re just not good enough? It seems to be sufficient when verdicts are being made on BT Sport and Sky about Celtic’s European pursuits.

Let’s put things in perspective though. Bayern Munich and Barcelona are 2nd and 3rd respectively, the best teams on the European landscape at this moment in time only to be out done by Real Madrid.

Where are the Gunners then? 20th? 30th? No they’re in 11th sandwiched between those other glorious Premier League teams Chelsea and Manchester City.

Okay so not that far away from their opponents though right? What about Celtic then?

Well they’re in 45th position between Rubin Kazan and Malaga. What about income though, doesn’t that play a factor in all this?

Of course it does. Whilst Celtic are by far the best team in Scotland and an extremely well run business, they cannot match the spending power of many other European clubs.

Even in countries where the league isn’t considered any better than the Scottish Premiership, a lot of these ‘wee’ teams have spending power beyond Celtic. And that’s before we even can discuss the top drawer European clubs above them.

In our own heads we know that Barcelona and Bayern are mustard on their day. We also know that Arsenal aren’t as good as some of the Arsenal teams we’ve seen in the last couple of decades.

This team doesn’t have any wow factor. In fact very few English teams do unless they are playing in their own backyard against Premier League teams that whilst sit in the bottom half of their league, earn way more than Celtic do.

So what are we saying here then? Well it is simple.

The media (not the Scottish one for once) need to get a reality check when it comes to English teams playing in Europe. The pundits cannot sit there and say ‘not good enough from Celtic’ when the odds are stacked against them and then make excuses for one of ‘their own’ clubs.

Celtic can only dream of spending the type of money Arsenal can on transfer fees and wages. Doing so would put our club in a terrible state unless they knew they could recoup it a year or two down the line guaranteed.

That might be considered a worthwhile investment. Even then, that would be a seldom seen thing given the poor income of Scottish football.

For Celtic to survive they must explore other avenues and have done so using their own business model. Our stadium, supporters and history are all there to be seen but the playing surface is not level financially.

When you lose away to a European club that are ranked forty-odd places above you it is a very humbling experience. When you get pumped at home to a club less than ten places above you, it is time to look at the bigger picture.

There are a few elite clubs on this vast landscape of ours. Arsenal are not one of them.

In fact, none of the English clubs are. Not at the moment anyway.

Celtic have a much tougher hill to climb than that. The media and the pundits should bear that in mind when they are dishing out the criticism.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Lion’s full back gone, but not forgotten

3l6dcwbnzthgiufrten9bg277036Tommy Gemmell was one of the legendary Celtic players known as the Lisbon Lions. His playing career was pretty much over by the time I entered this world, but he was a standout player for the club.

Having spent a decade at Celtic, he was immersed in the most successful period of the club’s history. In addition to that, he made his own personal career landmark by appearing and scoring in two European Cup Finals.

That achievement list is made up of very few footballers. Players such as Gento, Puskás, Eusébio, Raúl and Ronaldo are all on there.

The only other British player to make that list is Phil Neal. The only player to top scoring in two finals is Alfredo di Stefano – he scored in five.

Like many of his fellow Lions, Gemmell found himself on the periphery of the Scotland squad with only 18 caps (1 goal). It wasn’t uncommon for Celtic players to have such few caps for their country during that peiod and you only need to go through the Lisbon Lions to find the evidence.

For Gemmell though, he was making a name for himself in European competition with the Hoops. I’m sure he would loved to have played for Scotland more times, but his ten-year career at Celtic gave him more highs than he’d ever have got for his country.

Here are his club stats:

League: 247 appearances (37 goals)

Scottish Cup: 43 appearance (5 goals)

League Cup: 74 appearances (10 goals)

Europe: 54 appearances (12 goals)

Total: 418 appearances (64 goals)

 

Not bad for a full-back, eh?

He was voted into Celtic’s greatest ever team along with six of his fellow Lions and four future legends. Tommy will always be remembered for his equaliser in 1967 against Inter Milan.

This was the hallmark of his game. A goal scoring, no-nonsense defender.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac