Hampden, Hibs and Hopelessness

A win would have seemed impossible and a draw unlikely. In the end it was nothing unexpected.

Celtic rocked up to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night to take on one of Europe’s best teams. Reinvigorated by their past master, Juup Heynckes, Bayern Munich beat Celtic in convincing fashion.

It wasn’t so much a lesson, but more of a reminder to us all of the disparity in European club football. Not so many moons ago Celtic were much closer to matching Munich, but now the gulf is immeasurable.

On the night you can always hope that in an eleven versus eleven situation you have a chance. To do so you need to impose yourself physically if not skillfully.

Celtic had their moments, but we also saw some star struck players out there too. The body language was reminiscent of what we’d seen against PSG and Barcelona.

Am I being harsh on Celtic? I don’t think so.

They were up against a great team yes. This Celtic team have further to go in terms of self belief though.

On the domestic scene we’ve eclipsed everyone on and off the field. To bridge the European gap means the rest of Scottish football to get on board.

That’s an even bigger task though. There is no money in our game north of the border.

What Celtic do is self generated. We have nobody but our fans and club sponsors to thank for that.

The Celtic business model is created around the dire financial environment that Scottish football exist in. We didn’t cheat our way into this position of sustainability.

There is a glass ceiling though. Not just in Europe, but in Scotland.

Our domestic game is well behind the times. The people who make the decisions and govern the game lack foresight and ambition.

In fact so to do the people who run some of the clubs. I mean the so called big clubs.

Is this a Scottish thing? Well some folk are quite happy with things as long as their pockets are lined and they get their free lunch a de

On the one hand you have Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs all stable but lacking in going the extra yard. Then there’s Sevco and there mad men trying to run this incarnation of Rangers like the old days.

There is no money out there and nobody is willing to invest. And why would you when there is nothing to sell to prospective business men and woman?

Celtic singlehandedly contributed £4M to the Scottish game due to their personal efforts in Europe last year. It will go to the other clubs who to be quite frank have done feck all.

This money is a lifeline to some of these clubs though. Everyone knows it and yet little comes in the other direction to help Celtic.

Take today’s game at Hampden. A cup semi-final against Hibs with a 12:15pm kick-off.

The other semi is tomorrow at 2:30pm. And how many of these semi-finalists played midweek overseas?

Celtic could quite easily have been allocated the Sunday slot. That would been seen as favouritism though wouldn’t it?

Talking about biting the hand that feeds you. Then allow the SMSM to boot in afterwards.

Speaking of which, they didn’t take long to document the rubbish left by Celtic fans in Munich. Despite the local police praising the travelling supporters for their good behaviour and friendliness, the SMSM decided to focus on the kind of mess that isn’t unfamiliar at concerts, festivals oh and Orange Walks!

And don’t even get me started on the ticket fiasco for today’s Hibs match. It just isn’t funny anymore

Come on Bhoys. Let’s put this one to bed.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Play The Celtic Way…

After returning to domestic duties on Saturday with a 1-0 over Dundee, Celtic face a sterner test tonight in Germany. The Hoops are in Munich to take on Bayern at the Allianz Arena on matchday 3 of the Champions League.

What sort of result can we expect from this match? How will Brendan Rodgers set up against such a high quality opponent?

I think in this competition you have to expect that virtually anything could happen. Because Celtic are one of those sides who have experienced the effects all across the Champions League spectrum.

From heavy defeats and unjust decisions, cheating opponents and howlers to sublime goals and the odd shock result. I’m not certain what kind of shape Bayern are in mentally after sacking Carlo Ancelotti, but you can be sure they’ve been well-drilled by Juup Heynckes.

If you think a team replacing their manager so early in the season spells disaster then you’d be wrong. Heynckes and Munich are a perfect fit.

This is the German coach’s fourth spell as manager with his last yielding a winning ratio of over 75% during a two-year spell at the club. In that time he also delivered four trophies: Bundesliga, German Cup, German Super Cup and er the Champions League.

Similar success followed the club after his third departure in the form of Pep Guardiola. Again, a win ratio of over 75% and seven trophies during a three-year reign is not to be sniffed at though no Champions League this time around.

Carlo Ancelotti would follow but he lasted little more than a year. His win ratio was 70% and he won both the Bundesliga and German Super Cup.

That wasn’t enough though and he was sacked after the 3-0 defeat to PSG on matchday 2 of the Champions League last month. Just goes to show you the expectations and standards at a club that breeds success.

How do Celtic deal with an opponent like that? Does Brendan have a game plan that can outfox an old fox other than his own wining percentage of over 75%?

Well the odds are against him, especially with Heynckes back in the fold. The restoration work on this team began convincingly at the weekend with a 5-0 drubbing of Freiburg.

Bayern have a brilliant squad with a mix of youth and experience. They will be galvanised by Heynckes return and prepared to get the Champions League bandwagon back on the road.

That’s bad timing and bad news for Celtic so they just have to go about their business. Not show them too much respect, but have a go at them.

Celtic also have a blend of youth and experience, but the players need to believe that on the night anything can happen. We know what happens when we are too cautious with teams like PSG and Barcelona – they walk over you.

I’m not saying it is time to go gung-ho and cavalier. We do need to play the game we’re used to playing though.

Celtic cannot contain a team of this stature. It’s impossible but we have seen what Celtic can do when they have a go, especially away from home.

So let’s play football. The Celtic way.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Who’s next for Scotland?

Before we step back into the domestic scene for the foreseeable future, there was one more story from international setup yesterday. The SFA announced that Gordon Strachan would not be staying on as head coach of Scotland, bringing an end to almost five years in the job.

The news was not totally unexpected. A fresh approach was required.

Strachan steadied a sinking Scottish ship after his predecessor was made to walk the plank. Fans were hopeful and interested in what his appointment would bring to the Scotland team.

After a fair crack at qualifying it was time for him to move on though. A new era awaits us with the next generation of players in mind. 

It’s almost a year until Scotland have another competitive match. Time should be taken now to get the right candidates shortlisted.

The list won’t be long, but my faith in the SFA is even less. So I can only hope that the right man is out there, willing and able to take up the arduous task of getting Scotland to a tournament finals.

Who might that person be? And are they interested?

I can’t see the SFA going for a foreign coach despite Scottish based Michael O’Neill’s name being in the frame. There are too many Scottish managers out there that are currently available.

Early odds had Malky Mackay, David Moyes and Derek McInnes as top bets. On the next rung of odds were guys like Paul Lambert and Alex McLeish.

McInnes has done well with Aberdeen, but still not really reached a point worthy recognition for me. It would be unlikely for him to leave Aberdeen for Scotland and still has more to do at Pittodrie in my opinion.

Mackay on the other hand is already in the Scottish setup. His role as Performance Director puts him in a prime position even if his recent past is still on the minds of many.

Lambert and Moyes are both out of work, experienced, but not so successful with recent appointments. The same could be said about McLeish.

He had a very brief spell at Hampden before being lured south of the border. Whether he would be considered after such an early departure last time around, but he does have some credible results from that spell in charge such as victories over France and Ukraine.

Like his old Aberdeen team mate Strachan though, McLeish has also been undone by a damaging result against Georgia.  I’d say he’s an outside bet right now.

Other names currently out of work are Steve Clarke, John Collins and Billy Davies. Clarke has a good coaching background in England, but perhaps comes up short as impressing as a head coach.

That’s not to say he couldn’t do the job alongside someone else. Head coach might be the only role he’d be interested in though.

John Collins, most recently assistant coach at Celtic, I don’t see as head coach. In fact I still wonder what he did under Ronny Deila.

Again though, he could be seen as part of the coaching team by the SFA. Whether that interests him remains to be seen. 

Billy Davies has a reasonable amount of coaching experience. I don’t think he’s anywhere near top of that list though and certainly not someone I would like to see in the Scotland role.

One guy not mentioned is John Hughes. Perhaps not the most fashionable choice out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more passionate guy talk.

In a 20 Minute Tims podcast not so long ago, he talked at length of his time as a player and coach. What an amazingly genuine insight he gave to the Scottish game.

Apparently he’s also good friends with John Collins. He gets bonus points for being keen cyclist like myself and a health  fanatic (I can’t claim to be the latter!).

Could big Yogi have a role? Maybe not in the eyes of the SFA.

There’s worse candidates out there for sure but perhaps a role in the coaching team wouldn’t be out of the question. You don’t get much time in the international setup and he could help gel the players on international week.

There is a need to analyse and prepare well in advance. As soon as international week comes along, that coaching team have to assemble a group of players to work together who don’t play together regularly.

That’s the challenge. It’s been mentioned by many, myself included, that Strachan should have used the all conquering Celtic based Scots at the core of his team earlier.

He did so in part and long after it was even suggested. Or dare I say it, after blatantly ignoring the obvious?

This isn’t Celtic favouritism. It’s common sense.

Darren Fletcher is the most recent person to say so. As someone who has served Scotland well over the years, and under several managers, I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about.

For now, the search for the next coaching team begins. Let’s hope the SFA get this right.

Thanks for bringing some pride back to Scotland, Gordon. It’s time to move forward.

Stevie Mac 

Scotland’s mule

Scotland ended their 10th qualifying campaign in a row without making the final tournament. They won’t feature in today’s play off draw or make Russia 2018.

Am I shocked? No and yes.

Gordon Strachan has been in charge of Scotland for almost 5 years now. He took the reigns of a dying qualifying campaign under Craig Levein in January 2013.

It was no surprise that Scotland would not make World Cup 2014 despite the late attempt. With those remaining qualifiers Strachan had a test bed for future campaigns though. 

Despite being allocated a difficult qualifying group, Scotland’s Euro 2016 campaign began with encouraging results and performances. That would all come undone as the campaign wore on though.

Another tournament missed but Strachan would continue in his role with good backing. So onto the next campaign – the current one.

Having shown positives signs and a clear area of where things went wrong last time around, the World Cup 2018 qualifiers got under way. Scotland started badly, really badly.

Scotland’s Euro qualifying group contained Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland among othera.  A World Cup qualifying group with England, Slovakia and Slovenia to name but a few  didn’t seem like a bad draw to be honest. 

England are nothing special. They have a talent pool much greater than Scotland’s and it gets them through qualifying, but they are not unbeatable.

Scotland have less players to choose from, but that should make identifying a squad an easier task. There aren’t enough home based players in there for my liking. 

Sure, successful players may move south but lets not ignore what’s going on in Scotland. A blend of youth an experience is what is required to keep the squad progressive and in good order.

Fill it with players mainly 30+ and you’re in danger of leaving a huge gap. You need to think about the future in every position.

I’ve always been a fan of Gordon Strachan when most haven’t. I supported him when he became Celtic manager and even defended him to the point I was called a Strachan lover.

His football was turgid to watch, but even still he gave Celtic fans some memorable European and domestic moments. Eventually, he would move on after a downturn in fortunes and fan support.

What he brought to Celtic was not a Celtic-mindedness as we like to call it. What he did have though was the utmost respect for the fans, the club and winning.

Strachan also knew the power of health, fitness and lifestyle. He would bring players of reasonable stature to the club in his time after losing more than a dozen from his predecessor’s era.

Tactically he was fairly rigid and inflexible. Generally he would stick with his plan, his players and sometimes it would even yield a result when it looked dead in the water.

This was largely due to his focus on fitness for the entirety of a match. Right to the death.

As Scotland manager he has certainly shown his stubbornness. He’s not afraid to say so either.

If he has made an unpopular team selection you can bet that he’ll do it over and over again. You can moan all you like, but he isn’t changing it.

The inclusion of John McGinn and Callum McGregor, probably two of Scotland’s most promising players right now, were token. In fact, the withdrawal of Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown were the sole reason for them getting called up.

There wasn’t a chance in hell that Strachan would have played them. It took him long enough to play Armstrong.

Instead, he went with guys like Darren Fletcher, Barry Bannan, James Morrison, James McArthur. This was a midfield about as exciting as a wet weekend Wemyss Bay.

I don’t profess to follow the careers of these guys. I don’t follow English football despite living here.

Nor am I ageist toward the seniority of the personnel in the team. Experience is necessary.

That doesn’t mean that you leave out promising talent within your own borders. They are the future and with the lack of options compared to some nations you need to blood them sooner.

McGinn and McGregor would have added some energy to that of Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Leigh Griffiths. You need that effervescence in your team.

It was sorely lacking in the midfield and wide areas. Strachan’s stubbornness shone through in this campaign.

I’m not sure he should take on another because he won’t change. Then again who else is there?

Stevie Mac 

Scotland the…….well we’ll find out on Sunday!

International week isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but alas I am here to talk about it nonetheless. I am a Scotland fan after all.

Last night served up one of the most bizarre nights for the Scottish national side. The script wasn’t written, but the task was simple…sort of.

Nothing other a victory would be good enough for Scotland. A win at Hampden might not seem unreasonable, but we’re Scotland.

Our opponents Slovakia have been a much better team than Scotland in recent years. They are ranked 19th by FIFA which is some 24 places above Scotland.

And who could argue? Scotland haven’t been in a tournament since France ’98!

Perhaps 43rd place flatters us. Having missed 9 finals you’d think we’d be further down that list.

Ironically, the last World Cup and European Championships Scotland participated in, were the first two Slovakia failed to qualify for since they regained their independence. Since then the Slovakian national side have qualified for South Africa 2010 and France 2016.

The international scene has changed dramatically since Scotland’s inclusion in a tournament. Relative to the European club scene of the Champions League and Europa League these days, there are a lot more teams around than there used to be.

Slovakia have earned their place in the top 20. For that there is no doubt.

Last night they demonstrated that by stonewalling Scotland for most of the game. That was despite being down to 10 men since the 23rd minute.

The referee may have been overzealous with his yellows in the first half. Though if you’re one of the unlucky ones to have received a card, it’s probably best not to dive in the opposition’s penalty box 6 minutes later.

At that stage you would think the game was on a platter for Scotland at home. But no, no we have to do it the hard way.

Slovakia stood their ground and did it well. Their goalkeeper had the sort of game that was beginning to make the game look like the Martin Dúbravka show.

Scotland’s team discipline was good, but overall composure wasn’t. Scotland may have battered the woodwork umpteen times, but they played like over excited schoolboys for the majority of the match.

Every time they got the ball everyone ran in the same direction like a lunchtime football match in the playground. It was a complete dessertion of patience and professionalism at times.

There was no real influence in defence or midfield. Leaderless you might say.

The absence of Scott Brown was obvious, but that wasn’t a problem for Gordon Strachan. He just called upon the usual suspects for this vital clash.

We all knew he wouldn’t play Callum McGregor or John McGinn. They only got called up due to the withdrawal of Brown and fellow Celt Stuart Armstrong.

He’s probably already told them they’re lucky to be involved. We might seem then yet!

Strachan has an arrogance and stubbornness about him. He’d play Paul Telfer if he could swing it just to piss you off.

He won’t be dictated to by anyone and plays the kind of football that would frustrate even my mother. Were it not for the misfortune of Martin Skrtel, Strachan may have been looking at a dead rubber this Sunday and possibly even departing the national setup.

If I’m being honest, I was already discussing new candidates with a couple of friends – there weren’t many. It didn’t look like it was going to be Scotland’s night, but instead we are going down to the wire with a fighting chance of a playoff spot!

Man did I pick the wrong month to give up the bevy! Go Sober For October!

Stevie Mac